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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Get Ready for the End of the Cuddyer Era

Reports are that Michael Cuddyer was in Philadelphia yesterday meeting with Phillies' brass and manager Charlie Manuel. This should come as no surprise to those who have been following baseball's hot stove thus far. The Phillies, among other teams, had expressed interest in Cuddyer early on, and are usually pretty aggressive when it comes to acquiring the talent they want. If I had to make a wager right now, my bet would be that Cuddyer will be suiting up for the Phillies next March, instead of re-signing with the Twins or going elsewhere, such as Colorado. Philadelphia is a good fit for Cuddyer for several reasons.

First, let's get the obvious out of the way: The Phillies spend money on the players that they want, they have deep pockets, and they will offer Cuddyer more years and more money than will the Twins. I had always thought that, if it was a difference of, say, $1 or $2 million a year, Cuddyer is the kind of guy who would stay in Minnesota just to have a legacy as having played his entire career for one organization. I think it's a safe guess that Philadelphia is willing and able to pay Cuddyer probably $3 or $4 million more a year than Terry Ryan would, and that the Phillies would go to a third or fourth year at that salary to land Cuddyer.

Second, the Phillies need a flexible player, and Cuddyer is nothing if not flexible. If signed, Cuddyer would see playing time at first base in place of the injured Ryan Howard, in the outfield of course, and perhaps even an infield position such as third base. As we know, Cuddyer can play many positions, none exceptionally well, but versatility with a solid bat is a marketable commodity, and he fits some needs for the Phillies.

Third, Cuddyer is a native of the Chesapeake, Virginia area, which, although not exactly next door, is about a 5 hour drive from the Philadelphia area. Cuddyer makes his off-season home in his native state, so he clearly has set his roots on the eastern seaboard. Though not the determinative factor, I'd imagine that Cuddyer views playing nearer to his home as a "plus." Aside from playing in Baltimore or Washington, D.C., this is about as close to a homecoming as Cuddyer could get.

Fourth, Jim Thome, one of Cuddyer's favorite teammates, is a new Phillie. Jerry Manuel, a well respected "players-manager," is at the helm. Cuddyer will not only be looking for a winning team, but also a clubhouse culture in which he would be a good fit. With Manuel, Thome, and others such as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley as seasoned Phillies veterans, Cuddyer would most certainly enjoy the the home clubhouse atmosphere at The Bank.

Fifth, and probably most important to Cuddyer, the Phillies are poised to win -- now. Their pitching is deep, players such as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley can practically carry the team when healthy, and the fan base is . . . rabid. It will be an exciting environment in which to play, and the Phillies will most likely start the season as favorites to win the NL East division, and possibly the World Series. If Michael Cuddyer wants to play October baseball and win a championship, Philadelphia might be his best bet.

Sixth, the Twins are in a very confusing state: They just fired their general manager. Are they rebuilding, re-tooling, or somewhere in-between? Are they going to surprise fans and get a couple big free agents, or are they going to be dumpster diving this winter? It took a confluence of events for the Twins to lose 99 games in 2011, and it's going to take a confluence of events for them to even have a shot at winning the AL Central in 2012. If the Twins were to match the Phillies' offer for Cuddyer, it would certainly be the only notable free agent acquisition in Minnesota this winter; Cuddyer might end up playing alongside rookies, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and some "pitch to contact" starters for the duration of his career. I'm not saying that things can't be fixed in Minnesota; I am suggesting, however, that if Cuddyer wants to win a World Series now, it probably won't happen in Minnesota in 2012.

So, one of these Sundays, don't be surprised if you open the Star Tribune only to find a full-page paid for by Michael Cuddyer, thanking the Minnesota fans for their support over the last 14 years. Cuddyer's a classy guy, and I wouldn't expect much less from him. And if the Phillies do offer $50 million over 4 years, I couldn't blame the guy for taking his 4 baseball gloves, media availability, and penchant for low-and-outside sliders to the City of Brotherly Love.

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