More than he's making.
Locking up our starting right fielder, even if it isn't to a multi-year deal, is a good way to wrap things up before pitchers and catchers report. It was a lot of fun watching Cuddy blossom into the player the Twins organization believed he could be, and this summer promises more of the same.
In his second year of arbitration, Cuddyer avoids the proceedings and elects to sign a one-year contract with the club that drafed him way back in 1997. 2007 will be his age 28 season, and he's getting a $2,000,000 raise from last year.
Take a look how Cuddyer fared versus the American League's other primary right fielders in '06.
Name Team Age '06 Salary HR RBI OPS VORP
J. Dye CWS 32 $ 5,000,000 44 120 1.007 64.6
V. Guerrero LAA 30 $13,500,000 33 116 .934 63.9
B. Abreu NYY 32 $16,600,000 15 107 .886 59.0
M. Cuddyer MIN 27 $ 1,300,000 24 109 .866 36.3
A. Rios TOR 25 $ 354,000 17 82 .865 29.0
C. Blake CLE 32 $ 3,050,000 19 68 .835 22.4
M. Ordonez DET 32 $16,200,000 24 104 .828 27.6
M. Bradley OAK 28 $ 3,000,000 14 52 .817 17.6
M. DeRosa TEX 31 $ 675,000 13 74 .813 21.9
N. Markakis BAL 22 $ 327,000 16 62 .799 19.4
I. Suzuki SEA 32 $12,500,500 9 49 .786 46.4
T. Nixon BOS 32 $ 7,500,000 8 52 .767 8.0
R. Sanders KC 38 $ 5,000,000 11 49 .729 -3.4
D. Hollins TB 32 $ 346,200 15 33 .692 -7.1
This list makes a couple of things blatantly obvious. You notice which players are the biggest rip-offs, such as Reggie Sanders and Trot Nixon. On the flip side, you notice which players out-performed their salary bracket: Jermaine Dye, Alex Rios and Michael Cuddyer. Ichiro Suzuki, from a purely offensive standpoint, looks like a major bust until you factor in the other points of his game. His speed and his arm partially make up for his lack of power, and he could be infinitely more dangerous offensively if he found a way to walk more than 50 times in 750 plate appearances.
As Cuddyer adjusted to playing right field everyday, he wasn't the most nimble roaming the milk jug's corner of artificial turf. Fortunately, as the season progressed, he did improve his feel for the position. His arm is obviously a plus, and he hits the cutoff man on a far more regular basis than our last everyday right fielder. It's fair to say that Michael Cuddyer now fields his position, at the very least, much better than he did at the start of '06, and when you take into account his strengths (arm strength, intelligence) that right field is an above average position for the Twins.
Looking at the list above, in three years there are only three players I would bank on having successful seasons: Guerrero, Rios and Cuddyer. Most will be too old (Dye, Ordonez), too mediocre (Bradley, Markakis), or not worth their asking price (Abreu, Suzuki). If Cuddyer isn't signed to a multi-year deal in 2007, it's not going to hurt the Twins. But after the season, it will become essential to secure his serivices. Young players not on this list will develop, and some players will change leagues, but if Cuddyer hits the free agent market his value will skyrocket. He won't be a Hall of Famer, but he's the type of player who can be good for the next six or seven years. If he can work on laying off bait pitches to cut down on strikeouts, and if he can walk 80 times a year instead of 60, Cuddyer could be an effective hitter into his late 30's. The way recent Twins outfield prospects have (at the least) undercut expectations, you have every reason to ink Cuddles for the long term.
If Cuddyer merely repeats the numbers he posted in 2006, he'd be worth at least twice what he'll earn in 2007. If he were to become a free agent after the season, he'd be worth three times what he'll make this year.
For now, this is a good deal for the Twins. Because he's coming off of his first real solid statistical year, Cuddyer is likely making approximately as much as he would have brought in through arbitration. It's a fair contract, and hopefully it puts the Twins in a good position to negotiate an extension.
Michael Cuddyer is a personable, dimple-cheeked slugger with a bright future, and I want to see him stick around. He always looks like he just woke up from a nap as he strides up to the plate, but we all know the truth. He just speaks softly and carries a big stick.