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What's Cuddyer Worth?

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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.