New York Mets first baseman Lucas Duda is entering his final year of team control in 2017. This is the time the front office, as well as the fan base, debates if the Mets should offer him a contract extension or let him go. This debate should be interesting, considering the 30 year-old played only 47 games in 2016 due to a back injury.
Prior to 2016, Duda was a legitimate power hitter, launching 30 home runs in 2014 and 27 in 2015 accounting for a 6.6 WAR during that span. He is a slightly less than average defensive first baseman, averaging -1.1 dWAR per season. His offense, albeit streaky, more than makes up for the slight discrepancy in his defense. When healthy, he has certainly been a valued member of the Mets. But is his time coming to an end?
Currently working his way up the Minor League ranks is first base prospect Dominic Smith. The 11th overall pick in the 2013 draft has hit .294/.360/.409 since he became a member of the organization. In 2016, though, he finally started to hit for power. In 130 games playing for AA Binghamton, he slashed .302/.367/.457 while hitting 14 home runs and driving in 91.
The up-and-coming slugger has also been described as an above-average defender. At just 21 years old, he could be the Mets’ first baseman of the future. However, the only thing blocking him from seeing time in the Show is Lucas Duda. At first glance, it seems logical that Duda will play this season, the Mets will let him walk, and Dom Smith will take over in 2018. However, there are a few possibilities that would complicate that scenario.
Lucas Duda is coming off a season during which he had a stress fracture in his back and played only 47 games. It is possible that he doesn’t return to form in 2017 and the Mets need to either promote Smith early, or find another option for first base. The other possibility is that Smith takes a major step back in his development in 2017 and his numbers regress. However, considering the level of play he has exhibited, as well as the fact he will be playing in AAA Las Vegas, that seems unlikely.
In short, I believe 2017 will be Lucas Duda’s last season in the orange and blue. Dominic Smith might be reason enough to arrive at that conclusion, but there is one last factor that seals the deal: Money. As Duda will be a free agent, all teams in need of a first baseman or a DH can bid for his services. His main competition will be Mitch Moreland, who is with the Red Sox on a one year deal, and long-time Royal Eric Hosmer.
The All Star and three-time Gold Glover Hosmer will surely be the gold standard of free agent first basemen next winter, however there is a very good chance he is extended by the Royals. He has long been a fan favorite, however they will have other fan favorites to extend. Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Danny Duffy will all be reaching the respective ends of their contracts. Hosmer and Cain are the highest caliber players of the lot, so its logical to think they would focus on extending them first.
If Hosmer is taken off the board upon an extension with the Royals, Duda would be the best remaining free agent first baseman. He would probably fetch a large multi-year contract if he produces in 2017, and with Dominic Smith coming up, it makes almost no sense to extend him. It is for all these reasons I highly doubt we will see Lucas Duda in a Mets uniform after this season.