After emerging as the starting first basemen after being placed in a platoon within a platoon, it has been reported by David Lennon (of Newsday) that the Mets are hoping to extend Lucas Duda. The 29-year-old had a breakout season last year, hitting 30 homers complimented by a .253 average with a .349 OBP, and was rewarded for it this offseason, by signing a one-year deal worth $4.2 million. Even though last season was impressive, is it a smart decision for the Mets to extend Duda?
The main reason for extending Duda is to lock him up past his free agency date, while controlling his salary throughout his arbitration years. Duda is set to become a free agent in 2018, when he would be 32 years old. This would be towards the end of Duda’s “prime” if we were going by age. The Mets can get a couple of good seasons out of Duda by extending him, but there are still some question marks to Duda’s game.
Everyone around the league knows about his power, and he is amongst the best power hitters in the game, but he struggled against left-handed pitchers last season, hitting .180 in 111 at-bats. The team should be willing to let Duda hit against left-handed pitching early this season, and see how he fairs against southpaws. If he performs well, the team should pay him starter’s money, however if he struggles, then it seems that Duda would be a great platoon player.
The sample size has not been tremendous. Although he did not play everyday in 2012 and 2013, he hit .239 and .223 when he did play. Getting on base is not the problem on the offensive side, but his average is worrisome. We have had a first baseman in Ike Davis, who hit .264 in his rookie campaign, hit 32 homers in 2012, and was traded two years later. After one impressive season, who knows what is in store for the future? Will other teams make the adjustments in order to keep the ball in the yard when Duda comes up, or will Lucas be able to provide more power to the Mets lineup this season?
It is also easy to be a skeptic of negotiating a contract extension, as the team drafted teenager Dominic Smith in the 2011 draft with their first round. Smith seems to be a decent hitter, but has not showcased much power throughout his young minor league career. MLB.com ranks Smith as the 4th best first base prospect in the minors, the 10th best prospect in the Mets system, and predicts that he will make his MLB debut in 2017. If the team does extend Duda, it would enable the Mets to give Smith more seasoning at the minors, but could potentially block him from starting in the big leagues. If the organization has given up on Smith, then extending Duda makes sense, but it seems too early to give up on Smith.
The Mets do have money to sign players to extensions, as the only money committed to players in 2016 is to Michael Cuddyer, Curtis Granderson, Jon Niese and David Wright. With young players such as Travis d’Arnaud, Matt Harvey, and Juan Lagares still a couple of years away from reaching arbitration, the Mets will need cap room to keep the group of young players together. Extending Duda would provide the young core with a veteran to follow, and a powerful lefty in the lineup, as it provides a nice counter to David Wright’s bat. It seems too early for the Mets to commit to Duda as their everyday first basemen, even though he played a nice defense (posting a .994 fielding percentage) and led the team in homers. The Mets should take more time to see what they truly have in Duda. We know about the power, but can he hit for enough average to pencil him in the lineup everyday? Time will tell, but it seems too early to extend Duda.