The acquisition also means the Mets must forfeit their 2015 first-round draft pick (No. 15 overall), because the Rockies made a Qualifying Offer to Cuddyer.
The Mets are closer to contention than many people realize, so giving up the pick and signing Cuddyer makes sense. They needed to upgrade their corner outfield position and, as Sandy Alderson said during a conference call Tuesday, adding an outfielder was of the "highest priority."
However, there are reasons to be wary of this deal, as well.
Why this move made sense...The playoffs are a realistic goal for the Mets in 2015.
- In 2014 the team won 79 games. By Pythanpat, based on runs scored and allowed, they "should" have won 82 games, and by baseruns, which takes sequencing out of the equation, they were a 76-win team. Either way, they were not terribly far off from 79 wins. Baseball Prospectus' second and third order winning percentage suggest a similar hierarchy.
- It takes 88-90 wins to get into the wild card game. If almost all of the Mets play to roughly the same level in 2015 as they did in 2014 the Mets have a chance. This is a terrible assumption because it will never happen that every player just repeats the year that he had, but just play along for a moment.
- In 2014, David Wright had one of his worst years as a professional, worth 2.8 bWAR after a mark of 5.8 in 2013. Lets say he bounces back. This is reasonable, Steamer's projects him to be worth 4.2 fWAR in 2015, which is a fine number for these purposes. Simply add the extra two wins a healthy and productive Wright provides the Mets moves the team from 79 to 81 wins for 2015.
- In 2014, while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Matt Harvey offered the Mets zero innings. In 2013, in 178.1 innings, he was worth 5.2 bWAR. That's a good 4.7 wins more than the Mets derived from their fifth starter's spot, held by mostly by Bartolo Colon, in 2014. So, add a healthy Harvey to a healthy Wright to the 2014 Mets and the 2015, with zero external additions might well be something like an 85-win team.
- From Opening Day through June 6, when he was sent to triple-A, Travis d'Arnaud was worth -1.8 wins by WPA. From his return on June 24, he was worth 1.4 WPA. In the case where d'Arnaud basically produces at the rate he did from June 24th through the end of the season, that would add another two-three wins to the Mets. Now the team is up to 87 wins and really within range of a playoff spot.
- From 87-win talent, it's only a short hop to 89 wins and a playoff spot.
By Fangraph’s WAR, Mets’ cornermen ranked 18th in baseball at 3.1 total fWAR contributed. Playoff teams averaged almost 10 fWAR from their corner outfield spots.
Cuddyer actually fits the Mets roster. 1) He bats right-handed, 2) He can hit, 3) He can play right field or first base.
The roster before Cuddyer needed another corner outfielder. Outside of Curtis Granderson, the incumbents were Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Matt den Dekker and Eric Young. Cesar Puello is out of options in the minor leagues. The default solution was something like a Nieuwenhuis/Young/Puello or den Dekker/Young/Puello combo platter in whichever corner Curtis Granderson was not playing.
After 11 seasons with the Twins, he has enjoyed a three-year run with the Rockies in which he hit .307/.362/.525 in 280 games with a 126 OPS+ over three years from age 33 to 35. Yes, he improved in his mid-30s. No, that's not common.
Lucas Duda badly needs a platoon partner at first base. He is a career .212/.292/.317 (AVG/OBP/SLG) hitter against lefties in 470 plate appearances coming off a .180/.264/.252 mark against southpaws in 125 PA in 2014. The less Duda plays against lefties, the better he and the Mets will be.
Cuddyer is a career .297/.378/.504 hitter against lefties in his career.
Why this move is baffling
- Cuddyer is 36.
- For 2015, Steamer projected Cuddyer to be worth a 109 wRC+ (where 100 is average), and -14.1 runs defensively, for a 0.9 fWAR.
- ZiPS, run for Cuddyer in New York, projects him to be worth 1.0 fWAR in 2015 and 0.3 in 2016 on playing time of 87 games and 79 respectively. As with Steamer, ZiPS has a similar distribution of production in which it forecasts Cuddyer an above average hitter who loses value thanks to below average defense and lost playing time.
