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Jul 20

Cuddyer, a Balky Knee, and Questions

I’d like to revisit an earlier post. Or part of a post. Really, what I’m intending to do is return to a post from December where I called the Michael Cuddyer signing a way for the budget conscious Mets to sign a bat for the middle of the lineup on the cheap. No one else was trying to sign Cuddyer away from Colorado. Not with a first round compensation pick tied to it. So, I worked out that Cuddyer probably earns a few million less over two years than he would have gotten with the one-year qualifying offer from the Rockies plus who knows what else in 2016 (but it’s a guaranteed $21M), plays for a team ostensibly on the rise, and the Mets sacrifice a first rounder to see if Cuddyer can stay healthy and produce. A little bit of eh, and a whole lot of bleh on those two. I don’t normally revisit posts, but with the news that Cuddyer is likely heading to the disabled list, I think it’s relevant.

I’ve been thinking about this signing a lot lately. I’m not particularly broken up about the draft pick compensation. Not entirely. At this point it’s a sunk cost, and fretting over not having another young player in the minors won’t change things. I could imagine what Trent Clark (the player drafted 15th, where the Mets would have selected, by Milwaukee this year) could do in the Citi Field outfield someday or dread 2018 when Brady Aiken (selected by Cleveland at 17) replaces Matt Harvey in the rotation as management panic trades their ace because they’re too cheap to re-sign him, but why bother? There’s enough to worry about in the world.

No, what bothers me is when Sandy Alderson said that Cuddyer had been overused this year. Apparently the team signed the 36-year old with the intention of not playing him as often as they have. As of today, he’s played in 81 of the team’s 92 games. His time of late has been limited, however, or severely reduced with Cuddyer either sitting out or relegated to pinch hitting duty in every series since Atlanta a month ago. Maybe that’s too much. Maybe Alderson envisioned Cuddyer playing in about ¾ of the team’s games, somewhere around 120-122. That seems optimistic to me considering Cuddyer has only surpassed that total once since the beginning of 2012, and he was a youthful 33 way back then. He won’t make 120 games this year either thanks to a sore knee, so I suppose Cuddyer will get that rest the Mets’ brass envisioned. It won’t help the team’s offense, and it won’t make Travis d’Arnaud or David Wright heal any quicker, but sometimes objectives are Met no matter how circuitous the route (see what I did there? Impressive).

I know this news came out on the 9th of July. That was eleven days ago if you’re not looking at a calendar. It’s been bugging me for eleven days.

I’m not particularly upset about Cuddyer being barely worth a tenth of a win as per fWAR (seriously, his fWAR is 0.1, which is a tenth of a win more than me and I’m sitting here writing a stupid baseball blog), which places him 49 out of 59 qualified outfielders in the major leagues. The Mets could have traded for Matt Kemp (-0.3 fWAR) or signed Melky Cabrera (-0.7) instead, so in those terms, his signing was a real positive. I’m not even upset by the .130 ISO, the .250/.300/.380 slash line, or the career high K% and the career low BB% as a regular. These are likely related to the bad knee, will improve a little over time (when healthyish), and are just numbers anyway. Every team needs a guy with a head streaked with gray, and Cuddyer fits that role quite nicely.

No, what’s bugging me is signing him in the first place with the knowledge that you wanted to limit his playing time. I don’t know if 120 games was the target. Maybe management thought he could play more (if so, why?), but it’s reasonable to assume that 75% of games played was a fine number for which to hope. At the time of Cuddyer’ signing, assistant GM John Ricco said, “I think this is a message that we’re going to be aggressive. Right out of the box we had a guy we liked, and we went and got him.” Super. You got the guy you liked with a hope that he wouldn’t play full time? What does that even mean? They also lose a chance to add a talented 18-22 year-old to their minor league depth for a guy that (admittedly, by my own assumption of 75% playing time) would barely qualify for full-time health care coverage, which is set at 30 hours according to HealthCare.gov.

To me, it doesn’t make sense to pay someone $10.5M a year only to have to sign someone else, say another $1-2M, to play those 40 games when Cuddyer sits. Plus lose the pick. Why not just go after Nick Markakis (something I originally discussed when Cuddyer signed) and get the added benefits of youth (younger at least), defense, and full time play? Cost? Not knowing how much it would take to sign Markakis, there was a risk of paying a little more than the four years, $44M Markakis ultimately signed for, but you can assume he’d play enough to warrant the cost.

If $10.5M is the going rate for a quasi-starter, what’s the cost of losing out on a cost controlled teenager to provide organizational depth? At 15, you can hope to strike lightening like the Angels did in 2009 when they signed Mike Trout with the 25th pick, or you could even hope to pick Randal Grichuk like the Angels did one pick earlier.

A pick that was originally the Mets.

On losing the pick, Ricco said, “In this case, we looked at [giving up picks], did the analysis and decided that [Cuddyer] was worth it.” Oh? I’ve always secretly hoped that the Mets signed Cuddyer to “trade” their first round pick to the Rockies. There was an arrangement, at some designated time, and the pick was part of a plan for a bigger trade in the offseason. No. The Mets really just wanted to bail out Colorado for their one-year qualifying offer.

Gratis.

So, it seems as though I’m hung up on the pick, but I’m not. Not entirely. I’m wondering who is making decisions and what are the motivations? Was this Alderson, Ricco, and Paul DePodesta really seeing Cuddyer providing enough value to warrant the contract (which would have been easy to justify financially with a halfway decent season) and surrender a pick, or was this a decision mandated by the owners to show fans that they were doing something to improve the team? Look, this guy was is a “professional” hitter and really balances out this lineup!

The price was right for a team with a tightly controlled budget.1

I’m not saying that there’s no plan, but if there is a plan I’d like to know if they’re making edits after a glue-sniffing session. Alderson, Ricco, and DePodesta need tighter controls on those write permissions to that master plan.

chmod 0644 gentlemen.

I think these are legitimate questions. I wonder if Alderson is attempting to put spin on the poor year Cuddyer’s having by letting it be known that he’s been overtaxed, as though his struggles stem from too much playing time as opposed to decline. Nothing to see here. This wasn’t a poorly executed offseason plan. It wouldn’t be the first time the Mets management had been caught making up things as they go along: from how they handled Dillon Gee to the bullpen and/or rotation; the six-man rotation that was, that wasn’t, that was again, now isn’t; the shuffling of Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy, and Wilmer Flores all around the infield; and the wasted innings of each starter as Alderson waits to bring in a bat until, presumably, the other team eats a whole lot of contract.

Needless to say, I find Alderson’s claims to limit Cuddyer’s playing time dubious at best.

  1. Don’t even get me started on that one.

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