The New York Mets unofficially opened free agency on Monday by signing Michael Cuddyer to a two-year, $21 million contract. Cuddyer will earn $8.5 million in 2015 and $12.5 million in 2016 under the deal.
The 35-year-old turned down a one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Colorado Rockies to sign the contract with the National League East club. Prior to agreeing to terms with the Mets, Cuddyer had been considered a strong candidate to become the first Major League player to accept the offer, which was instituted prior to the 2013 season.
Cuddyer receives the security of an additional season and $5.7 million. At his age and coming off a season in which he registered only 205 plate appearances, two years, especially at $12.5 million, makes passing up on a chance to hit the open market in just one year worthwhile.
Grade for Cuddyer: A-
The decision to extend Cuddyer a qualifying offer, which initially looked questionable, now looks brilliant. They lose his production, but gain a draft pick from the Mets as compensation. That pick will come on the first night of the draft, a huge windfall for a franchise that is looking to rebuild. That seems inevitable with reports indicating that they’ll listen to offers for Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.
Colorado will miss him in the lineup -- he hit .332/.376/.579 in limited time -- but having him for another season or two wasn’t going to change their place in the standings. He contributed 1.2 WAR in 49 games, which doesn’t project out to an above-average figure even had he played 150 or so games.
The Mets are expected to play Cuddyer alongside Curtis Granderson and Juan Lagares, while many have suggested that he’ll also log time at first base to allow Lucas Duda into the lineup as an outfielder. Duda struggles against left-handed pitching, while Cuddyer has thrived in his career.
Critics point to Cuddyer’s numbers over the last three seasons (.307/.362/.505) and the thin air at Coors Field, but he was effective on the road as well. The Norfolk, Virginia native had a .286/.332/.463 slash line away from Coors Field during his tenure with the Rockies.
New York is hoping Cuddyer will at least approach his 2013 numbers when he took home the NL batting title (.331/.389/.530) over 130 games and 540 plate appearances.
Grade for Mets: B-
Cuddyer’s salary isn’t exorbitant, but it could become an albatross if he can’t stay off the disabled list. His injury woes aren’t limited to 2013. He has played in 150 or more games only three times in the last 11 seasons.
The Mets appear to have placed a soft cap on their 2015 payroll of $100 million. With Cuddyer earning $8.5 million, New York would appear to approaching that limit. They have $62.55 million committed to their roster and another $28.5 million expected to come through arbitration, bringing that grand total (including Cuddyer) to approximately $99.55 million. Sandy Alderson may be able to trim some payroll by dealing Bartolo Colon ($11 million) or Daniel Murphy (arbitration, likely around $8 million).
If a trade isn’t on the horizon, any additions the Mets make over the remainder of the offseason will likely come via trade. They have the young pitching to make big moves, it’s a matter of getting the right return and loosing their grip on some of those prospects.