The New York Mets promised their long suffering fans that they would spend some money this offseason to acquire some quality players to accompany cornerstone third baseman David Wright. With rookie phenom Matt Harvey out for all of 2014 rehabbing after Tommy John surgery, however the Mets need starting pitching and upgrades almost everywhere else. One position where the Mets are relatively strong, though, is first base.
The Mets’ glut of first basemen includes Ike Davis, Justin Turner, Josh Satin, and Lucas Duda. Daniel Murphy, who played mostly at second, can also fill in at first. With needs elsewhere, you have to think the Mets probably won’t keep all of their options at the keystone. Could the Rays be a team that goes for them? If the Rays don’t sign James Loney, which seems like the most likely scenario, one of the Mets first basemen could very well end up in Tampa Bay. We have discussed Davis in the past, but today let’s talk about Lucas Duda.
An intercostal strain limited Duda to 100 games on the year, but when healthy, he put up strong numbers. He only hit .223, but walked 55 times to help him to a .352 on base percentage. His 15 homers in just 384 plate appearances would have placed him fourth on the Rays for the entire 2013 season, and he also smacked 16 doubles. His .415 slugging percentage does not seem so impressive, but his .192 isolated power is a better measure of his power. Between his .352 OBP and .415 SLG, Duda had a 118 OPS+, 18% better than league average adjusting to ballpark. He strikes out too often and does not do a great job hitting for average, but between his patience and power, Duda has the ability to be a strong offensive player.
Defensively, though, is a bigger concern. Duda has played most of his career in the corner outfield spots, but the results have been disastrous as he has managed just a -25.4 UZR/150 in 890.2 innings in left field and only a -41.7 mark in 1006 innings in right. You know the Rays like versatility, but Duda has no business playing the outfield. At first base, he has actually been a tick above-average, managing a 1.2 UZR/150, but it may not be a coincidence that first base is also the position in which he has logged the fewest innings. Even if the lumbering 6’4″, 255 Duda was average at first base, though, it would still be a far cry from the quality defense the Rays have gotten from James Loney and Carlos Pena in recent years. Duda started twice as the Mets’ designated hitter in 2013, and if acquired by the Rays, you would have to expect him to start there as much as possible.
If the Rays acquired Duda, it is possible that in 2014 he could crush over 20 homers with an on base percentage in the .350’s. Even with his weak glove, if used correctly, Duda would be a solid contributor to the Rays’ next playoff push. Duda would also be affordable. His 2013 salary was a little over $500,000, and while he’s arbitration eligible in 2014, he will likely agree to terms for less than the $2 million the Rays paid Loney in 2013. But what will it take to acquire Duda?
After the 2012 season, the Rays flipped Derek Dietrich to the Miami Marlins in exchange for Yunel Escobar. In exchange for Duda and his three remaining years under team control, the Rays would have to give up about as good of a prospect. Would giving up a player like Drew Vettleson or Jake Hager plus a lesser prospect or two be worth it to bring Duda into the fold?
With Lucas Duda potentially available, the Rays will have to check in. They have a need at first base and designated hitter, and finally getting a stable presence at those positions after changing the names seemingly every year would be a nice touch. But between Duda’s defensive deficiencies and the cost it would take to acquire him, you have to wonder whether it will be worth it. Duda could be an interesting player for the Rays, but only at the right price. Unless the Mets’ ask for less in exchange for Duda than we would expect, the Rays are likely to go for an option off the free agent market once again.