The Mets have so many other issues to fill that they’re not going to focus on finding a new first baseman when they currently have two – Ike Davis and Lucas Duda – for whom an argument could be made that one or the other is the right choice.
The Mets need at least two, legitimate middle-of-the-order bats if they think they’re going to contend in 2014. They’re going to have to bolster their starting rotation with the likely loss of Matt Harvey for the season. They have to address shortstop and the bullpen. They don’t need to worry about first base as well. They could move forward with either Duda or Davis and trade the other one to fill a need. What they have to decide is which one they want and they can’t afford to be wrong.
Let’s look at the tale of the tape.
Davis hit 32 home runs in 2012. In 2013, he was in a daze for much of the season and wound up being sent to the minor leagues. When he returned to the majors, he showed significantly better pitch selection and dramatically improved his on-base percentage. But as GM Sandy Alderson said in an interview with Mike Francesa recently, his power has disappeared. The Mets have to determine whether he’s sacrificing his home run swing to make better contact and draw more walks. Neither of which is a good thing for a hitter who was counted on to bat in the middle of the lineup at the start of the season. Add in that Davis can’t run whatsoever and his walks at the expense of home runs are a net negative. He’s also become a platoon player who is helpless against lefties.
Defensively, Davis has a reputation as a future Gold Glover, but after his rookie season amid flashy gymnastic catches on pop-ups, his defense has grown stagnant if not outright lazy. It could be that he was taking his offensive woes into the field, but he’s not a Gold Glover. He’s slightly above-average defender at the position.
Off the field has been a concern. Davis is one of the most popular players in the Mets clubhouse and that saved him from a demotion in 2012 and for a time in 2013. Eventually, the Mets front office couldn’t take Davis’s wild swings and misses and bewildered approach and sent him down.
Much like the Mets essentially told Ruben Tejada that if he didn’t want to take extra batting practice and show up to camp in shape, then he’d better make sure he hit and caught everything in the field, it wasn’t a problem until it was a problem and the player had no leeway due to hard work. Tejada stopped performing and the organization acted. Like Davis, he’s fallen out of favor with the brass. Davis works hard on the field, but he also enjoys the nightlife. That’s fine as long as the player hits. Davis hasn’t hit, so it’s not fine and the club has a right to say that maybe he needs to change some things off the field so he can succeed on it.
Davis was paid $3.13 million in 2013 and will make at least that in arbitration in 2014. He’s a free agent after 2016.
The gentle giant Duda has a tremendous eye at the plate, immense power and is coachable. That can be a problem because he’s willing to listen and implement everything the coaches tell him he needs to do to improve at the expense of his aggressiveness. Letting hittable fastballs down the pipe go by because he’s adhering to the organizational mantra of patience isn’t what’s needed from him. If he can get it into his head that the fine line between patience and aggressiveness is where he needs to be, he can be a very productive and inexpensive player.
Duda is batting .200 against lefty pitchers this season, but he’s far better than Davis at standing in against them and takes his walks.
Defensively Duda’s problem was that the Mets put him in the outfield when he belongs at first base. He’s at least as good defensively as Davis and might even be a little better.
There’s no questioning Duda’s seriousness about the game. He works extremely hard and keeps his mouth shut. Duda made $519,000 this season. He’s not arbitration eligible until 2015 and won’t be a free agent until after 2017.
With Duda, if the Mets put him in the lineup every day, they can pencil him in for 25-30 home runs and a .350 on-base percentage. After Davis entered camp with the job in his pocket for two straight seasons – and acting like it – can they reasonably still say the same production is coming? They don’t know. It’s often repeated that because he hit 32 homers in 2012, he can obviously do it again. But in 2012, he rode a blazing hot second half to that 32 homer season, then turned around in 2013 and had a worse start than he had in 2012.
Defensively, they’re even. Financially, Duda has the advantage. Offensively, there’s a bigger upside to Duda. The Mets front office has been almost begging Duda to take advantage of his unexpected opportunity to play every day for the last month of this season and give them a way to sell trading Davis to pave the way for Duda. He’s hit three homers in 15 September games and posted an .837 OPS. Given the club’s frustration with Davis, that Alderson doesn’t care about perception when he makes a decision and they believe that Duda is the better player, the obvious choice is to deal Davis for a similarly struggling young player and give Duda the job at first base for 2014.