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If you would have asked me at the end of the Twins trying 2011 season if Michael Cuddyer would be back with the Twins in 2012 and beyond, my response simply would have been, “Of course.” The Twins have a way of retaining the players that they want to. They obviously kept Joe Mauer. They kept Torii Hunter, Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, and even Michael Cuddyer beyond their free agent years. With some, it was due to locking them up before they were free agents, but for whatever reason, the Twins keep the guys they want to keep. Michael Cuddyer is a guy that we have to assume the Twins really, really want to keep.
Over the weekend, MLB Trade Rumors reported that the Philadelphia Phillies are going to aggressively pursue free agent Michael Cuddyer. Jim Thome signed with the Phillies (no surprise there, huh?!) on Friday. Many wondered if Thome would help try to recruit Cuddyer to the Phillies. The two are very close. Although it has been nothing but speculation to this point, Twitter and discussions were all over the place. It was very interesting to hear and read so many different comments and opinions. If Cuddyer did sign with the Phillies (or anywhere but the Twins), who would be at fault? The Twins front office, meaning Bill Smith, who has become the blame target for everything in 2011? Would Cuddyer be at fault for being greedy or somehow disloyal? I wondered via Twitter if Joe Mauer might somehow get some of the blame, and to no surprise, several people agreed with that notion.
To be completely fair, Michael Cuddyer has earned the right to be a free agent, and he has earned the right to see what other options are available to him. He has the right to stay with the Twins, and he has the right to maximize what will most likely be his last big contract. Likewise, the Twins have the right to sign him to a contract that makes sense to them, but they also have the right to say that there is a limit that they are not willing to go beyond, be it number of years or number of dollars.
Cuddyer has been in the organization since the Twins made him the 9th overall pick in the 1997 draft out of high school. He began his pro career with Ft. Wayne in the Midwest League in 1998 where he posted an impressive .814 OPS. Sure, he committed 61 errors as a shortstop, but it was still an impressive pro debut. He moved up to Ft. Myers in 1999 and posted an .873 OPS. Before the 2000 season, Baseball America ranked him the 18th best prospect in all of baseball. He advanced to New Britain and posted a .745 OPS as a 21 year old. He returned to New Britain in 2001 and had an incredible season. He hit .301/.395/.560 with 36 doubles, three triples, 30 home runs and 87 RBI. Without looking too deeply, here are some of the best prospect performances by Twins prospects at New Britain (you will note why I will always call Jason Kubel the best Twins prospect I’ve seen in the last decade. His 2004 season was amazing!):
- Justin Morneau – 2002 (21) – 126 games – .298/.356/.474 with 31 doubles, four triples, 16 HR.
- Joe Mauer – 2003 (20) – 73 games – .341/.400/.453 with 17 doubles, one triple, 4 HR.
- Jason Kubel – 2004 (22) – 37 games – .377/.453/.667 with 14 doubles, four triples, six HR.
- Joe Benson – 2010 (22) – 102 games – .251/.336/.527 with 20 doubles, seven triples, 23 HR.
- Joe Benson – 2011 (23) – 111 games – .285/.388/.495 with 28 doubles, four triples, 16 HR.
Cuddyer’s 2001 season ended with the Minnesota Twins where he played eight games in September.
