By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
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It’s been quite an eventful spring training for the Mets down in Port St. Lucie.
There’s been some good, some bad and some ugly.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. As for the ugly, there was an oddly timed meeting between manager Terry Collins and owner Fred Wilpon that may or may not have meant anything. Unless you were in the room, there’s no way of knowing. Sticking with the theme of communication — or lack thereof — Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson have given mixed signals regarding Dillon Gee’s security in the rotation and whether the club needs a lefty in the bullpen. Oh, and there was that awkward Noah Syndergaard incident early in camp.
The bad? There’s been plenty of that. Josh Edgin and Zack Wheeler are out for the season and Daniel Murphy, dealing with a pulled right hamstring, might miss opening day. Vic Black, too, might start the season on the DL. The bullpen has been disastrous, there is no obvious lefty specialist candidate and — pardon me if you’ve heard this before — Wilmer Flores still looks shaky at shortstop. To make matters worse, Flores is in a walking boot after fouling a ball off his left foot Sunday.
Ah, but to the good. Matt Harvey, who didn’t pitch last season, looks brilliant on the hill. As does reigning Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom. Captain David Wright, by all accounts, is healthy and is hitting the ball well. He’s even displayed some old-school power, a sight for sore eyes. Matt Reynolds is impressing at the plate and Flores was on absolute fire before he got hurt.
Something else to file under the “good” column? The play of newcomer Michael Cuddyer.
You may have missed it, considering that Harvey and the injuries have dominated the Mets’ news cycle, but the 35-year-old has been tearing the cover off the ball in Florida. Sure, you take spring stats with a grain of salt, but Cuddyer has looked good — real good. So good, in fact, that his numbers simply cannot be ignored. The two-time All-Star is 10-for-30 (.333 average) with three doubles, four home runs and five RBIs. He’s also consistently put the ball in play, striking out just four times.
There are so many storylines and intriguing subplots surrounding this team that Cuddyer’s importance has gone under the radar. If the outfielder stays healthy and produces like he can, this lineup will score runs. And with the pitching staff being as good as it is — yes, it’s still very good without Wheeler — that will equate to a lot of wins.
The Mets needed a superstar bat this offseason, and they didn’t get one. They didn’t get a Troy Tulowitzki or a Nelson Cruz, or even an Ian Desmond. But don’t discount what Cuddyer can do. This man is a professional hitter in every sense of the word. He played just 49 games for the Rockies last season, but in those 49 games he was arguably as good as any hitter in the game. The veteran hit .332 with 10 home runs in just 190 at-bats, and got on base at a .376 clip.
Oh, and the year before? He merely won the National League batting title. No big deal.
Yes, I know, I know. He played at Coors Field. So maybe his numbers were inflated a bit. But it’s not exactly as if Cuddyer is a journeyman flash in the pan. The Norfolk, Va., native has been dangerous at the dish ever since he broke into the big leagues with the Twins in 2001.
You could make a strong argument that, outside of Wright, Cuddyer is the biggest key to the lineup.
Let’s run through the order. Juan Lagares is talented, but nobody is expecting him to be Rickey Henderson in the leadoff spot. Murphy is Murphy, you know what you’re going to get. Curtis Granderson is expected to have a better season in his second year in Queens, but he’s not a 40-homer guy anymore. Lucas Duda likely won’t improve on his 2014 numbers — the hope is that he’ll replicate them — and while d’Arnaud and Flores have plenty of potential, they’re bottom-of-the-order bats.
Duda and Granderson, the club’s top run producers in 2014, are too inconsistent. They tend to be all-or-nothing hitters. Duda struggles to hit lefties, and Granderson will be Willie Mays one month and Jason Phillips (remember him?) the next.
What Cuddyer brings is consistency. He moves Granderson back a slot in the lineup, offers protection for Wright and Duda and could quietly — and cheaply — be the No. 5 hitter that the Mets have longed for the last few years. He hits for average, hits for power, gets on base and puts the ball in play. When Cuddyer’s up with a runner on third and less than two outs, he’ll more than likely get that runner home.
Lagares, Murphy, Wright, Duda, Cuddyer, Granderson, d’Arnaud, Flores. That has the potential to be a lineup to be reckoned with.
And if New York’s top offseason acquisition plays 140-plus games and hits like he’s capable of hitting, the Mets will compete for a playoff spot.
Brad Kallet is an editor and columnist for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.