Nov 11

Boyhood Friends Wright And Cuddyer Now Teammates

As boyhood friends, it isn’t unusual for New York Mets third baseman David Wright to send a text or phone Michael Cuddyer this time of year.

“We’d mostly talk about our fantasy football teams,’’ Wright said by phone this afternoon.

CUDDYER: Fills outfield need.

CUDDYER: Fills outfield need.

However, one thing they’ve talked about since their teens growing up in Chesapeake, Virginia – playing together as major league teammates – is now no fantasy.

That became reality when the Mets signed the 35-year-old outfielder to a two-year, $21-million contract, thereby meeting their primary postseason objective to bring in a corner outfielder.

Also reality are the economics of the deal. The Colorado Rockies offered Cuddyer a $15.3 million qualifying offer, which he said he would have accepted had the Mets not agreed to give him two years by a 5 p.m., Monday deadline he gave them.

Cuddyer said this wasn’t about money, but it was about the years. The contract is backloaded with Cuddyer getting $8.5 million this season and $12.5 million for 2016. In signing Cuddyer, the Mets forfeit their first-round draft pick – the 15th overall selection – but that means they get to keep what they would have paid that pick, which is $2.5 million.

So, before we get all warm and fuzzy about the Wright-Cuddyer friendship, always remember this was a business deal. Their relationship was only part of the deal, not the entire driving force. Shortly after the season ended Wright reached out to Cuddyer and he kept phoning.

“I am pretty sure I annoyed him,’’ said Wright, an eighth grader when Cuddyer was a high school senior. “At first, it was a couple of times a week. Then, it was every day. Then, it was a couple of times a day.’’

His message was simple: The Mets are a team on the rise and New York was a great place to play.

Cuddyer, who played in the postseason seven times with Minnesota, said the Mets offered more than October potential.

“As hard as it is for some to believe, it’s not always about the money,’’ said Cuddyer. “And, this was one of those cases. I think just the excitement of being able to come to the East, come play for the Mets – that was the biggest attraction. You get to the point that I’m at in my career, that’s the thing that’s important: One, to win and wanting to be closer to home. Both of those issues were nailed in this signing, for me at least.’’

And, Cuddyer also nailed it for the Mets. He can play both corner outfield and infield positions. He’s more adept in right, but is willing to try left. Meanwhile, right fielder Curtis Granderson offered to move to left field.

Cuddyer hasn’t yet had that conversation with manager Terry Collins.

“I’ve played everywhere,” Cuddyer said. “The main goal for me is to win ballgames. So wherever Terry feels that I’ll be more beneficial to the club, whether it’s right field or left field, that’s fine with me.’’

A career .279 hitter who averages 21 homers a year, Cuddyer adds length to the Mets’ batting order. The 2013 NL batting leader figures to bat fifth, following Wright and Lucas Duda.

One word that describes Cuddyer is “solid.’’ He doesn’t give away many at-bats; he catches most balls he gets to; and knows what he’s doing on the bases.

Plus, said general manager Sandy Alderson, he’s a clubhouse presence, somebody who’ll make a positive impression with the younger players.

“He’s just an outstanding player, a terrific right-handed hitter,’’ Alderson said. “He’s going to give us a lot more balance in our lineup, a length in our lineup. He’s versatile defensively. He’s been in the postseason. He’s a former All-Star. There’s not a lot more I can say about Michael as a player.’’

 

Nov 10

Mets Sign Cuddyer to Two-Year Deal

Boy, do I feel like a dope. Several days after saying it couldn’t happen, the New York Mets today announced the club signed outfielder Michael Cuddyer to a two-year contract, $21.3 million contract.

It’s a good move because it adds consistency in the middle of the order. Cuddyer, 35, was given a $15.3 million qualifying offer. The Mets got him because they were willing to give him two years.

CUDDYER: Fills outfield need. (Sporting News)

CUDDYER: Fills outfield need. (Sporting News)

“Michael is a tremendous addition to the middle of our lineup,’’ Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson said in a statement released by the team. “He is a proven offensive threat who also brings versatility in the field with the ability to play multiple positions.’’

In signing Cuddyer, the Mets will give up the 15th overall draft pick.

Speaking from the GM meetings in Phoenix, assistant GM John Ricco told ESPN: “I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re looking to improve offensively, and there’s not a lot of options out there on the free-agent market or even in the trade market. Based on what we’ve learned, at least to this point, it’s going to be pretty pricey.

“We thought this was a way to clearly upgrade our team and our lineup. … [General manager] Sandy [Alderson] has talked about we’re looking to turn the corner here and start to compete in 2015. 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.”

In doing so, they filled their need for a right-handed bat in right field. The signing also leaves Matt den Dekker and Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the bench.

Cuddyer is 35 and a two-time All-Star. His best year was in 2013 when he was NL batting champion (.331) with Colorado.

Cuddyer represents consistency and versatility as he can play the outfield, and first and third base. He might be a better right fielder than left, and it is possible Curtis Granderson could move to left.

