9:45 am Aug. 27, 2012
Sandy Alderson's Mets rolled out their new left fielder on Sunday: Lucas Duda.
Duda already tried, and failed, to be the team's right fielder earlier this year. In part because of Duda, the Mets' defense this year was terrible, and was as reponsible as the (awful) bullpen for squandering strong first-half performances from R.A. Dickey, David Wright and Johan Santana and then causing a team in contention in June to fall completely out of it by July.
And yet, hours before Duda dropped a critical fly ball in left field in a game the Mets eventually won, 2-1, Alderson, the Mets' general manager, was reassuring season ticket holders that he'd be able to convince David Wright and Dickey to stick around past 2013. That means convincing them that the future is bright, even if Duda is a part of it.
There are some fundamentally sound reasons for optimism about the 2013 Mets. Dickey and Wright are foremost among them, of course, but there are others. Jonathon Niese has been strong all year, and his performance on Friday night against Houston bore no indications of another late-season swoon. Matt Harvey has pitched well enough in his six starts that it is unthinkable that he'll return to Triple-A. And even Collin McHugh dominated in a spot start on Thursday afternoon, albeit against a Rockies team that had few major league hitters to speak of.
But putting Duda back out there, unfortunately, just shows that the Mets don't have enough of those good options. He was the worst defensive outfielder in the major leagues to log 500 innings in 2012, and it isn't especially close. This was not due primarily to anything particularly related to right field, rather than left field. His throwing arm isn't great (though he did nail the go-ahead runner at home on Sunday), which is the primary reason players are moved from right to left; but it is his range that doesn't compute in the outfield.
It's not due to a lack of effort on Duda's part.
"I'm not going to be a Gold Glover in left just because I switched positions," Duda said after the game. "It's going to take some work and I'm willing to work and do whatever it takes to play every day and help the team."
There are two positions that the 26-year-old with a career O.P.S. of 114 would fit: first base and designated hitter. The former position is occupied by Ike Davis, who is younger than Duda, better defensively at first base, and has hit well enough for nearly three months now, after a nightmarish start, that he's pretty clearly the best-case scenario for the Mets at the position in 2013.
The other position is one that doesn't exist in the National League. So unless Alderson has been tipped off by the league office that they're changing the rule in time for next season, Duda probably belongs elsewhere. Or at least he would if the Mets were like other teams, and were able to utilize basic operating funds to fix problems with the roster.
Alderson didn't commit to higher payroll in 2013; he didn't even commit to payroll remaining as high as it was in 2012. He talked about his hopes that Wright and Dickey would remain Mets after 2013 using language eerily familiar to anyone who heard him speak last season about Jose Reyes.
Alderson spoke to Mike Francesa about a need for power in the lineup, and Duda represents what little power the Mets have on hand beyond Wright and Davis. Aside from Wright and Davis, only Scott Hairston is the only Met who has more home runs than Duda, and Duda spent more than a month at Triple-A. The three home run leaders right behind Duda are Jordany Valdespin, whose struggles led to his demotion and Duda's return, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, long since demoted and lost for the season due to injury, and Jason Bay, who is hitting just .152 and missed much of the year due to injuries himself. So it's kind of a Duda-or-bust situation, just as it was back on Opening Day.
Wright and Dickey were noncommittal after Alderson's comments, both citing the need for the Mets to display a plan geared toward winning. Wright has said he will not negotiate in-season next year, so the Mets either need to lock him up this winter or risk losing him for nothing after 2013. Dickey has indicated he'd strongly prefer not to negotiate in-season, and that he'll be looking at what the Mets do with Wright as he considers whether or not to return.
A static payroll makes it virtually impossible for the Mets to extend either without significantly backloading the contract. But both of them have eyes, and they're smart enough to be able to see the difference between a team that wants to contend and one that sends Lucas Duda out to play defense.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
The Yankees took two of three from Cleveland this weekend, including a 4-2 win Sunday, that put them four games up on Tampa Bay in the American League East.
The Jets continue to be big on field goals, kicking another four of them in a 17-12 pre-season loss to the Panthers Sunday night.
An uneven performance allowed the Red Bulls to come away with a point in a 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City on the road Sunday night.