Less than a month after the World Series, the New York Mets jumped into the offseason free-agent market with both feet, signing veteran Michael Cuddyer to a two-year deal for $21 million. With this move, the Mets have instant credibility as a 2015 contender.
In Cuddyer, the Mets addressed multiple needs. First and foremost, they’ve settled the matter of their third outfielder. Curtis Granderson will likely move to left field, where he’s played capably in the past, so Cuddyer can take over right field. Gold Glove winner Juan Lagares will start 2015 with the everyday job in center field, where he looks like he’s preparing to be a fixture. On offense, where the Mets have struggled to find lineup consistency, Cuddyer provides a righty who hits for both average and power. Last but not least, Cuddyer is a veteran who can help Granderson and David Wright lead a youth-heavy clubhouse.
With the outfield settled and the middle of the lineup buttressed, the Mets’ bench just got a whole lot stronger. Matt den Dekker is a great defensive outfielder with speed and raw power; most teams would love to have him as a fourth outfielder. He’s an excellent late-game defensive replacement for Granderson or Cuddyer, and he also gives Lagares the occasional breather in center. Eric Young Jr. brings enthusiasm, hustle and outstanding speed, and his ability to play several positions is an asset off the bench. Anthony Recker is a solid backup catcher with big-fly power from the right side. Kirk Nieuwenhuis has big-fly power from the left side, and is yet another strong defensive outfielder.
Cuddyer’s presence as a run producer also takes pressure off other Mets. Wright, who’s always tended to press a bit when he thinks he has to carry the team, can relax and play his best without expanding his swing to account for his lineup’s lack of power. Lucas Duda, a legitimate Major League cleanup hitter in the making, will have better lineup protection. Travis d’Arnaud can continue to show improvement without the pressure of batting fourth or fifth. And Lagares, instead of being forced into the middle of the order, will have a chance to audition as the Mets’ leadoff hitter.
Last but not least, New York’s new and improved lineup, combined with newly reasonable dimensions and rising-star pitchers, will make them a favorable destination for other free agents. Maybe someone will take a shot at being the last piece in the Citi Field playoff puzzle?
All of a sudden, the Mets’ lineup looks pretty threatening. Here’s my suggested lineup with Cuddyer in the mix:
- Cuddyer (I’d also consider switching him with Wright at third, but I digress)
- Tejada (as an aside, can you imagine Alexei Ramirez hitting eighth in this lineup?)
This lineup allows the Mets to alternate lefties and righties, with power in the middle and speed at leadoff and on the bench.
Any way you slice it, adding Michael Cuddyer is a good way to start the offseason. Yes, he’s an injury risk. But he’s also not overly expensive, and he’s a gamble worth taking. The New York Mets are officially going for it in 2015.