With the season he is having, Lucas Duda has squarely put many of his detractors in the background. Duda has already posted career bests in home runs, RBI, doubles and runs scored with 56 games left to play and Terry Collins hinting that we might see Duda getting some starts against lefties. This is a huge change from last year at this time, where many doubted whether Duda was even a major league caliber player and that if he was, he was at most a platoon player best suited to play in the American league.
How did this turn around so much in a year? All one needs to do is take a look at the numbers, which don’t lie. Duda is currently a top 30 power hitter in all of baseball. He is in the top 20 in SLG and OPS. He’s in the top 25 in home runs and RBI. He’s also been productive out of the middle of the Mets order. While hitting fourth or fifth, Duda is hitting nearly .300 with an over .550 slugging percentage and over 920 OPS. He’s currently batting .298 with runners in scoring position, while posting a 1024 OPS in those situations. With two outs in those same situations, Duda is hitting .250 with an 805 OPS, numbers that are well above the league average.
At the pace Duda is going, even without playing much against lefties, he will hit around 27 home runs and knock in about 90 runs. In this post body enhancement era, those are quality power numbers, production that the Mets will have no problem taking out of the first base position.
If Duda can learn to hit lefties, he could be a 30 plus home run and 100 plus RBI player. Those are top notch power numbers that will alleviate some of the needs in this team’s lineup. When you add in how much Duda makes, his value is really made clear.
This season, Duda will earn a little over 1.6 million dollars. If his numbers end up where they are projected to go, his salary through Arbitration will definitely increase significantly. Based upon the increase Ike Davis received after his 32 home run season in 2012, it is definitely in the realm of possibility that Duda will make approximately four million dollars next season. That is an utter bargain for a 20 plus home run, 85 plus RBI player. Just think about how much the Mets paid for Curtis Granderson, who won’t come anywhere near 85 RBI this year and how much the Dodgers are dumping yearly on Andre Ethier, who won’t come anywhere near either of those numbers. To further illustrate this point, let’s look at some players that are having similar years to Duda. Duda is currently ranked 18th in all of baseball in slugging percentage. Two players that are having similar seasons and also rank in the top 20 in that category are Jose Bautista and Justin Upton. Both have similar home run, RBI and SLG totals to Duda. Bautista is due to make 14 million dollars next year, while Upton is due to make 14.5 million over three times the amount Duda will probably make.
Of course, Duda has to show that this is the player he is and not the player he has historically been. Also, to maximize his value, he has to show he can hit left handed pitching. If those two things come to fruition, the Mets have an affordable, under control slugger at first base through 2017 as he’s not eligible for free agency until 2018. That also gives some of the young first baseman in the organization time to develop.
The two most interesting are playing on the same team in Single-A Savannah. Last year’s number one pick, Dominic Smith, has yet to hit a home run this year, but has smacked 21 doubles and is hitting .286. Savannah is known for killing left handed power, so the lack of home runs is not problematic yet. His teammate, right handed hitting Matthew Oberste is crushing the ball to a .306 average and a .481 slugging percentage bolstered by seven home runs. He’s slightly older than the league average, so more will be proven when he faces more advanced competition. It’s unknown whether either of these players, or a lower level prospect such as Dash Winningham (drafted this year) will ever develop into a starting first baseman. In Smith’s case, since the Mets spent such a high selection on him, it is hoped that he will be the first baseman of the future. But whether they do or don’t, the Mets at least don’t have to count on any of these players sooner than is necessary. Smith or Oberste probably wouldn’t be ready until 2016 at the earliest. If that occurs, and Duda continues to produce, the Mets will have a great situation on their hands. A stud first baseman, ready to make his major league debut and a power hitting first baseman with one year left of arbitration who just turned 30 and is still in his prime. That’s an attractive trade scenario that could further bolster the club.
The Mets still need to add players, but Duda’s rise has made it so that the team might only need to add one bat. That bat has to come at shortstop or leftfield and could be as simple as signing Rusney Castillo, who could take over as the teams leadoff hitter and allow Granderson to hit fifth or sixth in the order, with Duda manning the cleanup spot. It could also be a trade with the Colorado Rockies (we all know the two players that would entail) or a free agent signee this coming offseason, but with Duda in place, the need for two such players becomes much less of a requirement.
Who knows what the future holds for Duda. He wouldn’t be the first player to have a breakout year, then fall back on old habits and never match those numbers. With this team as cost conscience as it is and with free agents not getting to free agency in their prime seasons, having a player on the cheap who could provide Duda’s production is invaluable. Hopefully what we’re seeing from Duda is the beginning of several more impactful seasons and not a mirage that will evaporate over the upcoming seasons.