Despite playing in fewer than 50 games last season, free agent Michael Cuddyer was able to cash-in on a multi-year deal in free agency. Just hours before the deadline to accept or reject qualifying offers, Cuddyer walked away from the Colorado Rockies' one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer to sign with the New York Mets on a two-year/$21 million deal. The Cuddyer signing could signal the start of a busy off-season for the Mets, who will be looking to make some noise in the NL East after a 79-83, second-place finish last year.
Cuddyer should represent an offensive upgrade for the Mets in the outfield, provided he can stay healthy. Last year, none of New York's top-three outfielders (in terms of games played) managed an OPS of 720 or better. Curtis Granderson -- with a .227/.326/.388 line and 20 homers -- was by far the Mets' most productive outfielder. Cuddyer hit .332/.376/.579 in 49 games for Colorado last season and .331/.389/.530 in 130 games in 2013. Cuddyer benefited from playing home games at Coors Field the past three years, however. He has a .323/.387/.583 career line at Coors Field.
Defensively, Cuddyer will be a downgrade for the Mets over 2013 outfielders Eric Young, Chris Young and Matt den Dekker. Centerfielder Juan Lagares is one of the best defenders in baseball, but both Granderson and Cuddyer figure to be below-average in the corner spots. The Mets need a boost in offense, however, so they are willing to take that hit defensively. Cuddyer could also see some time at first base, especially versus left-handed pitchers.
The Rockies are now guaranteed to receive a pick for Cuddyer, something that didn't seem likely last week when they extended their outfielder a qualifying offer. There had been some talk that the Rockies would make outfielder Carlos Gonzalez available on the trade market if Cuddyer returned, but now that he has signed elsewhere, Gonzalez is more likely to stay put. The Rockies have plenty of outfield depth with Gonzalez, Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, Charlie Blackmon and Brandon Barnes all under team control for next year.
The Mets will surrender their first-round pick to the Rockies for Cuddyer, unless the Mets sign a free agent that ranked higher than Cuddyer on the Type A free agent ranking list. Colorado also receives a compensation round pick for losing Cuddyer. If the Mets do sign a higher-ranked free agent, New York will surrender its first-round pick to the previous team of that free agent and will give Colorado its second-round pick. The Rockies will still receive a compensation pick under this scenario.
On the surface, it seems odd that the Mets would surrender a 15th-overall draft pick for the right to sign Cuddyer, a talented but oft-injured outfielder who is entering the final years of his career. However, if the Mets plan to sign one or two more free agents who received qualifying offers, signing Cuddyer makes more sense, as they had already planned to lose that first-round pick. Since Cuddyer was a candidate to take the Rockies' offer, it also makes sense that the Mets would have gotten him signed before the deadline. The annual value of the deal ($10.5 million a year) is fairly reasonable for a player of Cuddyer's offensive capabilities and is short enough in length that it won't hamstring the Mets if Cuddyer fails to stay healthy.
It is difficult to judge this signing now before the rest of the Mets' off-season plays out. The Mets are taking on some risk in bringing in Cuddyer given his health history and defensive short-comings, but if they sign a couple more top flight free agents, the Mets could be in a strong position to compete for a playoff spot next year, especially with Matt Harvey returning at some point. And Cuddyer would certainly bolster those playoff chances.