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Friday, December 16, 2011
Michael Cuddyer hardly the fix for Rockies

By David Schoenfield

I pointed out on Twitter the other night that Michael Cuddyer has had just one season with a Baseball-Reference WAR over 2.1. A few angry Cuddyer fans jumped on my case.

Hey, it wasn't meant to insult the guy. He is a nice player, can play right field or first base or even second or third in a pinch, has some power and is apparently a great guy. He's a complementary player on a good team or, in the case of the 2011 Twins, the best player on a terrible team. He signed a three-year, $31.5 million deal with the Rockies, who presumably will put him in right field and trade Seth Smith.

So what the Rockies have essentially done is commit $30 million to a player who isn't all that much better than Smith (who will make $2 million in 2012) but gives them the flexibility to trade Smith for something else of value. Cuddyer also fits in nicely with the Rockies' desire to acquire good clubhouse guys. I won't dismiss that virtue completely, but it doesn't have much effect on the field or on ticket sales, no matter what Dan O'Dowd believes.

The bigger issues:

(1) What is the value of the positional flexibility? Cuddyer isn't a particularly adept fielder at any position. He hasn't played much third base since 2005 -- even though the Twins haven't had a good third baseman since. In other words, the Twins clearly didn't think he could play there. He played 17 games at second base in 2011, which I think is more symbolic of what happened to the Twins than a sign of positional flexibility. Really, Cuddyer is a right fielder with a good arm but limited range. He'll also be 33 ... which means that range isn't going to improve.

(2) He has a fairly sizable platoon split. His career OPS is 100 points higher against left-handers but even more pronounced the past three seasons: 210 points higher in 2009, 175 in 2010, 265 in 2011. Of course, his overall numbers should increase at Coors Field, but there's nothing special about a right fielder with a .343 career on-base percentage. And again, we'll see how he ages into his mid-30s.

I don't think it's a terrible signing, especially if the Rockies can flip Smith for some value. But it's hardly an impact move. The Rockies still are a team with holes at second base and third base, without a proven 200-inning starter (Jhoulys Chacin did throw 194 innings last season) and counting on a 38-year-old first baseman with a bad back to remain healthy.

As for the Twins, they effectively replaced Cuddyer's bat with Josh Willingham's, at $21 million over three years. The Twins get a similar hitter, save $10 million and get two compensatory draft picks for losing Cuddyer. Good job, Minnesota.