You really have to wonder what Lucas Duda’s career would have been like in another organization.
Duda is 27 years old. There’s ample evidence he can hit major league pitching quite well. His career OPS+ is 114, in 1167 plate appearances. In 2013, he’s at 123, in 269 plate appearances.
To put that in perspective, among first basemen qualified for the batting title, his 123 OPS+ would rank tenth of 22. Add DHs to the mix, and he’d be 13th of 27.
So to summarize, Duda is in his prime years, with all evidence pointing to the fact that he’s about league average, as a hitter, at a pair of positions that value hitting above all else.
So the Mets should be a great place for Duda! Team is 14th in the National League in OPS, 14th in slugging percentage. They’re third in walks, so somebody needs to drive those guys in, and David Wright’s on the shelf.
But no. Duda is at Triple-A. And according to Andy Martino, the Mets have “all but given up on Duda”.
Now, that’s a strange formulation, right?
Look, it is understandable that with Ike Davis hitting well, the Mets want to see what he gives them over the final two months of the season. There’s the inherent problem that no matter how good his August-September period is, the Mets, by committing to Davis, leave themselves vulnerable if he has a third straight April-June like his 2012 and 2013. I might be inclined to sign up for the higher floor of Duda at first base, but I can see why the Mets are prioritizing Davis, who seems to have a higher ceiling.
So that leaves Duda position-less. Why the Mets are coming to this now, rather than after starting Duda in RF in 2012, where he was the worst defender, per UZR, in baseball at any position, or LF in 2013, where he has been the third-worst outfielder with at least 300 innings logged in baseball, is hard to fathom. Two years closer to free agency, two years older, and two demotions later, Duda’s trade value is almost certainly exponentially lower.
And if they deal Duda now for whatever spare part another team offers, they have zero first base insurance for the highly volatile Davis.
It’s not the Mets’ responsibility to find Duda a proper home. But his career has indisputably been hijacked by the team’s lack of outfield options over the past two years, and the dubious decision to not once, but twice, try to make Duda into what he clearly was not.
Just think: if Duda played virtually anywhere else, especially the American League, where every night’s lineup has two positions he can capably fill, he’d probably be an established regular by now.
Instead, he’s in Triple-A without a job.
Poor Lucas Duda.