The Biggest Front Office Mistake

When the Twins picked up Michael Cuddyer's 2011 team option on November 8, 2009, there was a decidedly mixed response. I had not yet joined TT, but the response here was overwhelmingly positive. I was not alone in my doubts, especially given his ho-hum 2007 campaign (.276/.356/.433), which was followed by his atrocious, injury-plagued 2008 season (.249/.330/.369). Yes, he performed phenomenally down the stretch in 2009, and along with Delmon Young, carried the Morneau-less Twins into the postseason.

The unfortunate thing about his amazing play was that it forced the hand of the front office in three ways. First, declining to pick-up Cuddyer's 2011 option would be a PR disaster. Cuddyer not only had a great 2009, but had been a fan favorite for years. Secondly, Cuddyer was insurance at first base in case Justin Morneau's back did not fully recover over the off-season (although the team traded away Carlos Gomez at roughly the same time, therefore dropping the team's extra outfielder). Lastly,this would have provided an awkward way to enter the 2010 season with Cuddyer; a situation that brings everything full circle, back to the PR disaster that could have been. If it had not been for the goofy clause that forced a decision to be made a year in advance, the Twins could have saved themselves a huge hassle.

Imagine that Michael Cuddyer's option decision didn't have to be made until after the 2010 season: pay him $10.5 million for 2011, or $1 million to walk. Or look at it this way: Jason Kubel for $5.25 million, or Cuddyer for exactly twice that amount. Yes, Cuddyer is more versatile, not to mention the rare right-handed bat with some power in the Twins lineup. But Kubel is four years younger, has more consistent power, and left-handed bats are generally coveted more around the league. I think the majority of us would choose buy him out at $1 million, although that's not to say that the front office of the Twins would make that decision, even with where we stand today.

Now imagine Cuddyer is gone, and we have an extra $9.25 million to play with. The options are endless, but I would certainly start by shoring up the outfield defense, and at nearly half the cost. How about his thought: if the Oakland Athletics buyout Coco Crisp at $575k (rather than opting in at $5.75 million), why not pick him up? He could be had for somewhere between $5-6 million, although the Athletics could very well be interested in bringing him back at that price. He made $5 million last season, and played very well in the almost-half-season that he was a part of (.279/.342/.438). His walk rate has improved steadily throughout his career:

Year    Team    BB%

2003    CLE      5.2%

2004    CLE      6.7%

2005    CLE      6.7%

2006    BOS      6.9%

2007    BOS      8.5%

2008    BOS      8.6%

2009    KC        13.5% (only 215 PA)

2010    OAK      9.2% (only 328 PA)

By comparison, Denard Span's BB% has dropped (12.2% in 2008, 10.4% in 2009, and 8.5% in 2010). Another area that Crisp could help offensively is on the basepaths. Here are Crisp's stolen base numbers:

Year    Team    SB      CS      SB%

2003    CLE      15       9        63%

2004    CLE      20      13       61%

2005    CLE      15       6        71%

2006    BOS      22       4        85%

2007    BOS      28       6        82%

2008    BOS      20       7        74%

2009    KC        13        2        87%

2010    OAK     32        3        91%

The above chart shows steady improvement once again from Crisp. His incredible success percentage from 2010 is even more astonishing considering Billy Beane's formerly intense hatred of the stolen base, with his "Moneyball" teams always finishing near the bottom of the league in stolen bases (only 46 team steals in 2002, 48 in 2003). The A's have taken a curious about-face in that department, however, and have been one of the top teams in the major leagues in terms of stealing bases in recent years. I think the majority of TT has heard the rant about how great a risk stealing bases is, and how it is rarely statisically responsible. The two counters to that are a) Crisp has become deadly efficient in stealing bases and b) getting picked off is even worse. Crisp has only been picked off 25 times in his career, spanning parts of nine seasons, or once for every 60.56 times he has been on first or second base with the next base open (1.7%). By comparison, Denard Span has already been picked off 20 times over parts of three seasons, or once every 38.2 of the same opportunities (2.6%).

This brings us to the most important thing that Coco Crisp would add to the Twins: outfield defense. Crisp is not on the level of a Franklin Gutierrez or even Carlos Gomez, but he's closer than Denard Span. While his arm is comparable to Span in its weakness, but his range is clearly superior. For his career, Crisp has been worth a Total Zone Runs Saved of 57, while Span has logged a -11 in the same statistic. Much of Crisp's positive runs saved came when he was playing left field in Cleveland, but the only thing keeping Span's number from dropping even further was his time spent playing left and right field over his first two seasons.

By taking Cuddyer (-11 Total Zone Runs Saved career in RF) out of the equation and moving Span to a corner spot (+20 career in LF/RF) and adding Crisp (+19 career in CF), you have improved your outfield defense dramatically. Ideally, Span and his weak arm are in left field, and Delmon Young slides over to right field, where he played during much of his tenure with Tampa Bay. His anti-range and arm would play much better there, although Gardenhire has previously stated that he will not play Delmon in right. The previous excuse was that he would need to learn to play the ball off of the baggy, and of course right field in Target Field would be also be too much of an adventure for Delmon, especially considering he never quite figured out how to navigate his own personal minefield in left this season.

I will not speculate on the rest of the offseason moves (since Cuddyer will be here, unless another team really wants a career .270/.342/.450 right fielder for $10.5 million, and this entire post is, sadly, useless), but here is what our lineup would look like:

Span LF

Crisp CF

Mauer C

Morneau 1B

Young RF

Kubel/Thome DH

Valencia 3B

Hardy SS

Casilla 2B

We would also be set up for a nice platoon-like rotation between Kubel, Young, and Thome, not to mention that we could afford to sit Span for a day and play Crisp, Kubel, Young, and Thome at the same time (and no Jason Repko!). The team would be faster, more athletic, better defensively, and only lose a small bit of power. Not only that, one would think that a healthy Hardy and a full season of Valencia with big league experience under his belt would help to balance that out. I realize that one of the counterpoints to this argument will be the lack of insurance for Morneau, but it isn't terribly hard to find a servicable first baseman to fill-in (hello, Jose Morales). Not to mention having a back-up first baseman as a bench bat would help as well (hello again, Jose Morales).

I know I'm playing revisionist history here, but what do you all think? I would take Crisp at $5.75 million over Cuddyer at $10.5 million in a heartbeat. What say you?

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