clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Michael Cuddyer thriving in part-time role with Mets

In a diminished role, the free agent acquisition is finally fitting in.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

When Michael Cuddyer was signed to a two-year, $21 million contract this past offseason, reactions were varied. Supporters of the deal pointed to the former batting champion's credentials at the plate: he hit a combined .331/.385/.543 over his past two seasons. Opponents of the contract cited the 145 games missed during that span and the fact that his numbers were inflated due to the thin Colorado air. No one was particularly thrilled about forfeiting a first-round pick to sign him.

Almost halfway through Cuddyer's two-year deal, those who opposed the contract have had few, if any, of their worries allayed, while those in favor of the deal are likely disappointed by Cuddyer's overall production. Through 109 games, Cuddyer has hit .269/.321/.404 with 10 home runs in 389 plate appearances. Those numbers are a far cry from what Cuddyer expects of himself, but the 36-year-old's recent play suggests that he may have found his niche.

Through late July as the team's starting left fielder, Cuddyer hit a paltry .250/.303/.380 in 314 plate appearances over 82 games, while dealing with a balky knee. Eventually, Cuddyer was placed on the disabled list, which paved the way for the promotion of Michael Conforto and the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes. In the time since Cuddyer was finally activated from the disabled list on August 10, he has been used mostly in a platoon role in right field and at first base.

In his new part-time role, Cuddyer has hit .348/.400/.507 over 75 plate appearances. That's too small a sample size to make any kind of definitive conclusion, and the .386 BABIP indicates that these numbers are not completely sustainable, but it is hard to spin the early returns on the Cuddyer-as-bench-player experiment as anything but positive. Considering that his career OPS against lefties is almost 100 points higher than versus righties, the ability to platoon Cuddyer is a major boon. Perhaps more importantly, the new role gives Cuddyer more chances to rest his oft-ailing body. He has started only 14 of 27 games since returning from injury, and has been pulled early in four of those 10 starts. On days when Cuddyer is not starting, he has become the team's top right-handed bench bat; as a pinch hitter during that span, he has gone 5-for-10 with one hit-by-pitch.

Short of covering him in bubble-wrap, this part-time role is the best way to safeguard against injury while also positioning him to succeed. The return on investment is still not what the Mets would have hoped for, but it is a credit to Cuddyer that he has been able to make the most of the diminished role he has found himself in. It stands to reason that most aging players would benefit from extra rest and the advantages of a platoon, but many proud athletes handle such demotions with less class than what Cuddyer has shown.

While the torrid play of Conforto and Cespedes has led the Mets to the top of the NL East standings, Cuddyer has had some key hits as well. The team's outfield alignment could change next season, especially if Cespedes bolts for his fifth team in three years. But for now, Cuddyer's new role as the team's cool bench uncle has been a great fit for everyone involved.