|Michael Cuddyer in his career: 141 homers, 140 double|
plays grounded into, one shutout inning of pitching.
Logically, I have no real doubt that the Twins are better off with this "exchange." Willingham and Cuddyer are roughly equivalent players -- both right-handed, both 33 by opening day. Cuddyer has more value as a defensive player, Willingham more value as a hitter. But Willingham will be paid almost $10 million less than Cuddyer over the next three years, and the Twins gain two high-round draft picks next summer. Logic says this is to the Twins advantage.
Emotionally is another matter. Cuddyer had, over the past 11 years, worked his way into the very fabric of the Twins persona. We Twins fans have watched him grow up as a major leaguer. That matters; fans of any team are more attached to the guys who start there and stay there for years than to the wandering mercenary types. Willingham will never match Cuddyer for popularity here. And Cuddyer will not be as vital to the fans in Denver as he was here.
For all Cuddyer accomplished on the field for the Twins over the years -- and he is in or near the franchise top 10 in a variety of career numbers -- the one thing that remains top of my mind is how he stepped forward after the 2007 season.
The Twins had lost Torii Hunter as a free agent. They had traded away Johan Santana. They had finished third in the AL Central with those two stars with a sub-.500 record. And when the team assembled in Fort Myers for spring training 2008, he distributed T-shirts bearing the message: "162+." One hundred sixty-two, of course, is the number of regular season games on the schedule. The plus meant the Twins were going to play beyond that number.
Which they did -- 163, to be precise. They didn't win the division title, but they came as close as you can without doing so. And it started with that spring training message -- we don't have Torii, we don't have Johan, and we're still good enough.
The Twins may miss Cuddyer on the field. They are likely to miss him off the field more.