What Does the Michael Cuddyer Signing Mean for the Mets?
The first domino of MLB free agency has fallen, as outfielder Michael Cuddyer spurned a qualifying offer from the Rockies and agreed to a 2-year, $21 million deal with the New York Mets.
The agreement is surprising to say the least, as Mets general manager Sandy Alderson is not usually a fan of giving up draft picks,\ but will forfeit the 15th selection in the 2015 MLB draft for the 36-year-old’s services.
Given Cuddyer’s age, some thought he might move back to the American League, where he could get at-bats as a designated hitter to help him stay healthy. However, Cuddyer got himself a nice payday (despite rejecting $15.3 million over one year via Colorado’s qualifying offer) and gets to play with childhood friend David Wright (both players hail from Norfolk, Virginia, an unsuspected baseball hot-bed that has also produced B.J. and Justin Upton).
Cuddyer will likely man right field for the Mets, with Curtis Granderson and his -3 defensive runs saved and -11 UZR moving to left field. Cuddyer is also not terrific in the outfield, as his 2013 UZR was -13.4, worse than Granderson’s. If all goes well, Cuddyer will be the power outfield replacement New York never found for Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay.
With the Rockies, Cuddyer posted a .414 weighted on base average (wOBA) in 49 games last season and a .396 wOBA in 130 games the year before. Even if Cuddyer produces below the .396 clip of his last full season, he should still create more scoring opportunities than Eric Young, Jr. did, who posted a .281 wOBA in 100 games as a Met outfielder last season.
Injuries are a concern with Cuddyer, especially coming off last season’s injury-plagued debacle filled with hamstring and shoulder issues. To keep Cuddyer healthy, the Mets might consider playing him at first base and moving Lucas Duda back to the outfield, but Duda is even worse than Granderson or Cuddyer defensively (he posted a -22.5 UZR in 846 outfield innings in 2012), so this might not make sense.
Platooning Duda and Cuddyer at first base might be more reasonable, especially considering Duda hits .180 against lefties, while Cuddyer boasts a .291 career average against southpaws. When a righty is on the mound, Cuddyer could even shift into the outfield, as his .274 clip against righties bests Young’s career .248 average.
While it is unclear where the Mets will play Cuddyer, it is clear that the team is not done dealing yet. The bullpen could use some work, and the possibility remains that infielder Daniel Murphy could be traded to open up an infield spot for a prospect (Wilmer Flores and Eric Campbell come to mind) or an acquired superstar (looking at you, Starlin Castro and Troy Tulowitzki). Alderson would get extreme credit if this Cuddyer signing is in fact part of a big-time plot to lure his former Colorado teammate Tulowitzki to Queens.
Mega-trades aside, Cuddyer’s signing is a nice two-year stopgap for the Mets. Hopefully, Cuddyer can stay healthy for the next couple seasons, and while he hits for a pretty high average and gets on base a fair amount, Lucas Duda learns how to hit against lefties and outfield prospect Michael Conforto (.851 OPS in 163 New York-Penn League at-bats) progresses through the minors.