Nov 12

Dissecting The Cuddyer Signing

Michael Cuddyer said all the right things about coming to the New York Mets. He spoke of how the Mets were a team on the cusp; about playing with longtime friend David Wright; and the excitement of playing in New York.

For good measure, he mentioned how he imagined how a packed Citi Field could be when he referenced the 2013 All-Star Game.

Got you going, didn’t it?

Then he ruined the illusion by saying “it always isn’t about the money.’’

But, I’ve been covering this sport a long time, and you’ve been following the Mets a long time. What we both know, is that when it comes to the Mets, money is right there at the top. Money is always the key factor.

The Cuddyer signing tells us a lot about the Mets and their financial situation. It also raises a lot of questions, which I’ll attempt to answer:

Q: Why wouldn’t Cuddyer accept the Rockies’ $15.3 million qualifying offer and go the free-agent route again?

A: That’s his risk. He wanted two and the Rockies were offering one. There was no guarantee Cuddyer would get a second year from anyone. When he gave the Mets a deadline to give him two years or he’d take the qualifying offer, “it gave us pause,’’ said GM Sandy Alderson.

The Mets had things to consider, such as other free-agent outfield options, which would have cost more. Or, trade options, but they had few chips to play and are unwilling to include their young pitching. Or, going from within, which they didn’t have the confidence in doing. And, there was the matter of losing the draft pick, which they didn’t want to do.

The most palatable option was giving Cuddyer two years.

Q: The breakdown is the first year for $8.5 million and the second year for $12.5 million. What does that mean?

A: In giving up their first-round pick – the 15th overall selection – the Mets also save themselves $2.5 million. Given that, the Mets will have filled their outfield hole for $6 million this year, which is $1.25 less than they blew on Chris Young last year. They don’t get their pick, but that player is at least three years down the road anyway. A lot can change in that time. With the $2.5 million they save by not having the draft pick gives them a little more flexibility.

Q: Won’t the Mets feel a pinch in 2016 for the $12.5 million they’d pay Cuddyer?

A: They could, but not if they make the strides they expect. Their gamble is they’ll improve enough in 2015 and experience an attendance spike. That will pay in part for Cuddyer. Of course, that means they’ll have to win this year, or at least “play meaningful games in September.’’ But, if none of this happens by July 2016 and Cuddyer is productive, he shouldn’t be hard to trade.

Q: Was this done to appease Wright?

A: That probably factored into it, but I wouldn’t say that was their first priority.

Q: What does signing Cuddyer say about their bench and minor league system?

A: For one, is tells me they likely won’t bring back Eric Young. It also speaks to their diminishing confidence in Matt den Dekker and Kirk Nieuwenhuis as a fulltime player. The Mets stunted their development last year and that figures to be the same this year.

Q: The Mets kept saying they wanted power, but Cuddyer has hit only 80 homers over the past five years (16 average) and only ten in an injury shortened 2014. Does this fill that need?

A: No. Cuddyer isn’t strictly a pull hitter, which is just as well because the fences aren’t coming in next year. Presumably, he uses the whole field, which is the best way. Cuddyer has only one 30-homer season despite playing his career in the Coors Field and the Metrodome. He’s only had one 100-RBI season as well.

Q: Were there other options?

A: Sure, but nobody screamed out as a “must have’’ talent. Michael Morse, Ryan Ludwick, Nate Schierholtz, Nick Markakis and Josh Willingham were all available this fall, but would have either been too expensive; would stay with their original teams; or not graded as high as Cuddyer.

Q: Where will Cuddyer play?

A: Probably right field, with Curtis Granderson moving over to left field.

Q: Bottom line this for me: Does Cuddyer put the Mets over the top?

A: By no stretch of the imagination. The Mets have questions concerning shortstop; the offensive returns of Wright and Granderson; whether Lucas Duda can do it again; the development of Zack Wheeler and return from surgery by Matt Harvey. If all that happens and Cuddyer can return to his 2013 form when he won the NL batting title.

 

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 06

Leadoff Hitter Remains A Nagging Question

Of all the Mets’ off-season questions, the matter of their leadoff hitter is one of the most intriguing. That is especially if their intent is to fill it from within.

With no budding Lou Brock or Rickey Henderson in their farm system, their best hope is on their current 40-man roster. I say that because there’s no real answer in the free-agent market and they are reluctant to trade their young pitching.

The primary in-house candidates are Eric Young, Juan Lagares, Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy and Kirk Nieuwenhuis. All have something they could bring to the table, but all have issues to the negative.

Young, Lagares and Nieuwenhuis have speed, but also rather low on-base percentages and a penchant for striking out too much.