In 2002, he advanced to Triple-A Edmonton where in 86 games, he hit .309/.379/.594 with 16 doubles, nine triples and 20 home runs. He played in parts of 41 games with the Twins that year too. He has been a member of the Twins for the most part since then. He has been a very versatile player for the Twins, always willing to play wherever asked by manager Ron Gardenhire. Here is a look at the positions he played each year:
- 2001 (1B – 5, 3B – 2, DH – 1)
- 2002 (RF – 25, 3B – 10, 1B – 6)
- 2003 (RF – 17, 3B – 7, 1B – 5, 2B – 1, LF – 1)
- 2004 (2B – 48, 3B – 43, 1B – 10, RF – 8, LF – 7, DH – 4)
- 2005 (3B – 95, RF – 20, 2B – 11, 1B – 8)
- 2006 (RF – 142, 1B – 8)
- 2007 (RF – 140, 1B – 4)
- 2008 (RF – 48, 1B – 2, CF – 1)
- 2009 (RF – 117, 1B – 34, CF – 3, 2B – 1)
- 2010 (1B – 84, RF – 66, 3B – 14, CF – 2, 2B – 1)
- 2011 (RF – 77, 1B – 46, 2B – 17, DH – 8, P – 1)
- MLB Total (RF – 670, 1B – 210, 3B – 171, 2B – 79, LF – 9, CF – 6, P – 1)
Let’s look back. He came up as a right fielder and split some time with “Dusty Kielmohr.” As you can see, he moved all over the field. In 2004, he was a Super Utility player. I recall being excited that he could take over for Luis Rivas and end that era. That didn’t happen. In 2005, he began the season as the team’s every day 3B, but he struggled there. In 2006, he was finally just given the everyday 3B job and he thrived. We heard a lot about him being able to just relax and play. He was frequently among league leaders in outfield assists. 2008 was a tough year. He played just 71 games and had several fluke injuries. For some reason, some fans used that season to call him “always hurt.” In reality, 2008 is the only season in which he has had less than 580 plate appearances since 2006. His greatest moment as a Twins player came in 2009 when Justin Morneau could not play in September and Cuddyer moved to 1B. He played well defensively, and he almost single-handedly carried the Twins to the playoffs. It was the only time in his career that he has received MVP votes. He posted a career-high 32 home runs. Unfortunately, he played a lot of 1B in 2010 and 2011 due to Morneau injury. In 2010, he played a lot of 3B in interleague play. In 2011, he played a lot of 2B in an attempt to add some offense to a struggling team.
In the post-season, he hit .338/.372/.473 with two doubles, a triple and two home runs. He has provided the Twins with right-handed power and offense in the middle of the order. He has crushed left-handed pitching throughout his career. Against left-handed pitching, he has hit .290/.378/.491 (.869) in his career.
What to Do?
So, clearly Cuddyer has been important to the Twins on the field for the last decade, and he has provided a lot of value. From the perspective of the Twins front office, it is important to understand, respect and compensate that. However, more important, Cuddyer’s next contract will be for 2012 through 2014 or 2015. Cuddyer will turn 33 years old just before the start of the 2012 season. In my opinion, a 3 year, $30-33 million deal is very appropriate for Cuddyer. It has been reported that the Twins are willing to go up to four years and $40 million. If Cuddyer agreed to that, I would say it is a little high, but certainly reasonable and not worth getting excited or upset about.
There are other reports that Cuddyer and his agent, Casey Close (Derek Jeter’s agent), are looking for four years and $52 million. Again, if the Twins signed him for that, I wouldn’t be upset, but I would definitely say that it is too much. Cuddyer is a very good player, but he is certainly not elite. He was a first-time All Star in 2011. He has a career OPS of .794, and an OPS+ of 111. He is well beyond an average big league player. However, he’s not one of the top big leaguers. In fact, among big league outfielders, his 2011 OPS did not rank among the Top 20.
Versatility and Much More
Cuddyer’s versatility has been very important to the Twins over the years. In fact, his versatility is proving to be quite valuable to Cuddyer as he is a free agent. Over the weekend, it became clear that the Phillies are going to go very hard after Cuddyer, and their reasoning is that he can play all over the field. We heard last summer that the Giants wanted to acquire him as a 2B option. The Red Sox want him to replace JD Drew in right field in Boston. No, he is not a great defender at any position, but his ability to be adequate at several positions is going to make him money.
To discuss the value of Michael Cuddyer without mentioning intangibles can’t happen. No, stats can’t measure they’re value, but they are valuable traits for a team and for an organization. As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, it’s hard to measure the value of leadership. It’s impossible to measure the value that a player of Cuddyer’s experience can have in talking with younger players as they are coming up to the big leagues. What is the value of someone who is willing to talk to the media on the good days and especially on the bad days?
