Just last week, I questioned the Colorado Rockies giving Michael Cuddyer a qualifying offer, assuming that the loss of a draft pick now attached to signing Cuddyer would scare teams off and force Cuddyer to accept the offer and go back to Colorado as part of a crowded outfield situation.
Wrong. The New York Mets signed the veteran outfielder to a two-year, $21 million contract, which presumably slots him in right field and shifts Curtis Granderson over to left, flanking Gold Glove center fielder Juan Lagares.
The Mets will now lose the 15th overall pick in the 2015 draft (and the slot money that goes with it) while the Rockies will receive a compensation pick at the end of the first round. That seems like a steep price for the Mets to pay for two years of a player who turns 36 in March and played just 49 games in 2014. The deal will receive criticism -- and considering Cuddyer was worth just 1.8 WAR in his big 2013 season, he's not likely to make a big impact even if he's healthy -- so let's consider why the Mets would do this.
1. The price was right. Mets assistant GM John Ricco alluded to this when he told Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork, "I don't think it's any secret that we're looking to improve offensively, and there's not a lot of options out there on the free-agent market or even in the trade market. Based on what we've learned, at least to this point, it's going to be pretty pricey." The Mets picked up a bat without giving up one of their starting pitchers, and that's a plus. And, while Cuddyer's stats were certainly boosted playing in Coors Field, he did hit .302/.352/.465 on the road the past two seasons.
2. OK, you lose the 15th pick. Sure, that could turn into Devin Mesoraco or Scott Kazmir or Stephen Drew or, in a best-case scenario, Chase Utley. But it can turn also turn into Lance Broadway or Gabe Gross or Clint Johnston. A couple years ago, I looked at the value of draft picks since 1990. At that time, the 15th pick had returned an average of 5.7 WAR. So the prevailing odds are the Mets aren't sacrificing a future star here.
3. The Mets have a pretty good farm system right now. Maybe not top-five but it could be a top-10 system, so that makes it less urgent to add more first-round talent that isn't going to help for several years.
4. The Mets may be ready to win now. They'll be getting Matt Harvey back and a full season from Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom, plus the possible addition of top prospect Noah Syndergaard to the rotation. The Mets were eighth in the NL in 2014 in rotation ERA, but it's possible it's a top-three rotation in 2015.
5. Too outlandish to think of the Mets as a playoff team since they haven't finished above .500 since 2008? That's six straight losing seasons. Not necessarily. The last six World Series winners all missed the playoffs the previous year. Here they are with their record the season before winning the World Series:
2014: Giants -- 76-86
2013: Red Sox -- 69-93
2012: Giants -- 86-76
2011: Cardinals -- 86-76
2010: Giants -- 88-74
2009: Yankees -- 89-73
And in 2008, the Rays reached the World Series after going 66-96 the year before.
In other words, you can go from 79 wins to the playoffs these days.
Consider the Giants: The only major additions they made last offseason were free agents Tim Hudson and Michael Morse and then the in-season acquisition of Jake Peavy after Matt Cain got injured. None of their big players were better than the year before -- Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval -- but they were able to improve 12 wins and get into the postseason. That's what the Mets are hoping to do.
6. The plight of the Yankees. There is probably some added value for the Mets to make a playoff push now. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and seen their attendance and TV ratings decline the past few years -- with a slight increase in attendance in 2014 only due to Derek Jeter's final tour. But without Jeter and with the possibility of the Yankees slipping under .500, the Mets have a great opportunity to win back some fans with a good season.
So there you go. Look, winning the NL East is certainly a long shot, considering the Nationals won 96 games and return everybody. But the Giants showed everyone: Just get in and you never know. Cuddyer isn't going to push the Mets over the top by himself but he could help an outfield that ranked 21st in the majors in wOBA. If Harvey pitches like he did in 2013, I can see the Mets in the thick of the playoff race.