- Joe Sheehan did the research for his column Tuesday regarding 36-year-old baseball players:
- "There were 11 of them last year. Just two played in 100 games. Just three produced at least one bWAR. Just one, Marlon Byrd, was worth two bWAR. Collectively, all 36-year-old position players produced 7.5 bWAR. Want to go back a year? In 2013, five 36-year-olds played in 100 games, three were worth at least 1.9 bWAR, the group was worth a bit more than five wins... Actuarially speaking, Michael Cuddyer is quite likely to be a bad player."
- Cuddyer's numbers in the last three years are inflated by Coors field.
- Expecting Cuddyer to maintain his offensive value from Colorado in New York is likely pure fantasy.
- Coors Field's impact shows up strongly in Cuddyer's batted ball profile in his HR/FB rates. For his career, 13.4% of his fly balls have turned into home runs. In his three years as a Rockie, his rates were 18.2%, 16.9%, and finally 22.7% in an aberrant 2014. The Mets just went through this with Granderson, whose big home run years with the Yankees were buoyed by HR/FB rates (20.5% and 24.2%) well above his career average (14.4%). Dropped into Citi Field last year, his HR/FB rate was 10.1%, or a closer match for his 2013 of 10.1.
- Cuddyer is not a full-time player.
- Cuddyer's games played since turning 30:
- 153, 157, 139, 101, 130, 49
- He's averaged 93 games a year in the last three years, his age 33-35 seasons. His median season in that span is 101. He might play more than that in 2015. But expecting him to play everyday is unreasonable.
- Cuddyer is an bad defender.
- Here are Cuddyer's defensive metrics from the last five years.
|.||DRS||Fangraphs' Defense (UZR based)||Total Zone|
- One can quibble with the precise run value of Cuddyer's defense in a given year, but given 100 games, he's somewhere like 7 to 9 runs below average, or almost a full win. In 2013, in 130 games, he was between 12 and 16 runs below average. That's more than a win and less that two. It's a relatively big number.
- By UZR per 150 games, Cuddyer is -8 in right field and -4.4 at first base. So, he's better at first, but still below average.
- Alderson told reporters that the Mets are "comfortable with his defensive abilities."
- Note that the Twins played Cuddyer at second base for 17 games in 2011 and he did not do well there. However, from 2012 forward, he's played all but two games at first base and right field.
- Cuddyer, who is deaf in his left ear, has not played leftfield since 2006. He and Curtis Granderson have both indicated that they are willing to play either corner. Moving Granderson from right to left will help: Granderson's arm was worth -7.4 runs in 2014 and generally leftfielders have to make fewer demanding throws than rightfielders.
What this move costs...
- Cuddyer costs the Mets $21 million over two years
- Cuddyer costs the Mets their 2015 first round draft pick.
What does losing their 2015 first round pick actually cost the Mets? Quite a bit, actually.
The Angels had the 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft. The slot for the pick was worth, $2,475,600 or just under 43% of the team's total draft budget. Slot values rose 2% from 2013, after rising a little over 8% from 2013 to 2014 but the relationship between the 15th pick and the overall pool is not likely to shift dramatically. The Mets can expect a similar relationship. With a 2% rise in draft bonuses, the Mets just lost over $2.5 million and over 40% of their 2015 draft budget for the right to sign Michael Cuddyer. The Mets lost the opportunity to not just pick a top 15 player, but also to use any leftover bonus money from that first pick to chase other players in the draft. They did not quite punt the whole draft, but certainly badly harmed their ability to use the 2015 draft to acquire talent.
While not all draft picks pan out, teams can expect to derive value from the picks. The returns to picks drop precipitously from the first pick on down. Analyst Christopher Long described an equation to find the surplus value of a draft pick as $40M/sqrt(n) where n is the nth overall pick in the draft. This yields an estimate of $10.3 million in surplus value the Mets gave up with the 15th pick.
One simple way to think about this is to add this value to the cost of the contract that the Mets signed for Cuddyer. Instead of two years at $21 million, this contract is more like two years at $30 million.
Or, for Cuddyer to produce the surplus value that this estimate of draft pick value provides, he would need to be worth something like 4.5 wins over the life of his contract. That's plausible, but unlikely.
