PHOENIX - The Mets pulled off a stunner on Monday, signing free-agent outfielder Michael Cuddyer to a two-year deal worth $21 million after it appeared they would pass on him.
They will forfeit the 15th overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft as compensation for signing Cuddyer, who had received a one-year, $15.3-million qualifying offer from the Rockies. According to a source, Cuddyer will receive $8.5 million in his first season and $12.5 million the next year.
Under general manager Sandy Alderson, the Mets have been protective of draft picks. But assistant GM John Ricco said the Mets determined that adding the 14-year veteran was worth the trade-off.
"Sandy has talked about we're looking to turn the corner here and start to compete in 2015," Ricco said from the GM meetings. "I think this is a message that we're going to be aggressive. And right out of the box, we had a guy we liked and we went out and got him."
It was the qualifying offer -- which meant that if another team signed him, it would lose a draft pick -- that initially cooled the Mets' interest in Cuddyer, a childhood friend of Mets captain David Wright. Injuries limited Cuddyer to 49 games with the Rockies last season, but he hit .332 with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs.
"Michael is a tremendous addition to the middle of our lineup," Alderson said in a statement. "He is a proven offensive threat who also brings versatility in the field with the ability to play multiple positions."
Cuddyer, who will be 36 by Opening Day, has slowed defensively and has been prone to injury. He missed time with a shoulder strain and hamstring issues in 2014.
But the Mets gravitated toward him early in the free-agent process because of his power from the right side and his ability to fit into the Mets' hitting philosophy.
He can play the corner outfield positions and spell first baseman Lucas Duda against tough lefthanded pitchers. Also, Cuddyer's expected asking price made him an attractive target when compared with other options on the market.
Still, when the Rockies extended the qualifying offer, the Mets initially balked. Though they were willing to give Cuddyer a two-year deal, they hesitated to part with a draft pick. But Alderson deviated from script to instantly improve an offense that finished in the middle of the pack in the National League.
"There's not a lot of options out there on the free-agent market or even on the trade market. Based on what we've at least learned to this point, it's going to be pricey," Ricco said. "So we thought this was a way to clearly upgrade our team and our lineup."
According to a source, the Mets had no interest in offering anything beyond a one-year deal to any of the other candidates on the free-agent market. The price on the trade market also proved prohibitive.
That prompted the Mets to push forward on Cuddyer, who has a .279 average, .347 on-base percentage and .466 slugging percentage in 1,419 games.
With Cuddyer on board, the Mets' next priority is finding an upgrade at shortstop. They're not keen on the available free-agent options but have engaged the trade market.
The Mets have checked in with the Rockies about shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, though a source characterized the interest as a matter of due diligence.
By signing Cuddyer instead of trading for an outfielder, the Mets positioned themselves to preserve trade chips for a deal.
"We're pretty happy that we addressed one of our biggest needs . . . and didn't give up any of our current talent," Ricco said. "So I think we're still in a great position to have some productive meetings here and at the winter meetings and see how else we can improve the team."
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