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Monday, February 28, 2011

Michael Cuddyer: The Value of Magic Tricks

Make no mistake, I like Michael Cuddyer. He seems like a great guy, what with the magic tricks, the good-natured smile and his reported clubhouse leadership. I was also on board with the Twins' decision to pick up his option for 2011, following his 2009 year. I believe that his month of September, 2009, alone, warranted that extension. Whether you like him or not, without his production and versatility down the home stretch after Justin Morneau broke his back, the Twins don't win the division (and then go on to lose to the Yankees). In 153 games, Cuddyer racked up 32 HRs, 94 RBIs, and was actually 6th in the American League in extra base hits. He deserved to have his option picked up, and he deserved a raise.

2010, however, was a different story. Cuddyer is coming off of a 2010 that sharply contrasted with his 2009 production. To be sure, he stayed healthy, playing in all but 5 games, and was versatile (remember the couple games at second base?), but his average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, RBIs and HRs all declined. And if it felt like Cuddyer grounded into many double plays, that's because he did: 26 times, which was second in the American League. Long story short, even though his statistics weren't awful, or even that far off compared to his average, it just didn't feel like he had a very good season at the plate.

What should we expect in 2011? Sure, he will be the vocal clubhouse leader, the soundbite-giver to the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press, and the judge of the Kangaroo Court, but we need more for $10.5 million. Make no mistake: Cuddyer is playing for a contract, and has indicated that he wants to finish his career in Minnesota. He needs to justify a raise, or even a wage freeze, with a career year, or face the consequence that, as a player who will be 33 on opening day 2012, his best years in terms of both production and dollars are behind him.

Some people are great at predicting contracts and the like. I'm not. But my gut feeling is that, unless Cuddyer replicates his 2009, the Twins are going to take a harder line in negotiations than we might expect. Though he may be the unofficial captain of this Team and its longest tenured member, $11 million is a lot of money to spend on a right fielder whose best years are long behind him, especially at a time when approximately 99 percent of Twins Territory would like to see substantial money invested in established starting pitching, and when there are multiple outfield prospects waiting at AA and AAA.

The Twins will offer Cuddyer a contract simply because he is an extremely likeable Minnesota Twin. Here are 2 scenarios: If Cuddyer comes close to 2009 numbers and stays healthy, I see the Twins and Cuddyer settling for 3 years and $27 million; if he continues to decline and proves that he cannot hit for much power any longer, 3 years and $18 million. I would love to see Cuddyer have the kind of year that makes the Twins want to resign him, but I have a sinking feeling that 2011 might be more similar to 2010, than to 2009.

Any thoughts? Am I way off-base on my contract predictions?

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