Friday, December 09, 2011

The Twins are playing the waiting game with Cuddyer. Is it worth it?

Since the Twins locked up Jamey Carroll, Ryan Doumit and Matt Capps, their interest in the free agent market is at a standstill. That logjam is none other than Michael Cuddyer.
The Twins reportedly have an offer on the table for the veteran, one that is worth three years and $24 million, and are waiting for a decision.
The waiting game on Cuddyer is contingent on him exploring his option on the free agent market. In some ways that market has dried up but there are some suitors that could come into play quickly.
The Red Sox have entertained the thought but have stated their focus is on pitching not offense at the moment. Although the once aggressive Philadelphia Phillies have landed Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix and recanted their interest, the Colorado Rockies, who have been shucking payroll left and right this offseason, are considering placing a three-year offer in front of Cuddyer’s agent. Meanwhile, the now Pujols-less St. Louis Cardinals have a ton of money to spend and could very well be in the market for a corner outfielder/first baseman-type. Similarly, the Baltimore Orioles, just a hop-skip-and-jump from his hometown, discussed the idea of signing him but haven’t been active.
Despite all of that interest from other teams, according to Lindsay Guentzel, word from Cuddyer’s camp is that he would like to stay in Minnesota and will do so if the offer was for $2 million more or a fourth year was added.
As it stands, the value of the contract – roughly $8 million per season – is a reasonable expectation to meet according to’s Value system. Outside of his 2010 and injury-filled 2008 seasons, Cuddyer has exceeded the $10 million mark dating back to 2006.  If the bidding starting to increase above the $10 million annual rate, the likelihood of being able to match that with his production decreases:
Michael Cuddyer’s Value
The value system takes in account Wins Above Replacement (or WAR), which factors in defense using Ultimate Zone Rating and weighted Runs Above Replacement, and research has shown that in order to purchase one WAR on the market, it will cost approximately $4.5 million. So, in Cuddyer’s case, his 2011 season was measured at 3.1 WAR (or a three-win player) which works out to $14 million.  
As decent as his season was last year, it is even likelier that if he didn’t receive a Jeremy Guthrie fastball to the wrist, he would have had an even better 2011 season.
Admittedly, it was noble of him to gut it out through the sore wrist but while the rest of the opening day lineup was drinking Tahitian Treat in the whirlpool, Cuddyer’s on-field performance suffered. Post-wrist injury - from August 22nd until the end of the season - Cuddyer manned up for 115 plate appearances, hitting .241/.287/.361 with just eight extra base hits including two home runs. It was a good example to set, however the balky back and the wrist were an obvious substantial power drain. In comparison, a healthy Cuddy was on pace to put up some very big numbers, hitting .295/.360/.485 with 18 home runs through his first 469 plate appearances. To put that in perspective, he went from hitting a home run once every 26 plate appearances to once every 57.
People harp on his defensive play – yes, he’s no speedster in the outfield – but this year he showed a much improved ability to patrol right field for the Twins.
Consider this: In 2010, when he had his knee issues, Cuddyer managed to get to 102 of the 116 plays within a standard right fielder’s zone (a .879 revised zone rating). Additionally, he was able to track down 15 more outs that were not in the standard right fielder’s zone. This amounted to a -20.6 ultimate zone rating – the third-lowest mark among right fielders with a minimum of 500 defensive innings. Meanwhile, he showed an impressive turnaround in 2011. This past year, working 639 innings in right Cuddyer was able to making plays on 101 of the 108 balls in his zone which led to a revised zoning rating of .935 (a career best for him). On top of that he nabbed an extra 41 plays on out of zone plays leading to an ultimate zone rating of 0.1. It is hard to gauge any defensive metrics on one year samplings but that is still an impressive improvement - particularly in his ability to get to out-of-zone plays. Did a healthy knee provide him with better wheels to chase down those extra plays? Or was it simply being position well by the coaching staff?
If he is able to sustain the 2011 level of defense next year – which at his age it is certainly not a given - he would not be such a liability in the field. Furthermore, with Justin Morneau’s ability to play first base in question, Cuddyer gives the Twins a player who has manned first in recent history (Ryan Doumit has played all of 251 innings at first and just 43 since 2006).
One area of the game in which he excels is his ownership over left-handed pitching. In the past two seasons, Cuddyer has posted a .929 OPS against southpaws – the third-highest among remaining free agents – and the Twins currently lack right-handed depth on the roster of that caliber. On the other hand, while that is considerable production, not far behind Cuddyer on that list are free agents Jonny Gomes (.859 OPS), Josh Willingham (.827) and Kelly Shoppach (.804). Those players may be able to be signed at a lower cost and replace Cuddyer’s output against lefties in the lineup but all of them have various flaws as well.
Then there are the numerous “intangibles” that Cuddyer displays which is highly valued.
Just by the hardware he’s brought home recently you can tell how well he is viewed by the organization. He’s won the Twins’ Bob Allison Leadership Award the past three year – bestowed upon the Twins player who best exemplifies determination, hustle, tenacity, competitive spirit and leadership both on and off the field. The past two years he’s won the Mike Augustin Award for the player who fosters a healthy relationship with the media.
Cuddyer oozes charisma all over everything, makes motivational t-shirts for the club, fields the tough post-game questions and apparently intervenes when Kevin Slowey was throwing his verbal feces at the beat writers (or something like that). He is to clubhouse demeanor as to one of thoseGrey’s Anatomy doctors are to bedside manner (full disclosure: I’ve never seen Grey’s Anatomy) yet odds are that the team would have lost 99 games last year with or without Cuddyer on the roster.
Still, it’s hard to write any of that off as meaningless. Sure, it doesn’t show up in his WAR or in the win column but that doesn’t mean that leadership is valueless. For a team like the Twins, who have plenty of young players taxiing up and down to the majors all the time, what does a clubhouse role model like Cuddyer provide? It is entirely possible that his example of hustle and tenacity rub off over time on the likes of Trevor Plouffe, Rene Tosoni or Joe Benson. It is very difficult to measure an effect like that analytically (if there is an effect at all) and assign a dollar value. At the same time, if you develop your organization well, then you should have various players able to step into that clubhouse leader role. After all, when Torii Hunter left, that created a void for Michael Cuddyer to fill. If Cuddyer leaves, it is definitely possible that someone else will take his place.
Cuddyer turns 33 in March, which means that he is a candidate for skill deterioration throughout the duration of the contract and the chances of injuries increases as well. If the Twins are serious about retaining him, they will also forfeit not one but two draft picks in 2012. Factoring this in, it should be a difficult decision to make, particularly if his asking price grows. The three-year, $24 million offer is completely reasonable but if other teams start driving that figure northward, it behooves the organization to shake hands, thank him for his contributions and move on to plan B.