Michael Cuddyer signed a two-year, $21-million deal with the New York Mets Monday, a few hours before the deadline at which he would have needed to formally accept or reject the one-year, $15.3-million qualifying offer the Colorado Rockies had given him one week ago. The deal was a win for Cuddyer, who clearly wanted the security of a two-year pact and to play with longtime friend David Wright. It was a major win for the Rockies, who were gambling by giving Cuddyer the opportunity to return for so much money. Colorado now receives a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds of the June MLB Draft.
This is not a win for the Mets. It’s an embarrassment. The qualifying offer was instituted after the 2012 season, part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed late in 2011, and it has been universally bad for players. In combination with changes in the rules governing spending on draft picks, the system has stunted the markets of every non-elite player who has received one. Last season, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew muddled through the entire offseason, unable to find a team willing to give up the draft pick and sign them at a reasonable cost. It’s a ghastly, anti-competitive policy, one the MLB Players Association should be ashamed for allowing the owners to implement. It’s a market killer.
The Mets, however, allowed Cuddyer to use the offer as leverage, to put it on his side of the table and use it to his advantage. They became so fixated on him, despite the presence of a handful of similar (though, admittedly, inferior) options on the open market, that they allowed themselves to be pressured into a bad purchase.
How do I know? Consider the timing here.
Cuddyer had but a few hours left before officially making a decision about the qualifying offer. If he had any intention of declining it without another deal in place, he would have waited. There’s hardly been any time to let a market for his services percolate, after all. If even one other team were interested in signing Cuddyer with the qualifying offer around his neck, Cuddyer would have waited the situation out and played that team off the Mets for longer. The deal he signed, after all, is just a shorter, very slightly richer (on an annual-average basis; and by very slightly, I mean $500,000 per year more) version of the deal he signed three winters ago. He more than made good on that contract, but is accepting a smaller version of it as a concession to age and market realities. Still, he would have had no reason to do that this soon if there were any sign of another interested party, anyone willing to top the qualifying offer itself.
Cuddyer can still hit. He’s a poor fielder, but not an absolute liability. He’ll come close to earning this contract. For a team with an uncertain short-term competitive standing, though, and one who stood to surrender the fifth-best draft pick it was possible to lose, he’s not the right choice. New York seems to be saying they’re ready to spend some money, but how much they have remains an open question, and Cuddyer is now taking up eight figures of a finite, fairly restricted budget. The Mets only saw Cuddyer, and Cuddyer and his agent saw the whole field. Sandy Alderson looks bad today.Next post: Joe Mauer Must Adapt in Order to Remain Useful
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