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Michael Cuddyer happy to be playing in New York

National League's Michael Cuddyer, of the Colorado Rockies,

National League's Michael Cuddyer, of the Colorado Rockies, lets a ball get past him during the MLB All-Star Home Run Derby, on Monday, July 15, 2013. Credit: AP / Matt Slocum

PHOENIX - As Michael Cuddyer weighed his future, two factors loomed large. The two-time All-Star wanted to play for a team capable of contention. He also hoped to play on the East Coast, so he could be closer to his native Virginia, where he grew up with close friend David Wright.

Cuddyer found both with the Mets, who signed the veteran outfielder to a two-year, $21-million deal to fill a glaring need for a righthanded power bat in the outfield, the team's top offseason priority.

"It really wasn't about the money," Cuddyer said Tuesday. "As hard as it is for some to believe, it's not always about the money and this is one of these cases."

Cuddyer, who will be 36 by Opening Day, signed a bigger deal with the Mets instead of accepting the Rockies' one-year qualifying offer for $15.3 million. But he insisted his decision hinged on playing in New York, alongside Wright, who began the recruiting effort as soon as the offseason began.

"It's a perfect fit for us," said Wright, who praised Cuddyer's presence in both the lineup and the clubhouse.

General manager Sandy Alderson felt the same, pushing to sign Cuddyer before Monday's deadline to accept the Rockies' qualifying offer, which is what forced the Mets to surrender their 15th overall draft pick as compensation.

"We accelerated the process to make sure we got it done," Alderson said of Cuddyer, who hit .332 with 10 homers and 31 RBIs in 49 games during an injury-shortened season.

For the Mets, signing Cuddyer proved to be an aggressive move, one that went against precedent during Alderson's regime.

Aside from age, and a propensity for injuries, Cuddyer's defense in the outfield emerged as a risk factor. Advanced defensive metrics paint an unflattering picture.

But according to a source, the Mets went against the numbers, based on the belief that the outfield dimensions at Coors Field exaggerated Cuddyer's defensive issues. While far from a Gold Glover, the Mets felt comfortable enough to view Cuddyer as a viable outfielder.

It's one of the reasons that the Mets pushed forward with the move despite having to part with a draft pick. Also, by signing Cuddyer instead of trading for a solution, the Mets believed they upgraded without parting with talent, which may loom large as the Mets scour the trade market for a shortstop.

"A draft pick is an asset, no question about that, but we have other players that are much closer to the big leagues than that player would have been," Alderson said. "We still have all of those players in our system."

Though Alderson played down cost as a primary motivator in signing Cuddyer, he said that Cuddyer emerged early in the offseason as the Mets' top choice "both in terms of dollars and players."

Alderson acknowledged that the Rockies' surprising decision to make Cuddyer the qualifying offer gave the Mets "pause" when considering the deal. But that hesitation didn't last long.

While some within the organization balked, a source said it was Alderson who seemed most determined to move forward for Cuddyer. It turns out that the urgency was warranted.

Cuddyer said he would have likely accepted the Rockies' offer had the Mets not been so aggressive in pursuing him.

That effort began and ended with Wright, who began calling and texting Cuddyer early in the process, and stepped up his efforts as the qualifying offer deadline drew near. The two grew up in Virginia and have a friendship that dates to their teenage years.

"This decision was more about wanting to come to New York," said Cuddyer, who could play in rightfield with Curtis Granderson willing to move to left. "Wanting to play for the Mets, wanting to play with David, wanting to play on the East Coast for this team and for this organization."

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