Mets first baseman Lucas Duda will be fully shut down for thirty days after experiencing a “flare-up” in his back, GM Sandy Alderson told reporters including MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo (via Twitter). As DiComo notes, that may well mean that he won’t return by the end of the season.
The 30-year-old slugger had been expected to play a significant role this year for the defending N.L. champs. Instead, he lasted only 39 games before succumbing to a back injury that has proven more serious than initially believed. Though Duda was always expected to miss a couple of months, it had generally been assumed that he’d return at some point down the stretch.
That still may be possible, and it doesn’t appear that the team has yet ruled Duda out completely. But a month-long shutdown doesn’t leave much time at all to return to game speed, and it may not even be worth the risk to try.
After all, Duda remains a likely asset for the Mets in 2017. He’s earning $6.725MM this year in his second-to-final season of arbitration eligibility. While he’ll likely earn a slight raise on that, he hasn’t done much to drive a big increase.
Before going down, Duda contributed 145 plate appearances of .231/.297/.431 hitting with seven home runs. That is well off of the standard he had set over the prior two seasons, when Duda was good for a .249/.350/.483 combined slash and 57 total long balls.
So long as the big lefty is able to show progress before the non-tender deadline, there’s good reason to think that he’ll still represent a solid value. Duda is limited to first base, where he is an average defender, and has never really hit lefties outside of a 132 plate appearance sample in 2015. But as a reasonably youthful, established power bat, the market will likely value him above a one-year, $7MM (or less) commitment.
Viewed in that light, Duda should at least represent a plausible trade piece even if he’s not in the Mets’ plans. Really, though, it’s not clear that New York has an alternative lined up. David Wright could require time at first if and when he’s able to return, though it’s hard to imagine the team making moves in reliance on his availability. And though highly-regarded prospect Dominic Smith has finally developed some power in his first attempt at the Double-A level, he’s only 21 years old and isn’t exactly demanding a big league promotion with a .282/.343/.439 batting line.
New York had already been forced to line up a fill-in for the present season, of course, with James Loney having now seen far more time than Duda on the year. He has been quite useful, slashing .284/.336/.442 over 215 plate appearances.