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Acquired 1B-L Lucas Duda from New York Mets in exchange for RHP Drew Smith. [7/27]

For many Mets fans, it seems like almost yesterday that the team drew down to make a decision between two talented but flawed young first basemen. One of them was Duda, an unheralded prospect of great size and quiet words. The other was Ike Davis, something of a phenom when called up to the majors, bred from MLB stock and drafted highly. After an ill-fated attempt to play Duda in left field (the less said about this, the better) it became clear that the Mets had to hitch their wagon to one of the two first-sackers: either the stoic Duda or the more vibrant Davis. The Mets went with Duda and their decision turned out to be fruitful one: Davis flamed out and is now perhaps trying to come back as a pitcher, while Duda was a powerful presence in the Mets’ lineup during his run with the team, including a 2015 World Series campaign. He was, and is, good.

But Duda always got short shrift in New York, for a few reasons. He wasn’t a good quote; quiet and a bit shy, Duda never really embraced the spotlight of playing in New York. This should hardly be a condition for belovedness when you’re hitting 120-plus bombs over your Mets career, but that’s how things go sometimes. He had a bad moment in a big spot during the World Series, and some people never really forgave him for taking Davis’ spot. But underneath all of that, he was an effective hitter when he was in the lineup, capable of bashing right-handed pitchers but not completely lost against lefties as well. He couldn’t hit for average, but had a good approach that led to a career .343 on-base percentage.

Before the 2016 season kicked off, I wrote an article at BP Mets that detailed just how the common narratives about Duda didn’t fit the (lack of) hype. He was a good hand. Perhaps not a world-class slugger at first base, but a solid regular. Last season was a different story, and probably spelled the beginning of the end for his Mets tenure. Duda was injured for much of the season, and when he could play he wasn’t his usual self. Instead of something close to his career the .310-.320 True Averages of the previous seasons or his .297 career TAv—a mark that our glossary here refers to as “great” and not just good—he hit a paltry .281 TAv. That’s above average, but not the type of performance that gets you extension talk, especially with a prospect like Dom Smith on the come up.

Though he hasn’t been completely healthy for the entire season, Duda has righted the ship this year, returning to that steady .297 TAv, but hitting for a higher slugging percentage (.532) than ever before. He’s pretty much exactly the type of player the Rays need—or rather, he would be if he could throw an inning of lights-out relief every other day too—as someone who can slot in at designated hitter, push Corey Dickerson back to the outfield, and give the team a serious offensive boost in the early innings. The Rays had to give up modest value to get Duda, which comes as something of a shock, but I guess it shouldn’t. After all, the narrative never matched the solid production with this big dude.

When I played the GM Trade Game last week, Duda was traded to Texas for Jurickson Profar and Andy Ibanez; no matter what you think of Profar, this certainly could be considered a much better return (there’s a definite major leaguer involved) than what the Mets received in the real world. But the word is that the Rays weren’t bidding against many other teams, because so many contenders are already stocked at 1B/DH. This is something of a no-brainer for a team looking for performance on a tight budget. Sure, he has his flaws: his defense is poor, his injury history is checkered, and he is still a below-average hitter against southpaws. But when you can get a hitter of this caliber for such a small price, why not make the deal and try to find where the pieces fit later? It’s awfully tough to imagine that the Rays will look back on this move with any semblance of regret come this fall*.

*Unless, y’know, this happens again. But even if it does, one can at least expect Duda to handle it well.Bryan Grosnick

NEW YORK METS
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Acquired RHP Drew Smith from Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for 1B-L Lucas Duda. [7/27]

Smith, previously acquired this April from the Tigers as the player to be named later in the Mikie Mahtook trade, is a reliever who can make an impact in a setup role. The 23-year-old repeats his high-lead-arm delivery well with projectable major league-average offerings. Smith offers a two-seam fastball (95-97 mph), cutter (95-96), changeup (85-87), and curve (78-80).

He gets swings and misses with the two-seamer, which displays moderate tailing action. The cutter, used only occasionally, is flatter more often than you would like, but he is still able to place it in on lefties. The changeup projects to be fringy, and the bottom that it is able to show is only effective due to Smith’s arm speed replication. The curveball, the better of his off-speeds, has big 11-5 depth and bite. The control projects to be average. All in all, the Mets received a high-probability reliever for two months of Duda. ­—Javier Barragan