Other analyses, based on the quality of prospect a team can expect to receive from the No. 15 pick, put the value of a pick higher, in the $20 million range.
The Mets first-round pick from 2015, could reasonably be expected to contribute to the big league team sometime in the 2018-2022 window, depending on whether they took a high school or college player. In essence, then, the Mets are borrowing, and heavily at that, from their future to pick up an extra win or two in 2015.
Other ConsiderationsDraft Accounting
Now, the Mets can do something further to lessen the cost of the Cuddyer, in draft pick terms. If the team signs another free agent who is subject to compensation, having already forfeited their first round pick, they will also yield their second round pick. If the second player is better than Cuddyer, then perhaps in accounting terms, one might think about that second player as costing the first round pick and Cuddyer as costing the second. Compensation picks between the first and second round drive second round picks down the board, so last year, the Angels second pick came at #53 overall. A second round pick at #50 overall, is worth about $5.7 million in surplus value instead of the $10.3 million a first round pick is expected to cost.
The problem with this theory is that the Mets have given no indication that they are planning to, or have the financial flexibility, to make another play at the top of the free agent market, whether its for a pitcher like Max Scherzer or James Shields.
Adding another top quality free agent would also, in theory, increase the returns for the Mets' spending on Cuddyer because every win would move the team ever closer to 90 wins and a playoff spot.
The best free agents left who qualify for compensation are Max Scherzer, James Shields, Hanley Ramirez, Francisco Liriano and Ervin Santana. The Mets don't need Pablo Sandoval at third since they're committed to Wright. Would they dare run Hanley Ramirez out at shortstop, where his defense is poor, in a full-on bid for offense? Jon Lester, who was traded mid-season does not come with compensation.
Outfielders who would not have required compensation picks include Colby Rasmus, Yasmani Tomas and Nori Aoki. Tomas will be far and away the most expensive player of this trio.
Among free agent outfielders who would have also required compensation, the Mets could have looked at Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera. Cruz is going to expensive and is almost as old as Cuddyer. On the other hand, Cabrera is only 30, and earned $8 million annually from the Blue Jays for the last two years. He was more valuable than Cuddyer last year at 2.6 fWAR.
In terms of trade targets, Alderson pointed out that they would have cost the Mets players who were already closer to the Majors than the 2015 draft pick.
The best use for Cuddyer would be as a platoon partner for Duda for the 30-40 games a year the Mets face a left-handed starter mixed with some work in rightfield against righties. The team saw 33 left-handed started in 2014. In this scenario, the Mets would still need to add someone to play a corner outfield spot against lefties.
The problem for the Mets is that once the draft pick is included, the total value the team gave up for Cuddyer demands that he be a two-win per year full-time player. The public projection systems do not value his 2015 and 2016 that highly. This would imply that the Mets think Cuddyer will be a better hitter, or defender or healthier than the public projection systems suggest is most likely. Essentially, the Mets believe their private metrics are better or draft picks are being overpriced.
The Mets made one move to shift their assets from 2018 and beyond into 2015. Now, they must follow up that leading bet with another strong move. For example, the team still need to address the shortstop. And they still have to add a corner bat who can play right or first against lefties because Cuddyer certainly cannot do both simultaneously.
The most likely scenario is that this move that will not improve the team materially in 2015-2016 and will harm them, by depriving them of the value of a first round pick after that. However, if Cuddyer performs at the top of reasonable expectations, he can make the contract on its own a break even piece for the Mets. Even so, the health and efficacy of players who were Mets before Cuddyer signed, including David Wright, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Juan Lagares, Lucas Duda, Travis d'Arnaud and Daniel Murphy, will likely have more to say about whether the Mets are competitive for a playoff berth in 2015 and 2016 than Cuddyer's performance.
With a playoff berth in the fall of 2015, delirious Mets fans will likely forgive a missing first round pick from June, and the forgone expected value later in the decade. However, signing Cuddyer just moves the odds ever so slightly towards the postseason. Outside of forgone trades, this is the first consummated transaction of the Sandy Alderson tenure that explicitly trades value in the medium future to increase assets in the coming season. The message is clear: the Mets have made a move for 2015.