Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mets Misfire on Cuddyer

Cuddyer's had a fine career, but it's about to go south (CBS New York)
The New York Mets made an early offseason move Monday, inking outfielder Michael Cuddyer to a two-year, $21 million contract. The deal, which pays Cuddyer $8.5 million next year and $12.5 million in 2016, is pretty reasonable. There's not many impact bats out there that can be acquired so cheaply, and Cuddyer's been a solidly above average hitter since his 2006 breakout. In addition to winning the National League batting title in 2013, he's made two All-Star teams, enjoyed four 20-homer seasons, and exceeded a .750 OPS in 11 of the past 12 seasons.

That said, I don't think this deal will work out for the Mets, who sacrificed a mid-first round 2015 draft pick (in addition to the $21 million) because Colorado offered Cuddyer a $15.3 million qualifying offer, which he was planning to accept before the Mets came calling. I'm fine with the length and dollar figure (three years or anything over $25 million would have been too much), but losing the draft pick on top of that means this acquisition probably won't be worth it in the long run.

Now, in order for New York to get a good return on the contract, Cuddyer will have to be worth at least three wins over the next two seasons, as the going rate for a win on the open market is about $7 million. Seeing as how he was worth exactly three wins the last two years, that seems reasonable. However, Cuddyer is going to be 36 next year, which means he's a good bet to decline. He's also experienced his share of injury woes lately, failing to reach 140 games played in any of the past four seasons and suiting up for just 49 last year because of three separate trips to the Disabled List. It's hard to help your team win when you can't take the field.

And while Cuddyer's track record is impressive, he's benefited from favorable home parks for all but two of his 14 seasons, which expains why his home OPS (.875) is 122 points higher than his road OPS (.753). In the Twins' first season at Target Field (2010), a notorious pitcher's park, his OPS dropped 109 points from the previous year and his home run total plunged from 32 to 14. It goes without saying that the shift from Coors Field--the best hitter's park in the majors--to Citi Field--one of the worst--is going to dampen his production. No way his OPS exceeds .900 again, as it has the last two years, and New York will be lucky if he can even break .800.

So given Cuddyer's age, injury history, and imminent regression, it seems unlikely he'll produce the three wins needed to earn his paycheck. That doesn't even account for the unknown cost of the forfeited draft pick, who might be a star someday or could have been used as trade bait. I commend the Mets for going after and obtaining an inexpensive quality hitter because a) those are becoming so rare these days and b) they need bats after ranking in the bottom five of the NL last year in hits, batting average, slugging, OPS, and total bases, but I just don't think Cuddyer's going to be the hitter they expect him to be.

If I'm Saldy Anderson, general manger of the New York Mets, I don't make this deal because it entails considerable downside without a speck of upside. Cuddyer can't replicate his production from the last two years outside Colorado, much less improve on it. He can only get worse, and he's not getting any younger. New York's betting that Cuddyer has two more solid (and healthy) seasons left in him. Even if he's healthy, I think the move to Citi Field hurts him enough that he won't put up the numbers to justify his contract.

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