The New York Mets will have a number of competitions that need to be worked out before spring training ends, but the most interesting will be whether Ike Davis or Lucas Duda wins the starting first base job.
Though Davis and Duda are both in camp, only one of them will be the Mets’ Opening Day first baseman. Unless the Mets make a trade during spring training, one of them will be in limbo moving forward.
The Mets openly shopped their first basemen this offseason. Rumors swirled throughout December and the winter meetings that one of them would get dealt, with multiple reporters claiming the Mets preferred Duda.
Despite this, as players have arrived to camp, Ike Davis appears to have the edge. Manager Terry Collins said on SNY earlier this offseason that the plan for Davis is to get him more at-bats so he can get in a rhythm prior to the season. Collins stated: “A lot of guys leave spring training and have 50, 60 at-bats. I might get him 80 to 100 this spring just to make sure he's ready to go when we start.”
The Mets have also stated they will once again try to play Duda in the outfield, an experiment that has failed miserably in the past. As much as the Mets may want to think that a lighter, faster Duda could play in the outfield, the current outfield is full, and Duda has shown he is only capable of playing first base.
So, if the team preferred to trade Davis this offseason, yet he appears to be the favorite heading into camp, how will this play out?
The Mets have seen plenty of both Davis and Duda over the past few years, so to base their decision on who starts on a small sample size in spring training would be silly unless one of the two performs terribly.
Ike Davis has the high ceiling and massive power that could change a team’s fortunes, but he also has the ability to be a major liability. There were times last season when having Davis in the lineup was basically giving the opposing team an out. And, considering the fact that power is his calling card, the fact that he had only nine home runs to go along with a 26.8 strikeout percentage is concerning.
Duda, on the other hand, has been consistently mediocre in his time with the Mets. While he has big-time power and can put on a show during batting practice, he hasn’t been able to consistently translate it into games at the major league level. He has hit 15 home runs each of the past two seasons, and has done it while posting mediocre batting averages below .240 and strikeout rates of over 26 percent.
Neither is a perfect option, but they both have a skill that is valuable to the Mets: their patience at the plate. Davis has a career 12.1 percent walk rate and had a 15.1 percent rate last season despite his struggles. Duda, who is known for his patience, has a career 11.3 percent walk rate.
While Davis has the higher ceiling, the Mets may decide to go with Duda since his production has been more consistent. However, if they really want to go for it this year and build their attendance up, Davis has the power potential to put people in seats.
Because the Mets were so inclined on dealing Davis this offseason, it is completely possible that they'll still trade him.
As I wrote earlier this offseason, keeping both Davis and Duda makes little sense. Mets GM Sandy Alderson has shown he is a patient negotiator, and his attempts to deal Davis could be overlapping with spring training, even if the list of interested teams has dwindled.
Giving Davis more at-bats could potentially help him get in a rhythm for the season, but it could be an excuse for the Mets to showcase him to other teams and remind them of his power. Having more at-bats in spring training should give him opportunities to beat up on lesser pitchers trying to make a roster, and potentially convince a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates to pull the trigger on a trade.
Whether Mets fans want the team to deal Ike Davis or not, they should hope he has a big spring. The Mets either need to trade one of their first basemen, or move on completely. Either way, they would be wise to platoon whomever they choose with Josh Satin, since both of them have struggled mightily against left-handed pitching their entire careers while Satin has thrived (albeit with much less power and a small sample size).
Mets fans are split on whom they prefer between Davis and Duda and passionately stick by their preference. However, while many fans may disagree, the Mets have consistently preferred Duda this offseason, and heading into the season with both is illogical, hence my prediction below (as unpopular as it might be).
If I am wrong and the team keeps Davis, then look for him to be the starting first baseman with Lucas Duda in Triple-A as insurance.
Prediction: The Mets try to build up Davis’ value in spring training, trade him to the Pirates and go into the season with a Duda-Satin platoon. Sandy Alderson is smart, keeping both of them is not—and the Mets will want to get something in return for Davis.
All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.