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The Growing Market for Michael Cuddyer

Michael Cuddyer: A Wanted Man
Michael Cuddyer: A Wanted Man

"It's still early, but Michael Cuddyer clearly being targeted by a number of teams, and the Red Sox will likely be among those."

-ESPN's Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) on Twitter last night

As the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers prepare for Game 1 of the 2011 World Series, executives from the other 28 teams only have one thing on their minds: preparing for 2012.

For the Twins, preparing for 2012 means many things: plugging the gaping hole at shortstop, adding a pitcher or six, making contingency plans at first and behind the plate, and, of course, figuring out how to handle the expiring contracts of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel.

It's clear the Twins want to keep Michael Cuddyer, who has now spent 11 seasons with the big club after being drafted by the Twins in 1997. Cuddyer was the Twins most productive hitter in 2011 and has always been an outstanding and beloved member of the organization. He also has been the club's primary insurance policy for Justin Morneau for two straight seasons.

In August, the Twins reportedly made a two-year, $16 million offer to Cuddyer. Not surprisingly, the offer fell flat. The Twins' offer would have required Cuddyer to take a 24% pay cut from this past season while only guaranteeing him a paycheck for two more seasons. If the Twins were to offer Cuddyer arbitration this off-season (he projects as a type A free agent) he'd likely get a pay raise from the $10.5 million he earned in 2011.

So now Cuddyer will hit free agency. And it appears he will not be hurting for suitors. Teams like the Rockies, Cubs, Cardinals, and Giants are each likely to be in on the Cuddyer sweepstakes, and Olney's tweet confirms the Red Sox (and their $160+ million payroll) are interested. For those keeping score at home, that means the teams with the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 9th, 12th and 14th highest payrolls in 2011 are each expected to at least kick the tires on Michael this off-season. That translates into a lot of money chasing a player the Twins are ill-equipped to lose.

Most experts have predicted Cuddyer will fetch a deal somewhere in the neighborhood of three years/$30 million, which would cover his age 34, 35, and 36 seasons. If a bidding war develops, it's very possible that some team could step forward with an offer that includes a fourth year, leaving the winning team responsible for Cuddyer's paycheck until he's 37.

What does this all mean for the Twins? Well, the presence of mega-payroll team like the Red Sox in negotiations will almost certainly drive up the cost of retaining Cuddyer. Paying Cuddyer $10 million a year until he's 36 is not exactly appealing, and the prospect of having to add a fourth year to the deal should give any possible suitor considerable pause.

But if the Twins feel the pricetag on Cuddyer is too high, they will have an answer a very important question: if not Cuddyer, then who? Without Cuddyer, the best right-handed hitter on the Twins would be...Danny Valencia? And if the Twins lose both Cuddyer and Kubel, their starting outfield would be Revere, Span and ... Tosoni? Benson? Plouffe? The Twins scored fewer than all but one team in the AL least season, and losing last season's best hitter to free agency would only deepen the hole the team is trying to crawl out of.

One final note: We've discussed this several times on the site, but it's worth adding to this discussion. Over the past three seasons, Michael Cuddyer has demonstrated some pretty dramatic splits:




vs LHP




vs. RHP




To put this in perspective: between 2009 and 2011, Cuddyer's .958 OPS against left-handed pitchers was the 11th highest among all major league hitters (in the same range as Jose Bautista, Justin Upton and Adrian Beltre). His .747 OPS against right-handed pitchers ranked 98th (out of 147 "qualifying" hitters, ranking him around speedsters like Brett Gardner and Michael Bourn and infielders like Howie Kendrick, Marco Scutaro and Casey McGehee). During that span, Cuddyer has hit 31 homers in 573 plate appearances against southpaws, and just 35 homers in 1,336 plate appearances against right-handers. As Cuddyer declines with age, it's fair to wonder how long into his 30s teams will be able to justify giving an everyday role to a poor defensive corner outfielder who struggles to hit right-handed pitching.