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Ike Davis vs. Lucas Duda: Mets facing decision

Ike Davis, right, and Lucas Duda celebrate after

Ike Davis, right, and Lucas Duda celebrate after Duda's two-run home run in the third inning of a game against the Philadelphia Phillies. (Aug. 29, 2012) Credit: AP

If one thing has become increasingly clear early in this offseason, it's that the Mets will  trade either Ike Davis or Lucas Duda. This accomplishes two goals for the Mets, who must resolve a logjam at first base while capitalizing on a market in which power is scarce.

Yes, both Davis and Duda have their flaws. But both have also flashed enough power for rival teams to take a chance that a change of scenery will help.

So, who will the Mets ultimately deal?

In one way, the answer is simple. As one team insider said during last week's general manager's meetings, who the Mets ultimately deal away is a matter of which player draws a better offer, as opposed to favoring one over the other.

Davis boasts a higher profile -- by virtue of his 32-homer season in 2012 -- so the assumption is that he has more suitors. However, Duda has drawn some interest as well, perhaps more than some initially believed. At least, during his media blitz on Friday, that's what general manager Sandy Alderson seemed to hint. That both have drawn interest should come as little surprise in this power-starved market.

This is where things could get a bit complicated. In so many ways, Davis and Duda really aren't much different, and if the Mets have a preference of one over the other, it isn't strong.

It's close

When judged by wins above replacement, there isn't much of a debate. Davis (5.5) far outpaces Duda (-0.8), who actually falls below replacement level. But in this case, Duda's value takes a huge hit because of his abysmal defense in the outfield, which is no longer relevant. That's because Duda is no longer viewed as an outfielder by anybody, including the Mets who stubbornly tried and failed make the 6-foot-4, 255 pounder an everyday outfielder.

So, to judge Duda by WAR in this context distorts his actual value.

At first base, Davis and Duda are in the same ballpark defensively, so a more meaningful comparison would be to simply stack up their offensive production. In this way, their differences are harder to spot.

Duda (27) is one year older than Davis (26), who has more experience in the big leagues. But both are left-handed hitting first basemen, both have shown some pop, and both have dealt with barriers that have kept them from reaching their full potential. Their career numbers:

Davis: .242/.334/.434 67 HR , 219 RBI, 112 OPS+, 1,711 PAs 
Duda: .246/.342/.424 44 HR, 153 RBI, 114 OPS+, 1,282 PAs

The disparity in the counting stats can be accounted for in Davis' edge in plate appearances. But the rate stats aren't that much different. While Davis is perceived as much more of a free swinger -- and Duda is viewed as somebody who doesn't swing enough -- their career walk and strikeout rates are essentially the same:

Davis: 12.1% walk rate, 24% strikeout rate
Duda: 11.3% walk rate, 23.5% strikeout rate

There are some differences. For instance, Davis historically hits more ground balls than Duda, though more of Davis' fly balls eventually turn into homers. Meanwhile, Duda's platoon splits against lefties aren't nearly as drastic as Davis'.

Still, even with the clear distinctions, both Davis and Duda have ultimately produced at nearly the same level in the big leagues.

Risk vs. reward

Duda's performances have been steadier, but Davis has shown the higher upside. So, what's more attractive?

As expected, Davis' 32-homer season in 2012 has landed him on plenty of radar screens around the game. Jon Heyman of recently reported that as many as five teams have shown preliminary interest in Davis. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told Adam McCalvy at that the Mets make sense as a trade partner.

"They've indicated that they have extra first basemen, and we have a need," Melvin told McCalvy. "Again, it's all about keeping your options open. ... Nothing imminent, and I don't anticipate anything imminent. But first base is one of our needs, they have excess first basemen, so you can tie two and two together -- and come up with three."

Meanwhile, team insiders only grew more confident after last week's GM meetings that the Mets will ultimately find a trade that's to their liking.

But some talent evaluators believe that Duda is just as attractive, especially to American League teams that may be searching for a designated hitter.

"He's cheaper, has more years under control, has been more consistent, and I think he has more power," said one executive, who admitted he's likely in the minority.

While Davis is in his second year of salary arbitration and could make roughly $3.5 million, Duda is only in his first year of arbitration and is projected to make about $2 million.

Another evaluator believes Duda's "better overall approach" would make him attractive to teams scared off by Davis' wild swings in consistency. Some scouts question whether Davis will ever attain steady success in the big leagues without major changes to his swing. (Of course, such drastic adjustments can prove problematic).

Yet, one scout said that Davis remains the "ideal change of scenery guy," and that new surroundings may help him toward finding some long-elusive consistency.

What's next?

For now, one rival executive estimated that either Davis or Duda could be traded for low and mid-tier prospects, or perhaps even a higher-end risk-reward type prospect. But the Mets might also benefit from just letting the free agent market develop, in hopes that fewer power options might encourage more teams toward the trade market.

Of course, it's early, and market shifts could change this equation.

The Mets could also theoretically use either player as a smaller part to a much larger trade. All throughout the offseason, the Mets have paid close attention to the trade market, where they would be willing to absorb large contracts if it means returning some high-end talent.

Regardless of how it all unfolds, when it comes to Davis and Duda, it seems that the Mets are content to allow the market to steer their decision.

"To some extent that will be an internal decision," Alderson said at last week's GM meetings. "To some extent it may be a function of the marketplace. We'll just have to see."

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