The deal between the Mets and Michael Cuddyer made me a little sick and a little confused and a little perplexed and a little vindicated. That’s a lot for a Monday.
What we have here is a 36-year-old who has a career .261/.328/.425 slash on the road, plays terrible defense, can’t stay on the field and now is under contract for two years with an AAV north of ten million dollars. For what it’s worth, Matt den Dekker slashed .290/.392/.374 the second half of 2014, plays great defense and costs about a tenth as much money. So I’m a little sick.
And lest we forget, the signing comes with the cost of a draft pick, because the Rockies had extended a qualifying offer to Cuddyer. It was the 15th pick overall, which certainly doesn’t guarantee anything, but this coming draft is expected to be deep with pitching and outfielders. Sure, whoever that pick is likely won’t sniff the majors till 2018 at the earliest, but we’re not talking about a top free agent here. We’re talking about Michael Cuddyer. He ranked 46th out of Keith Law’s top 50 free agents list. He didn’t make Jon Heyman’s at all. The Mets have coveted draft picks during Sandy Alderson’s tenure, and they cited it as the reason they let far better players sign elsewhere. And they sell one off for Michael Cuddyer? So I’m a little confused.
Now, all that said, the fact is Cuddyer was probably the best outfield value on the free agent market. When you consider the likely $100 million price tag on Yasmani Tomas, what may end up being a four-year, $50 million contract to Melky Cabrera, the big contract to one dimensional Nelson Cruz (and that dimension is negated in Citi Field), and other entirely undesirable options available, this deal isn’t that bad in a vacuum. Unfortunately, players don’t use vacuums, aside from whatever Juan Lagares wears on his left hand.
Multiple sources have reported that according to a source, “the Mets shifted their thinking on Cuddyer after surveying the free-agent market and after doing a sweep of the trade market. They did not feel comfortable with the expected asking prices for upgrading elsewhere. And from early in the process, Cuddyer in their view represented the best fit in terms of price and need.”
Anthony DiComo tweeted: “Official said Mets had no interest in Cuddyer post-qualifying offer, but changed their minds. Spotty pool of alternatives forced decision.” So how bad are the other options if Cuddyer is the best fit? That’s a little perplexing.
But the free agent landscape isn’t a surprise, or at least it shouldn’t be. It certainly isn’t to me. Almost three years ago I wrote about free agency and it’s slow death. We are in fact seeing a steep decline in the talent pool in free agency. Gone are the days where the young, five-tool players are available. The future Carlos Beltrans of 2005 are already locked up through their early 30’s, so when they finally do hit free agency, their best years are behind them. In point of fact, perusing Keith Law’s top 50, Pablo Sandoval is the only free agent with MLB experience in the top 15 under thirty years of age. So I feel a little vindicated.
My final word on the signing is this: I don’t expect Cuddyer to be a $10 million player. I think he’ll eventually play himself out of the starting lineup, either because of injury or poor production, and most likely both. His only value to the Mets is the occasional spot start for Lucas Duda at first base or den Dekker in left against the tough lefty. They gave him one too many years and $15-$18 million dollars too much. If the Mets can trade Bartolo Colon or Daniel Murphy to recoup the money to make another signing and recoup the prospects they lost selling off the draft pick, then this deal will be easier to swallow. They’d have just wasted money, and it’s always easier and better to waste money than prospects. But the Mets aren’t on very sturdy financial standing, so it may not be so easy for them to waste any money either . So the deal is not very easy to swallow, and yes, it made me a little sick.