Monday, October 24, 2011

The Twins' Cuddyer conundrum

Michael Cuddyer has played quite a bit of first base
the past three seasons, but Chris Parmelee's September
showing suggests Cuddy isn't needed as Plan B there.

Bill Smith, the Twins general manager, has said repeatedly in recent weeks: The Twins value Michael Cuddyer and want to re-sign him.

They should be careful what they wish for.

Cuddyer's impending free agency is a sharp challenge for the Twins front office.

One can easily draw up a list of reasons — good reasons — for the Twins to want to keep Cuddyer:

  • In a lineup that figures to remain heavily left-handed for several seasons to come, he is their best right-handed hitter -- and one who mashes left-handers.
  • As the longest-tenured Twins player, he provides an experienced clubhouse voice to the younger players -- and, unlike some of the previous "leaders," his voice buys into the organizational philosophy.
  • He is willing, even eager, to step out of his comfort zone to play out of position.

On the other hand:

  • He'll turn 33 before the 2012 season begins. A multi-year deal with him is buying into a declining market.
  • While he'll play multiple positions willingly, he's not really good at any of them. His value is strictly in his bat.
  • He doesn't hit right-handers well at all.

There have been Internet reports that some bigger-payroll operations — specifically Boston and the Cubs — are interested in bidding for Cuddyer, with the Rockies and Giants also linked to him.

I have my doubts, frankly, that the sabermetric-oriented operations are going to go high on Cuddyer. The Red Sox may be losing Theo Epstein, but they will remain one of the game's more statistically astute operations, and Epstein is going to the Cubs, so they'll be more new school than in the past. I don't see either wanting to win a bidding war for Cuddyer.

The Twins, for their part, don't want a bidding war at all. Target Field has elevated them from the lower rungs of revenues, but Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau eat up much of that gain. The two former MVPs account for about a third of the payroll. A three- or four-year commitment to Cuddyer at $10 million a season would tighten the screws on the rest of the budget.

Cuddyer certainly fits an immediate need. The Twins don't have an obvious replacement for him on hand for 2012, either as the right fielder or as a middle-of-the-order right-handed bat. But a multi-year deal would make him a roadblock for Joe Benson, and perhaps others, in coming seasons -- seasons in which the odds are that Cuddyer's play will decline.

Chris Parmelee's September performance, and the use of Mauer as a part-time first baseman, suggests that Cuddyer's role as Plan B to Morneau at first base is less important than it has been in recent years. If the Twins are serious about fixing the middle infield defense, the temptation to play Cuddyer at second base should be resisted. And if first base and second base are out of the equation, Cuddyer's positional flexibility is largely negated.

The Twins last summer reportedly made a two-year offer to Cuddyer at $8 million a season. That was quickly declined, and I don't blame Cuddyer for doing so. It would be a very good deal for the Twins, but almost certainly well below market for the player.

Emotionally, I want the Twins to keep him. Logically, I don't think it makes sense.

1 comment:

  1. If the Twins think a nucleous of Mauer, Morneau and Span can stay healthy next year, they'll think they can compete for the central and would need Cuddy in a last chance to win in this current window. Cuddy will be better than Benson next year and possibly over the next three seasons.

    If they don't think so, they'd need to rebuild but they lack prospects to build around Mauer, and I don't think the Twins are going to try and enter a rebuild in year three at Target Field - if they had been willing to do that, they would've made a few trades at the deadline. Maybe they move Span for something in the offseason but since he's coming off a concussion, they probably don't move him until his value is higher. I don't think the Twins want to push an outfield of Revere/Span/Tosoni next year.

    Parmelee looked nice but scouts like Klaw and Sickels both view him as bench/AAAA player. Benson might never learn to hit a breaking ball. Hicks is stalling at high A. Sano/Rosario/Morales/Arcia are all still years away.