Mets’ winter forecast: Is Lucas Duda getting squeezed out at first base?
We continue our examination of the state of the Mets’ roster by examining the first basemen:
ON THE 40 Lucas Duda (.229, 7 HR, 23 RBI) Eric Campbell (.173, 1 HR, 9 RBI)
PENDING FREE AGENT James Loney (.265, 9 HR, 34 RBI)
ON THE FARM (as per MLB.com) Dominic Smith (Class AA) Peter Alonso (Class A)
WHERE THEY STAND The Mets will have to make a decision this offseason about whether to tender Duda a contract for what could be his final year with the organization.
Duda, 30, in in his last year of arbitration, and is coming off a shortened season due to a lower-back stress fracture. It seemed unlikely that he would play again after being put on the disabled list in late May, but made it back and was actually on the NL wild-card game roster.
It would have seemed unlikely at this time last year the Mets would entertain non-tendering Duda, but the injury and his uncertain future with the team at least opens the possibility. The Mets also have to see where they stand with their roster composition.
If the team brings back slugger Yoenis Cespedes and exercises Jay Bruce’s option, it will have too many starting outfielders and may have to look to play one at first base. Bruce and Michael Conforto both could learn how to play first base during spring training, and there simply may be too many bodies with Duda in the mix. Duda made $6.725 million this past season.
However, the downside to simply non-tendering Duda is the Mets would not receive any compensation for parting ways with a player who hit 57 homers spanning the 2014-15 seasons. Though there may be some uncertainty after his injury, Duda is a lefty slugger who is capable of changing the game with one swing, and teams covet the type of power he possesses.
The Mets could likely at least fetch a prospect or two if they opt to trade Duda. Campbell is still under contract and could bounce between the majors and Class AAA Las Vegas again, while Loney would be a solid backup first baseman if the team has a roster spot available.
Smith’s status as a top prospect in the game is one of the reasons Duda does not appear to have a long-term future with the club since Smith appears lined up to take over in 2018. Smith, the team’s first-round pick in 2013, posted a .824 OPS this year with Class AA Binghamton. He hit a career-high 14 homers to post any concerns there may have been about his power.
Alonso, a second-round pick in 2016, had a nice showing with Class A Brooklyn, and Baseball America recently named Alonso the fifth-best power hitter in its draft review.
OUTLOOK The prediction here is the Mets will ultimately tender Duda a deal since that at least allows them to be compensated if they opt to trade him, and gives them their best option at first base among the group. Conforto and Bruce could learn the position to play there occasionally, but the Mets’ best option at first base is Duda, and they will hope he can return to form.
The odds seem against a reunion with Loney since Wilmer Flores can start at first base when needed, and if Kelly Johnson returns that gives the team another option at first base.