Will $10.5mil for Cuddyer buy Mauer?

Michael Cuddyer

Yesterday the Twins Picked up Michael Cuddyer’s 2011 option for $10.5 million, inspiring expressions of joy from generally player-loyal and baseball-dim Twins fans, and head-scratching from the newsrooms of national media outlets.  Sure, Cuddyer had a career-high 32 HR in 2009, and showed that his career-best 2006 season (.284/24/109/41 2B/.867 OPS) was not necessarily the fluke it appeared to be — but even in today’s market it would seem picking up that pricey option a year in advance might be a little hasty.

As a long-time critic of the Twins’ obsession with the perennially underperforming (and locally overrated) Cuddyer, it would be expected that I would be critical of this signing, but a look back at recent Twins’ history will illustrate the potential value of this move.

Back in the winter of 2004, the Twins were coming off a heartbreaking playoff loss to the Yankees.  They had been riding high as the feel-good story of baseball — offered up for voluntary contraction by tight-fisted, miserly owner Carl Pohlad (then saved  by some fancy legal wrangling), the too-young-to-know-any-better Twins responded like the fictional Cleveland Indians of the movie Major League, rattling off division championships in 2002, 2003, and 2004.  But the exciting young nucleus (Torii Hunter, Jacques Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz, Korey Coskie, Christian Guzman, Luis Rivas, Johan Santana) were approaching their arbitration and/or contract years and big paydays.  The Twins had already jettisoned Matt Lawton and A.J. Pierzynski to save cash.  David Ortiz had been cast away and evolved into a baseball-crushing monster in Boston.  Up-and-coming local kid catcher Joe Mauer was viewed as a cheapskate, safe pick by the Twins who passed on fireballer Mark Prior and his contract demands in the 2001 draft.  The Pohlad family was showing disgust for the citizens of Minnesota for their reluctance to pass tax-dollar welfare onto his family to build a new stadium.  Some players were not-so-secretly beginning to doubt the organization’s long-term commitment to winning.  And to top it off, the contract of Twins top-of-the-order mainstay and league-coveted pitcher Brad Radke was up.  The Twins’ organization seemed to be poised to come apart at the seams.  Hell, it was a good run while it lasted, right?  How long can a “small-market” team like the Twins really expect to compete?

Poised for the worst, Twins fans got good news in early December, as the Twins re-signed Brad Radke to a 2-year, $18mil deal – probably overpaying him somewhat in the process.  And although the team failed to make the playoffs in 2005, the Radke signing had long-term significance to the team, demonstrating a competitive interest (on some level) from Ebenezer Pohlad.  The Twins, in turn, were able to retain the services of Hunter and Santana through the 2007 seasons, remain perennially in the thick of AL Central competition, and keep positions filled with key players during the development of Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer.  Paying a little too much for Radke effectively righted the Twins’ ship as it seemed to be headed straight for the rocks, and put down chatter of a mutiny among the crew.

The 2009 version of the Twins are not in quite the same troubled waters as their predecessors, but still face many tough personnel questions.  In particular, the extending of Joe Mauer past 2010, where he’ll be due to make in the ballpark of $20mil on the free-agent market, having emerged as probably the best catcher in all of baseball (if not of his generation).

The Twins finally move into their new outdoor ballpark in 2010 but, in spite of “If you build it, we will pay” promises, have disappointed fans with an ongoing reluctance to pay up for premier veteran talent – opting instead to go the Brett Boone/Livan Hernandez/Adam Everett route (low-cost, low-risk, expendable veterans).  In spite of this business-smart/entertainment-cheap management approach, the team foolishly threw a four-year fortune at closer Joe Nathan before the 2008 season, then let the rest of their bullpen and rotation fall into disarray by ignoring a couple of key injuries, assuming four low-velocity control pitchers could hold up a rotation, and pretending short-term successes like Francisco Liriano, Jesse Crain, and Juan Rincon were odds-on locks.

Having now addressed an obvious problem area by acquiring shortstop JJ Hardy from the Brewers (which simultaneously eased the OF logjam and freed up at-bats for potential phenom Delmon Young who began to show fans a bit of his upside with a monstrous late-season offensive campaign), and showing dedication to clubhouse chemistry by extending Cuddyer and Morneu, the Twins hope to be sending the right signals to Joe Mauer before the Yankees come calling.  Still unaddressed, however, are the seemingly inevitable losses of key stretch performers Carl Pavano (now officially a free agent) and Orlando Cabrera (apparently done as a Twin following the Hardy trade), as well as the 3B situation in light of Joe Crede’s doubtful return to Minnesota and a lack of an obvious frontrunner to fill the position.

Will possibly overpaying the streaky, inconsistent, and defensively mediocre (but hardworking and charismatic) Cuddyer do enough to entice Joe Mauer to stay in the Twin Cities (possibly at a hometown discount)?  Does it buy time for the Twins to get their apparent wealth of minor league OF (Aaron Hicks, Ben Revere, Chris Parmelee) talent ready for the bigs?  Or is it just another case of the Twins’ braintrust trying to not look cheap to the fans by foolishly spending on local name-recognition rather than more-expensive value or less immediately recognizable talent?

