In 2014, Lucas Duda took over the Mets’ first base job on a full-time basis, and over the next few seasons, he produced like a quintessential Good first baseman when healthy. From the beginning of the 2014 season to his final game with the Mets in 2017, Duda posted a 129 wRC+, an .830 OPS, and a .355 wOBA across 1,611 plate appearances in the orange and blue, along with decent defensive metrics.
And Duda’s 2017 season with the Mets was not any sort of outlier from that production. Before he was traded away, the 31-year-old hit a steady .246/.347/.532, good for a 129 wRC+ and an .879 OPS. With his contract set to expire at the end of the year, the Mets traded him to the Rays on July 27 for relief prospect Drew Smith, sending Duda to a new organization for the first time in his career.
Once he got to St. Petersburg, though, Duda’s season went into a bit of a tailspin. He hit just .175/.285/.444 for the Rays, which was only good for a 91 wRC+. Those struggles dragged his overall season wRC+ down to a disappointing 113. He was still hitting home runs in August and September, but he wasn’t getting any other hits and was striking out about 31 percent of the time—far more than he ever did on the Mets.
Duda now enters free agency for the first time in his career with his stock considerably down, due to both his struggles for the Rays and the poor market for corner power bats. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs projected Duda to only recieve a one-year deal for $10 million this winter, while Ken Davidoff of the New York Post predicted he would get just a one-year, $7 million deal.
Given his recent history of being a borderline top-10 first baseman by many measures, Duda could come as one of the biggest bargains on the free agent market. Sandy Alderson recently said that Dom Smith didn’t necessarily win the first base job in September, so if the Mets aren’t comfortable handing first base to Smith next season, they could make a serious run at reuniting with the inexpensive Duda, allowing Smith at least another year to develop.
That said, there are some serious risks in signing Duda. He does have a notable injury history, and if the Mets are seriously trying to contend in 2018, they might not be able to afford giving their first base job to an aging player who posted just a 113 wRC+ with average defense; a profile that doesn’t make for much of valuable a first baseman in today’s game. But Duda’s likely price tag does mitigate most of that risk, making it easier to pull the plug on him if things go south. He also likely doesn’t block Smith for multiple years, like other options might.
As of this writing, the Mets haven’t been connected to Duda at all yet; the only teams that have reportedly reached out to him are the Mariners, Red Sox, and Angels. But it is still very early in the offseason, so it is still possible for the Mets to make a run at their former first baseman and bring Duda back to Flushing in 2018.