Posted by Reese Kaplan at 8:00 AM
Next week we'll consider the possibility of getting something for Neil Walker rather than letting him walk away for nothing at year’s end. The Mets are in the same boat with Lucas Duda, but interestingly may find a much bigger market given his rather reasonable contract. He is currently earning $7.25 million in his final year prior to free agent eligibility.
There are some red flags, of course. Starting with his back, no one knows how any of the Mets’ walking wounded will do until Spring Training and then once the daily grind puts stress on the surgically repaired areas. He’s also notoriously streaky, a poor man’s Jay Bruce. When hot, he can carry a club, but the cold streaks have been lengthy. In his early showing for the Mets he was a high average hitter with moderate power (which mirrored his minor league record). Then he turned up the power and reached the 30 homer plateau, but it came with a depression in the batting average and an increase in the number of strikeouts. While no one is ever going to confuse him with Keith Hernandez, he’s made himself into an acceptable first baseman, though DH is more likely his long term future.
In the minors the Mets have their number two prospect, first baseman Dom Smith, ready to begin the year in Las Vegas. 2016 was something of a breakthrough for the portly Smith. His power increase, he drove in 92 and he hit over .300. Those numbers should improve dramatically in hitter’s heaven in Las Vegas.
So if you have one of your top prospects available to play the position and Duda likely pushing the $10 million mark next year, the smart move would be to look to deal him in-season to get something in return rather than have him walk away and give you nothing. Now if you did find a taker for Duda, you would have to consider how to fill that void at 1B. Would it be Smith getting perhaps rushed to the major leagues or would it be Wilmer Flores in an interim role for the rest of the year? Could it even be Jay Bruce and thus creating a spot for Michael Conforto?
Looking around the league it would seem mostly AL teams that make sense as potential trade partners. After all, it opens up both 1B and DH possibilities for Duda. There are a few teams where they have some relatively weak links for whom Duda would represent an upgrade. If any of these teams found themselves in a pennant chase, then a mid-year acquisition could help propel them to the top:
A’s – Yonder Alonso has not been a great player, showing mediocre batting average and arguably the worst power numbers of any first baseman in baseball.
Blue Jays – Justin Smoak has not ever fulfilled the great potential they expected of him. He’s a huge dropoff from Edwin Encarnacion and Duda would be closer offensively.
Pirates – Josh Bell is young and they’re entrusting him with the position, but his performance to date doesn’t suggest a traditional bopper profile.
Rangers – They have a guy with highlight reel power in Joey Gallo, but his trials at the major league level have not been good (including 76 Ks in just 133 ABs). First baseman Ryan Rua is no Prince Fieldeer with a career slash of .255/14/43.
Rays – Logan Morrison has been a respectable but injury plagued player who is inferior to Duda. Corey Dickerson is slated to be the DH but could wind up in the OF if any of the players there underperform.
Rockies – If the Rockies suffer an outfield injury, another regression by Gerardo Parra or finally execute a Carlos Gonzalez trade, then Ian Desmond could find himself moving to the OF again, thus opening 1B.
White Sox – They’re going with Matt Davidson at DH. Who???
Yankees – Greg Bird is a big man who has good but not great numbers in the minors. Right now he’s slated to be at 1B. His lefty bat might play better in the Yankee bandbox than his minors’ best 20 HR season, but you never know.
Would you push to trade Duda or ride out the season and potentially lose him for nothing (since the Neil Walker QO debacle will likely have the Mets declining that option)?