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December 16, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Cuddyer to Colorado

by R.J. Anderson

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Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed OF-R Michael Cuddyer to a three-year deal worth $31.5 million.  [12/16]

On Thursday, Ben Lindbergh wrote this about Minnesota’s Josh Willingham signing:

Meet the Twins’ new left fielder, almost the same as the Twins’ old right fielder. Willingham is eerily similar to Michael Cuddyer; both players are defensively-challenged corner outfielders and right-handed hitters who’ll turn 33 shortly before Opening Day. Cuddyer has the more winning smile, but it’s hard to quantify the effect of that on the kind of winning teams ultimately care about. Aside from the smiling, Willingham does everything Cuddyer does, but a little more. He walks a little more often, strikes out a little more often, and hits for a little more power. He doesn't play a little more than Cuddyer—he's averaged only 121 games over the past four seasons thanks to an array of nagging injuries—but like Rafael Furcal (see below), he makes more of the time he does spend on the field. That makes him both the better player and—since rumor had it the Twins were talking to Cuddyer about a $24 million package before deciding to make a change—the better deal, though his medical history might make Twins fans skittish after the team's injury-plagued 2011.

To Ben’s point, Willingham does have four more Wins Above Replacement Player than Cuddyer since 2009, yet it is Cuddyer receiving the more lucrative deal. That the Rockies offered Cuddyer this pact after seeing, 1) him lose a potential suitor, and 2) a superior player sign for cheaper is puzzling. Dan O’Dowd spent time before signing Cuddyer cleaning budget room by trading the likes of Ian Stewart, Chris Iannetta, and Huston Street, thus allowing him to splurge on Cuddyer.

The meat of Cuddyer’s value comes in his bat, defensive flexibility, and industrious attitude. Comparisons to Willingham aside, Cuddyer is a passable hitter. Cuddyer has managed a 117 adjusted-OPS over the past three seasons—good enough to rank 73rd amongst players with 500-plus plate appearances. Solid performances versus lefties (resulting in a .327 multi-year True Average) buoy Cuddyer’s offensive numbers, although he is about average when facing righties too. The problem with Cuddyer’s reputation is not his bat, which is fine—and will be made finer by Coors Field—but the defensive flexibility portion.

There is unquestioned value in having a player who can fill in at more skilled positions when necessary, and Cuddyer can fit that bill, but he has not been a super-utility man in the Ben Zobrist vein. In the last three campaigns, Cuddyer has spent fewer than 300 innings at second and third base. Meanwhile, Cuddyer’s time in the outfield and at first base eclipses the 3,500-inning mark, but finding a defensive metric that applauds Cuddyer’s efforts in the outfield is as easy as fitting an elephant into a bottle.

Ostensibly, the outfield is where Cuddyer fits into the Rockies’ plans. With Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler penciled in as the other starters, Cuddyer’s arrival all but ends any question as to whether Seth Smith will open the season with the Rockies—thus casting Tyler Colvin into a reserve spot as the left-handed hitting alternate. It is possible, albeit unlikely, that Colorado could opt to have Cuddyer play third base while top prospect Nolan Arenado plays in the upper minors, but the best guess right now is that Cuddyer will man the outfield. 

A scout told John Perrotto in June that, “[He] had a feeling [Cuddyer’s] going to cash in somewhere.” The same prescient scout praised Cuddyer’s pop, versatility, and clubhouse demeanor. The Rockies are known for valuing high-character players, and Cuddyer fits the mold. You just wonder if the Rockies had to pay this much to get their man.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Michael Cuddyer

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