Of the group, Murphy is the best hitter, but for a relatively weak lineup he’s better suited for a run-producing slot in the middle of the order. Also, Murphy’s on-base percentage, at .332, isn’t as lofty as one might think.

If Murphy is still here – a substantial question – he should be hitting between second and sixth.

As for Young, there’s an excellent chance it will be a moot point and not be brought back.

Last winter, manager Terry Collins toyed with the idea of experimenting with Tejada. The catch here is Tejada needs a position to play and that means starting ahead of Wilmer Flores, which isn’t a given.

Mets’ 11 different leadoff hitters ranked last in the majors with a .235 average and paltry a .308 on-base percentage. If they want to change that, they’ll have to hope for a breakout season from the names suggested or be willing to spend.

Sep 22

Mets Enter Final Week Looking For Strong Finishing Kick

It’s all about creating a good last impression for the New York Mets.

With six games remaining in what turned out to be an unusual season, there’s not enough time for a player to change the impressions of manager Terry Collins and GM Sandy Alderson.

COLLINS: Still looking.

COLLINS: Still looking.

However, that doesn’t mean there’s something they can’t learn – and it begins with attitude. Anybody can play hard when the team is winning, but there’s something to be said for playing hard through the grind.

It sounds like a cliché, but I believe it. Vince Lombardi said: “Winning isn’t a sometime thing, it’s an all the time thing. You don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time.’’

Collins buys into that thinking, and wants to see it from his players.

“Well, we’ve got some young guys,’’ Collins told reporters during the Atlanta series. “If they pack it in, you won’t see them again. That’s why it’s nice this time of year to bring those young guys up, because they add a lot of energy to the team.

“And our veteran guys, they’re great guys. There’s never been a question of how hard they’re going to play. We’ll finish it up. We’ll finish it up strong.’’

Wilmer Flores, Ruben Tejada, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Matt den Dekker and Travis d’Arnaud are among that group of young players figuring into the Mets’ plans. For the most part, the Mets run out ground balls and pop-ups.

To see them dog it this week would be a disappointment, especially since there are jobs to be won next season, namely shortstop – although it is believed it is Flores’ to lose – left field and in the bullpen.

Personal, statistical goals could be reached this week, such as Daniel Murphy hitting .300, Lucas Duda getting 30 homers, Jenrry Mejia reaching 30 saves and Bartolo Colon pitching 200 innings.

Collectively, they are four games under .500 and a half-game behind Atlanta for second. The last time they did either was in 2008. Both are possible, but to finish at .500 they must run the table, which includes sweeping the Nationals in a three-game series at Washington.

Stranger things have happened.

There’s playing out the string and going through the motions, and there is a strong finishing kick. It is always better to go into winter on a positive note than to limp home.

May 30

Chris Young and Sandy’s Big Gamble

chris young

Sandy Alderson’s $7.25 million gamble that Chris Young would suddenly revitalize his career by offering him an everyday role has come up snake-eyes for the New York Mets GM.

As Young shown throughout his career, he was not able to suddenly start hitting righthanded pitching the way Sandy thought he would simply by letting him face more of them. You see the trick to this game is to try and minimize the bad at-bats, the bad matchups, the bad results.

You can’t put out a fire by dousing it with gasoline, and that’s essentially what has happened here with Chris Young.

Alderson believed that CY’s .219 batting average over the last two years was an aberration and the result of inconsistent playing time. Wrong.

However, all the extra playing time has now resulted in career worst numbers for Young who went 0-for-3 on Wednesday and is now batting .195 with three homers and 11 RBI for the season. Hardly the middle of the order slugger Sandy thought he was getting when he decided to invest 9 percent of his payroll budget on him.

Young’s playing days are now winding down and the rebuilding Mets have turned to 40-year old Bobby Abreu as their short term solution, opting for the grizzled veteran instead of younger options like Eric Campbell or Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who homered two more times last night for Triple-A Las Vegas.

The impetus for the Mets underperforming offense which led to the firing of hitting coach Dave Hudgens, is as much on the shoulders of Chris Young more than any other player on the roster.

Seeing Young fail again and again in endless RBI situations may have been the tipping point for what transpired after the weekend series with the Diamondbacks. 

What happens now?

It’s tough to say now that Collins has grown enamored with Abreu, who was only supposed to be the bat off the bench and not someone getting a healthy diet of everyday playing time.

But you have to believe that at some point Nieuwenhuis, who is 14 years younger than Abreu and has hit eight homers this season, more than any other player on the Mets roster, will get another chance to show if he belongs.

There’s no guarantee that Kirk will be the answer. But in a true rebuild and on most any major league roster with an eye toward the future, the choice between Chris Young, Bobby Abreu and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, wouldn’t be as difficult a decision as it seems to be for the Mets.