He’s not the big bopper people might think, but averages 21 homers.

 

 

Nov 08

Maddon To Mets Had No Chance

MADDON: Wouldn't have become a Met.

MADDON: Wouldn’t have become a Met.

There are a lot of crazy things floating around this time of year. I heard this today and it made me laugh because there’s no chance it could have happened.

One report said the Mets could have gotten Joe Maddon as their manager after his decision to bolt the Tampa Bay Rays.

Maddon is a tremendous managerial talent, one of the best, and he would look great in the Mets dugout, but several variables combined to make that impossible.

First, they already have a manager in Terry Collins. Now, managers and coaches have been fired before while under contract, but the Mets hate the idea of paying a manager’s salary to two people at the same time.

More importantly, even had Maddon been available to them, as they wouldn’t have acted as quickly, or decisively, as the Cubs. Reportedly, Maddon was given a five-year, $25 million package, which would have been well out of their price range.

Maddon left the Rays because of their austerity program, evidenced by the departures of James Shields – who’ll likely leave Kansas City – and David Price. The Cubs’ payroll last year was $92 million, which isn’t in the stratosphere, but far more than the Rays’ $76 million.

The Cubs have shown a willingness to pursue free agents, something neither the Rays nor Mets are inclined to do.

The Mets have made steady progress over the past few years, and Collins deserves some credit. The expectations are high with the return of Matt Harvey, bounce-back seasons from David Wright and Curtis Granderson, and the continued development of Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom.

Given that, do they really want to start over with a new regime?

Maddon as a Met is a fun idea, but there are a lot of fun ideas this time of year. But, this one had no chance.

Nov 03

Will This Be Nieuwenhuis’ Last Chance?

Will it ever happen for Kirk Nieuwenhuis?

He’s had several chances in each of the last three years, but nothing more than 91 games or 314 plate appearances, which both came in 2012. Last year it was 61 and 130.

NIEUWENHUIS: Last chance?

NIEUWENHUIS: Last chance?

He’s never gone into the season as “the guy.’’ At 27, will he get the opportunity this year? As of now, the outfield consists of Curtis Granderson, Gold Glove candidate Juan Lagares and a left fielder to be named later.

The left fielder could be Nieuwenhuis, or Matt den Dekker or could come in a trade. He likely won’t be a free agent. Many consider den Dekker having the inside track.

Nieuwenhuis has speed and a good glove. He’s shown glimpses of what could be, but too often he fizzles and the window closes.

What he needs is the chance to stay in the line-up after the fizzle. That’s the only way the Mets will learn if they have something.

Sandy Alderson once told me the two things working against Nieuwenhuis is his on-base percentage (.315 for his career) and high propensity for striking out (169 in a career 552 plate appearances). He runs well enough to be a leadoff hitter, but doesn’t reach base enough.

Nieuwenhuis has a career 169-to-53 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, which won’t cut it as a full time player on the major league level.

He’s at the age where he won’t get many more chances. For him to start he’ll have to beat out den Dekker in spring training.

If not, it will be another year as a role player and possibly his last chance.

 

Oct 24

New Hitting Coach Long Can Help This Suggested Outfield

Let’s operate under the assumption, which isn’t hard to do, the New York Mets won’t acquire the long-ball hitting left fielder they covet. Given that, the Mets’ outfield – from left to right – should be Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares and Matt den Dekker.

Lagares is a finalist for the NL Gold Glove in center field, along with Billy Hamilton and Denard Span. The award is determined by 75 percent input from managers and coaches and 25 percent by statistics.

LAGARES: Needs to hit.

LAGARES: Needs to hit.

Lagares proved this season he can field the position and steal a base, but he’s far from polished offensively, evidenced by a low on-base percentage and propensity for striking out. If he’s going to compete for the leadoff spot those two areas must be improved.

I would move Granderson from right to left – there’s your homer hitting left fielder – because it’s easier to play than right. You want a polished defender in right, which is den Dekker.

This should the full time opportunity he didn’t get last season because the Mets wasted their time with Chris Young. Yeah, I know it’s piling on.

All three could benefit from new hitting coach Kevin Long’s tutelage.

Granderson thrived under Long with the Yankees, hitting over 40 homers and driving in over 100 runs in 2011 and 2012. Unfortunately, he also struck out 169 and 195 times in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Maybe Granderson will benefit with the closer fences in Citi Field, but if Long can get him to cut his strikeouts and use the whole field, he could live up to that contract. Granderson’s on-base percentages and strikeout rates were much better playing in spacious Comerica Park, giving the impression he was seduced by the Yankee Stadium bandbox.

As for Lagares, his 87-to-20 strikeouts-to-walks ratio is something he must improve because in this era teams can’t afford to carry an offensive liability no matter how good he is in the field.

Den Dekker showed he’s worthy of the opportunity based on his production over a limited 152 at-bats with a .250 average and .345 on-base percentage.

This is potentially a good outfield defensively, but if they prove they can hit, the Mets will be greatly improved.