|Michael Morse will be dancing to A-Ha in 2015, but not at Citi Field. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)|
In early November, the Mets pulled off a stunningly quick free agent signing, inking Michael Cuddyer to a two-year, $21 million contract to play the outfield and fill in for Lucas Duda at first base whenever a tough left-handed pitcher was facing New York. The Mets made this move even though they knew they would have to part ways with their first round draft pick in 2015, as Cuddyer was given a qualifying offer by his former employers in Colorado that he chose not to accept. The signing reunites Cuddyer with his childhood friend, David Wright, as the two All-Stars grew up near each other in Virginia.
Cuddyer has an injury history, played his last three seasons in the thin air of the Mile High city and will be 36 years old by the time the curtains open on the 2015 season. Clearly, there are lots of question marks with this deal, but if Cuddyer stays healthy, he should still be a serviceable player who will make positive offensive contributions to the team. With that being said, why didn't the Mets make a stronger push for a fellow Michael who just won a World Series ring in San Francisco?
Michael Morse is coming off a season in which he missed 31 games. However, he still managed to produce 32 doubles, three triples, 16 home runs and 61 RBI in 438 at-bats, averaging an extra-base hit every 8.6 at-bats. In doing so, Morse was one of just six players in the majors who had at least 50 extra-base hits in fewer than 500 plate appearances. Morse's .811 OPS was quite good in a season where just nine National League players posted an OPS of .850 or higher.
In three seasons with the Rockies, Cuddyer produced an .886 OPS. However, that number was clearly inflated by playing his home games at Coors Field. From 2012 to 2014, Cuddyer's OPS at home (.984) was far superior to his road OPS (.795). His OPS on the road while with the Rockies was very similar to the overall .794 OPS he posted in 11 seasons with Minnesota, leading one to believe that he will produce around the same figure with the Mets. Morse, on the other hand, has played the majority of his career in home parks that are not among the best for sluggers (Safeco Field, Nationals Park, AT&T Park). However, he has been very consistent at home and on the road, posting an .809 lifetime OPS in his home parks, while producing an .807 OPS on the road
Going back to Cuddyer's injury history, the new member of the Mets has played 140 or more games in a season just four times since making his major league debut in 2001. And since 2011, Cuddyer has missed a total of 229 games. Morse is not the healthiest of players either, surpassing 130 games played just twice since becoming a regular player in 2010. However, Morse has missed "only" 181 games since 2011, meaning he remains on the field more than Cuddyer does.
When considering what a player - especially one who is injury-prone - would do over the course of a full season, a valuable tool to use is baseball-reference.com's "per 162 games" stat. Let's look at what Cuddyer and Morse have done per 162 games since both became everyday players in the big leagues.
- Cuddyer (since 2004): .280 BA, .468 SLG, .816 OPS, 37 doubles, 22 HR, 89 RBI
- Morse (since 2010): .279 BA, .479 SLG, .816 OPS, 32 doubles, 27 HR, 83 RBI
Basically, they're the same player when healthy. But Cuddyer (born March 27, 1979) is three years older than Morse (born March 22, 1982) and could be on the decline sooner than Morse, especially now that he's left the thin-aired confines of Coors Field.
Now let's consider what Cuddyer has done against the NL East teams he will now be playing more regularly and compare that to what Morse has done against the same teams. Since Cuddyer has less experience playing National League teams than Morse does, we will only consider non-cumulative stats for both players.
- Cuddyer (vs. ATL, MIA, PHI, WAS): .302 BA, .484 SLG, .846 OPS
- Morse (vs. ATL, MIA, PHI, WAS): .307 BA, .512 SLG, .870 OPS
Unlike the "per 162 games" stat, in this case Morse clearly has an edge over Cuddyer. The experience factor (all but 612 of Morse's 2,296 career at-bats have come as a National League player) also gives Morse an advantage over Cuddyer, who spent over a decade in Minnesota.
Finally, and this has always been important in the Sandy Alderson scheme of things, Michael Morse was not given a qualifying offer by the Giants when his contract expired at the end of the 2014 season. Therefore, had the Mets chosen to sign Morse, they would not have lost their first round draft pick next season as they did when they signed Cuddyer. Furthermore, Cuddyer was finishing up a three-year, $31.5 million deal with the Rockies, meaning the Mets were going to have to dole out over $10 million per season to a player of Cuddyer's talent and experience, even with his recent injury history. Meanwhile, Morse was coming off a one-year, $6 million deal with the Giants, just one season after finishing off a two-year, $10.5 million contract originally signed with Washington in 2012 (Morse was later traded to Seattle and Baltimore during those two seasons). Given Morse's injury history, he probably would not command more than a two-year deal. However, his average annual value would certainly not exceed $10 million per season. Perhaps a two-year, $18 million contract would have been enough to lure him to Flushing.
So let's summarize. Cuddyer is three years older than Morse, has similar offensive production to Morse (per 162 games) and is coming off a three-year stay in hitter-friendly Colorado to play at sea level in New York. And although Cuddyer hits well against his new division rivals, Morse's numbers are better against those teams and Morse has more experience playing those clubs. Oh, and lest we forget, Morse would probably have had a lower price tag than Cuddyer and would not have cost the Mets next year's first round draft pick - a pick they could have given up for another quality player in addition to Morse.
David Wright and Michael Cuddyer are friends. So it's entirely possible Wright had a big say in the team's hasty decision to sign Cuddyer. But had the team waited it out a little longer, they could have come up with a better deal in the still-unsigned Michael Morse. Like Cuddyer, Morse is a right-handed hitting outfielder who has experience at first base and could play there in place of Lucas Duda whenever a tough lefty was on the mound. But the Mets decided Cuddyer would be a better fit for the team. Let's just hope Morse doesn't turn into a good fit for one of the Mets' main rivals.