NEW YORK (AP) — Eager to go on a long-overdue playoff run, the New York Mets realized they owed their pitching staff — and fans — a proven hitter.
On Monday, they got one.
The Mets made baseball’s first splash of the offseason, agreeing with two-time All-Star outfielder Michael Cuddyer on a two-year deal worth $21 million.
“Michael is a tremendous addition to the middle of our lineup,” general manager Sandy Alderson said in a statement.
The 2013 NL batting champion became the first top free agent to switch teams since the World Series. Cuddyer, who turns 36 in March, had until later in the day to decide whether to accept a $15.3 million qualifying offer from Colorado.
“Sandy has talked about we’re looking to turn the corner here and start to compete in 2015,” Mets assistant general manager John Ricco told reporters at the GM meetings in Arizona.
“I think this is a message that we’re going to be aggressive. Right out of the box we had a guy we liked, and we went and got him,” he said.
When he’s healthy, Cuddyer hits. Even when he’s hurt, he still swings a serious bat.
Cuddyer batted .332 with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs this year in a season interrupted by injuries.
He was limited to 49 games and was on the disabled list three times because of a strained left shoulder and a strained left hamstring. From mid-April to early September, he spent of a part of each month on the DL.
“He took a physical today. We’ve looked at all the injuries and there was nothing there that we were too concerned about,” Ricco said. “And the age is the age. Certainly there’s risk associated with any signing.”
The Mets went 79-83 last season, their sixth straight losing year since moving into Citi Field. They are hoping to contend for their first playoff spot since 2006, boosted by a strong rotation helped by the return of ace Matt Harvey from Tommy John surgery.
Hours after Cuddyer joined the Mets, Jacob deGrom won the NL Rookie of the Year award.
“I’m really looking forward to next year, with Harvey returning and just being a part of that staff. And then signing a bat like that, l think next year is going to be exciting,” deGrom said.
New York hit .239 last year, 28th in the majors, and wanted to add a hitter or two this offseason. Their fans pointed to another stat — playing in a major market, they finished the regular season 21st in payroll at under $93 million — and hoped the team would spend what it took to improve.
Cuddyer made 35 starts in right field last year, along with 11 at first base and two at third.
He joins a lineup where Daniel Murphy was the leading hitter at .289. All-Star third baseman David Wright had a down season and finished with an injured shoulder, while first baseman Lucas Duda provided pop with 30 home runs.
Wright and Cuddyer are friends from the same region of Virginia, and have spent offseasons working out together and playing racquetball.
In the Mets’ outfield, Juan Lagares won a Gold Glove last week in center. Curtis Granderson hit .227 with 20 homers while mostly playing right and Chris Young, Eric Young Jr. and several others shared left.
Cuddyer hit .331 with the Rockies in 2013, along with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs. He was the NL’s starting designated hitter in the All-Star game that year at Citi Field.
The Mets are moving in the fences in right field at Citi Field for next season. A right-handed hitter, Cuddyer has sprayed the ball around over the years.
Cuddyer is a .279 hitter with a .347 on-base percentage in 14 seasons with Colorado and Minnesota. He hit a career-high 32 homers in 2009 with the Twins.
In his three years with the Rockies, he batted .329 at hitter-friendly Coors Field and .286 on the road.
“This is a guy who is a professional hitter,” Ricco said. “He’s been in both leagues and had success everywhere.”
Cuddyer played in the postseason in six years with Minnesota, hitting .338 in 22 playoff games.
He will get $8.5 million next season and $12.5 million in 2016.
By signing Cuddyer, the Mets lose their first-round draft pick in June, the 15th choice overall.
Colorado gets an extra pick between the first and second round.
The Rockies lost 96 games last season, second-most in the majors to Arizona’s 98, with Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson in the outfield along with Cuddyer.