Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Cuddyer Debate

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about the merits of trading Michael Cuddyer at the deadline. He is a right handed hitter with good power who can hit for average and provide serviceable defense at almost every position on the field. He could be a valuable contributor for any contending team, both on and off the field. He is also likely to be a Type A free agent, which means the team that trades for him will get compensation if they don't re-sign him after the season. Essentially, any team that can't work out a deal for Carlos Beltran or Hunter Pence by Sunday will likely place a call to Mr. Smith.

The arguments against trading him are far less compelling. The organization, the fans, and the city love Michael, and rightfully so. He was drafted and developed by the Twins organization, is the longest tenured active Twin, and is a class act both on the field and in the community. He has also expressed a desire to sign a contract extension, yet he has been willing to play out the last year of his contract without complaining about the lack of a long term deal. Basically, he is a really great guy.

From a baseball standpoint, bringing him back in 2012 is a questionable proposition, even at a drastically reduced salary. His value on the field is his versatility, and his ability to hit very well in streaks. Fortunately for the Twins, these streaks seem to coincide with Justin Morneau's frequent trips to the disabled list. In a previous posting, I argued that trading him before the season would be desireable, both to free up salary and improve the outfield defense. With the emergence of Ben Revere, and the impending return (hopefully) of Denard Span, the outfield is going to get crowded quickly. If Morneau returns sometime this season, it will get very difficult to keep Cuddyer's bat in the lineup. Since the odds don't look good for another division title, it also makes sense to let some of the younger guys audition for 2012 and beyond.

Jim Souhan made a very compelling argument for making this trade happen, and then re-signing Cuddy to a new contract in the offseason. I have to agree with this suggestion for a number of reasons:
1. Cuddyer's trade value will likely never be higher than it is today. His batting line is verging on career highs across the board (.298/.373/.468) and is in the final year of his contract.
2. Resigning him for next year depends on his willingness to accept a reduced role and salary. While I think it is likely he'd be willing to do this, there is no guarantee that it will happen if someone else offers him a better deal. So, if we can get a deal we consider better than compensatory draft picks, we should do it.
3. Most of our top prospects are outfielders (Revere, Tosoni, Benson, Hicks, Arcia, Morales) and we need to "open the door" to give them an opportunity. Cuddyer should NOT be brought back in 2012 as an everyday outfielder.
4. If we do re-sign him after the season, our first round pick will be protected if we finish in the bottom 15 teams. We would only need to give up our 2nd round pick in order to bring him back. If we don't place that kind of value on him, then I'm not sure why we would consider re-signing him in the first place.
5. Most importantly, we need to give up hope of a division title in 2011. Not only are we 7 games back with 59 to play, but we are chasing three teams to the finish. That means we not only need to get hot in a hurry, but that Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago can not. I just can't see this happening, despite some historic comebacks in recent years.

I hope that Bill Smith takes a good look at the offers that come in, picks up some solid prospects in the deal, and treats Cuddy with the respect he deserves by sitting down face-to-face and explaining why the trade is going down. I then hope he thanks him for all he has done for the organization and sets up a meeting with Cuddyer's agent immediately following the World Series to discuss a potential return as a super-utility player, clubhouse leader and great all-around guy.

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