Michael Cuddyer, Already a Met

Michael Cuddyer wasn’t expected to receive a qualifying offer from the Rockies, so, he received a qualifying offer from the Rockies. Michael Cuddyer was expected to accept the qualifying offer, so, he didn’t accept the qualifying offer. Michael Cuddyer wasn’t expected to forgo the qualifying offer because of just a few extra million dollars, so, he forwent the qualifying offer because of just a few extra million dollars. And the Mets weren’t expected to pursue Michael Cuddyer after the compensation was attached, so, the Mets pursued him after the compensation was attached. The Mets pursued him, and they got him: Michael Cuddyer’s off to New York, for two years and $21 million.

The Mets, then, are out the 15th pick of next summer’s draft. The Rockies, then, are up one compensation pick in next summer’s draft. Cuddyer’s got himself a multi-year guarantee, and he’ll pull $8.5 million in this coming season, and $12.5 million in the next. The initial response, as is common, is that the Mets did something silly. Given a little more thought, it settles to merely questionable. Of greatest interest is what the Mets seem to be signaling.

Let’s run through the transaction analysis. Cuddyer’s 36 next March, and he hasn’t batted 600 times since 2010. Last year he played a third of the season due to a handful of DL stints. Most simply, for a sum of $21 million, a team is hoping to buy something like three wins. Cuddyer was worth one and a half last year, and two and a half the year before that. The obvious problem is this: Steamer projects Cuddyer to be worth 0.9 WAR in 2015, and that’s over most of a healthy year. That’s the first guaranteed year of two guaranteed years.

Therefore, the Mets like Cuddyer a lot more than Steamer does. They have to, or else their decision doesn’t make a lick of sense. The Mets, perhaps, buy into Cuddyer’s recent success — he’s had a 142 wRC+ since the start of 2013, and a 124 wRC+ since the start of 2011. Additionally or alternatively, the Mets might not believe in Cuddyer’s defensive numbers. Over the last five years, out of right fielders with at least 2,000 innings, Cuddyer’s ranked second-worst by UZR, and first-worst by DRS. The Mets might think Cuddyer will fare better in left. It’s also worth noting Steamer doesn’t give any extra-credit points for right-handed pop or clubhouse leadership.

The thing missing from that analysis is the forfeited draft pick. The Mets wouldn’t have valued the 15th pick of the draft at zero dollars. It’s not an easy thing to assign a value of a mid-first-round draft pick, but we can try a proxy: players selected around the 15th pick, recently, have frequently shown up in the bottom half of Baseball America’s subsequent top-100 prospects. Just last year, the 17th pick was Brandon Finnegan. According to this analysis, such a prospect is worth something like $10 million. According to this analysis, it’s closer to $20 million. We can be conservative and pin it around $10 – 15 million. Then you could think of the Cuddyer contract as being worth $31 – 36 million. It’s kind of like having two consecutive qualifying offers accepted.

You can’t really just pile all the values together, that easily. But that does provide a better idea of how the Mets see Cuddyer for the next two years: they’re looking for him to be an average or above-average player. Which means he needs to stay on the field, and he needs to keep from aging too much. Compared to projections, the Mets are higher on Cuddyer’s offense, defense, or both. They like him over Eric Young, and they like him as a platoon partner with Lucas Duda. The latter arrangement would allow for there to be a better defensive outfield.

It seems like the Mets are slightly overpaying. This is bigger than the crowdsourced contract, which didn’t even factor in the possibility of a qualifying offer. The deal isn’t completely unreasonable, at the same time, and if you figure that every contract evaluation comes with error bars, the error bars here do overlap with a sensible move. Maybe there’s, say, a 20 – 30% chance this makes great sense today. There’s some value in the Mets already having been able to make a big move, without waiting on the market to develop. It’s not so interesting whether this is too big of a guarantee. It’s more interesting what the Mets might be trying to do.

The team is encouraged by David Wright‘s recent surgery. The team’s encouraged by Matt Harvey’s recovery progress. The team’s also just encouraged by the team, such that the Mets don’t feel like they’re too far away from making some noise. While they appear to lack a whole lot of payroll flexibility, the Mets possess an affordable developing core that’s put them on the fringes.

According to Steamer and our depth charts, the Mets rank 11th in the National League in projected WAR. They’re also just shy of eighth, as there’s some separation between eighth and seventh. Plugging in Cuddyer doesn’t make much of a difference, but if you plug in an estimate of the Mets’ evaluation of Cuddyer, they improve by a win or a win and a half, and a team probably doesn’t do this if it’s about to stop spending. It wouldn’t make sense for the Mets to add Cuddyer right now and then stop. This only fits a plan if the plan is to try to win 85+ ballgames in the season ahead.

And then you can see room for optimism in the Steamer projections. Juan Lagares could finish north of 2.8 wins. The same goes for Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom. Even if you’re not buying that the Mets are already roughly average at shortstop, you can see the upside here, and apparently the Mets are still hot in pursuit of a shortstop improvement. The fun conspiracy theory right now is that this move is connected to the Mets swinging a blockbuster for Troy Tulowitzki, but even failing that, there are names available like Alexei Ramirez and Brad Miller and Starlin Castro and others. It doesn’t take much to put the Mets in position to dream.

And this gets into what Dave wrote about the Royals. The goal doesn’t have to be to be legitimately good. The goal can be to be all right, to be decent enough to be close enough to get lucky, and the Mets must see for themselves an opportunity. It’s a scramble to be the second-best team in the NL East division, and the Mets might be there now, and if you don’t need to be that great to contend for a wild card, why not try? The Mets have enough talent, and with a shortstop, what glaring holes remain? Most teams are decent enough to justify trying. It’s not a unique position for the Mets, but it’s a legitimate position, and you don’t sign Michael Cuddyer if you don’t think Cuddyer could be taking meaningful hacks in the next September.

Odds are, the Mets paid Michael Cuddyer a little too much. Steamer projects him for the same WAR as Matt den Dekker. The Mets clearly believe more strongly in Cuddyer’s most recent chances to play, and the Mets also believe in themselves. It’s interesting, if it’s not anything else.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Gabes
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Gabes

I feel like this will make more sense if the Mets sign another QO guy, and diminish the draft pick cost, but do they have the payroll to add another high-quality FA?

KDL
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KDL

another?

RobM
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RobM

Yes. The Cuddyer signing seems to signal that they plan to sign at least one more player with a QO attached.

Za
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Za

Who?