Beyond that, what is the value to a team and to a community of having a citizen like Michael Cuddyer in its midst? Cuddyer and his wife Claudia have been very active in the community and with the Twins Community Fund. But Cuddyer goes above and beyond for the community, beyond any likely requirements.
Arguably one of the biggest question marks for the Twins front office as it relates to bringing back Michael Cuddyer for a lot of money has to do with the fan base. Some Twins fans will say things like, “I thought the purpose of Target Field was to be able to keep guys like Cuddyer.” There will be several bloggers who will say that Cuddyer isn’t worth bringing back at all, or at least not for more than X dollars or Y years. But the “average Twins fan” will be upset that Cuddyer is gone. In many ways, he is the face, and he certainly is the voice, of the Minnesota Twins. Should the Twins front office make moves just to appease a fan base? Of course not, that would be irresponsible. However, it should be ready to discuss it. (This is where the Twins PR department will earn some money! I don’t envy that job!)
Aside – Some will blame Bill Smith and the Front Office for not signing Cuddyer to an extension after the 2010 season. However, in 2010, Cuddyer’s OPS dropped from .862 to .753. Of course in retrospect it may look like adding a couple of years at $11-12 million may have made sense, but I don’t think many Twins fans would have thought that a year ago at this time. Others will say that the Twins should have traded Cuddyer at the July trade deadline. The Twins were just five games back and Joe Mauer, Denard Span and Jason Kubel were all expected back soon. To have traded Cuddyer at that time may have been the right decision, but just five games back, I don’t know how they could have done it. Again, in retrospect, these two things could have happened and maybe the Twins would be better off. Retrospect is a beautiful thing!
As a Type A free agent, if the Phillies or Red Sox were to sign Cuddyer, the Twins would get their first-round pick and a supplemental first round pick. Obviously we don’t know how those players will turn out for three to five years, but for a team that needs to add talent to its minor league system, having the #2 overall pick, a late first round pick and an early supplemental first round pick, followed by the #2 pick of the second round would hopefully help out!
Michael Cuddyer has spent 15 seasons in the Twins organization. He has been a very good, versatile player. He has become a fan and media favorite. He has been a community and charitable leader. Cuddyer has earned the right to be a free agent, and he has the right to take advantage of that right in a way that he feels is best for him, his career and his family… whatever that means. The Twins front office has the responsibility to doing what is best for the team, both short-term and long-term. Sometimes that means doing unpopular things. It is likely that the Cuddyer camp has certain numbers for years and dollars that it would be willing to go down to while listening to teams like the Phillies and Red Sox give them numbers that will be pretty big. At the end of the day, Cuddyer will have several offers to consider and will get to pick what is best for him.
From a personal standpoint, I would like the Twins to find a way to keep Michael Cuddyer. No question about that. At the end of the day, I’ll understand if he decides to move on with another organization, and I’ll understand if the Twins believe that there is a contract that they just don’t want to meet. I have asked myself, if the Twins lose Cuddyer, does that set the tone for an offseason that looks to competing again in 2013 or 2014? Does it mean that the Twins should then push to keep Jason Kubel? If Cuddyer isn’t back, does it make it more difficult to bring Joe Nathan back?
Joe Mauer is the face of the Twins franchise, for whatever that is worth. Joe Mauer is from Minnesota. Michael Cuddyer represents the Minnesota Twins. Regardless of what happens, Michael Cuddyer is, and will always be, a Minnesota Twin.
What are your thoughts on the Cuddyer situation? What if he leaves? What if he stays? Please feel free to leave comments here.
If Cuddyer leaves, what do the Twins do? Obviously, the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook would be a pretty good resource for what other players may be available as replacements! If you don’t have a copy, be sure to order one today! We hope that many of you will develop your own blueprint of and e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org to be entered into a random drawing where one winner will receive a copy of the TwinsCentric 2012 Twins Annual next spring.