One thing is for sure, if the Twins fail to contend and lose Mauer after the 2010 season, public outcry over stadium taxes will be the least of their PR concerns…

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8 Responses to “Will $10.5mil for Cuddyer buy Mauer?”

  1. funoka Says:

    Brother, what is your point with this screed? Cuddy carried the team to the division title — enjoy it. It could be even better next year. If the Twins traded for a guy who hit 32 HR in 2009, everyone would be jizzing in their collective pants.

    • Ryan Simonson Says:

      I think my point is illustrated in said screed. 32HR only tells a small part of the story. Cuddyer has long been streaky and inconsistent, posting career averages along the lines of .265/15/75 prior to 2009. His overall outfield defense, in spite of local fans’ misconceptions, is nothing to write home about, even considering his strong throwing arm. He’ll be 31 by opening day, and this club option doesn’t kick in until the 2011 season, when he’ll be 32. True, Cuddyer played very well after Morneu’s injury forced him out for the season, but I would contest that the Twins didn’t do so much to win the division title as the Tigers did to lose it. Cuddyer is a quality major league player, but has only played anywhere close to his current contract value in two seasons.

      That being said, I think my writing was in support of the Twins’ decision to extend Cuddyer. I think it was an appropriate time to overspend.

  2. TT Says:

    Lets be clear, the Tigers played over .500 ball after September 1st, which is about what the Twins did for the first 5 months of the season. In fact, the Tigers September record was similar to their own season average.

    The Twins September hot streak was what won the division. They started September one game over .500 and ended the season 11 games over. Detroit started September 8 games over .500 and ended up 9 games over.

    Cuddyer is a critical element of the Twins offense because he is one of the only effective right handed bats. Are there better players out there? Sure, but there are 30 other teams competing for them. The idea that if they let Cuddyer go, the Twins will certainly be able to replace him with someone better is fantasy.

    • Ryan Simonson Says:

      But it’s not even a question of letting Cuddyer go. This is a club option for 2011, not for next season. You are very correct in that he does serve the Twins’ need for right-handed hitting (which they are constantly looking for), and I’ve been very pleased to see him performing offensively at the level we’ve been promised since his days as a farmhand. JJ Hardy will provide some RH pop, too, which should be to the benefit of Cuddyer and the Twins.

      Cuddyer had a nice September, along with Delmon Young and most of the guys on the squad. Pavano and Cabrera really helped plug some gaping holes, too. If the Twins can address some of their big needs (and the Hardy trade is a step in the right direction), they should be in good shape to contend in 2010 and several years into the future.

  3. chappy81 Says:

    I like Cuddyer, he’s pretty solid. Everybody goes through slumps. I like him more than Holliday, and I think Holliday is going to get more than him… It’s not like they locked him up for six years, if he works out this year than it will probably be worth it. If he sucks, then they let him go when the season’s over no big deal… Check out our blog http://doin-work.com

  4. Big Al Says:

    There are a few things to consider. Cuddyer signed this contract before the 2008 season. It was a 3 year, $24 million guaranteed contract. It obviously was backloaded with a team option or buyout. If you take it at value, $8 million a year for 3 years, that’s nothing to jump up and down over. Now with the option exercised, it’s a 4 year, $33.5 million. Once again, nothing out of the ordinary.

    The things that jump out are: 1. Why did the Twins exercise the 2011 option now? 2. Seeing $10.5 million in any sentence will make you gasp especially if Cuddyer’s name is in the same sentence.

    I don’t know why the Twins would exercise the option this early unless their was a clause in the contract that indicates that they had to make a decision by the end of the 2009 season (which I’m assuming). For the second part, because the option was taken out of context, I truly believe that Cuddyer is worth the option year.

    • Ryan Simonson Says:

      It’s my understanding that there was indeed a clause requiring them to pick up or pass on the option within a 5-day window of the World Series finale. I was never a fan of the deal to begin with, as it was signed after a huge dropoff season (his 2006 season being his one and only huge campaign to that point) and seemed pretty ambitious. If he can produce, offensively, at last year’s level, it’s not an insanely overvalued contract, particularly in respect to the fact that he’s a right-handed hitter (always in short supply for the Twins).

      All of this considered, I would put this entire Cuddyer contract in the same category as the Joe Nathan signing: a pretty overzealous expenditure in light of their notorious penny-pinching and lack of depth.

  5. Burly Says:

    The Twins put themselves in a difficult situation by having to decide on Cuddyer’s option this off-season, instead of next. My guess is that Cuddyer will be way overpaid for the performance he gives the Twins in 2011 at age 32.

    However, there is something to be said for loyalty to the players who have performed for you in the past, particularly when you are a small-market team trying to get the Joe Mauers on your team to buy into the idea of staying put and giving the home team a home town discount. If picking up Cuddyer’s contract convinces Joe Mauer to accept the 7-year $120 million contract extension that’s been bandied about in recent months, then the move was probably sensible, no matter how Cuddyer performs in 2011.

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