The Twins have been known as one of Major League Baseball’s most loyal teams. At every level of the organization they seem to value their own, while weeding out those who are not. They’re so loyal, in fact, that when they fired much-maligned GM Bill Smith, they ended up just shuffling him into a new place in the front office. Who replaced him? Not some outsider (though many qualified GM candidates were available this offseason) but rather former Twins’ GM Terry Ryan. It was perhaps the most Twins-esque front office shake up imaginable. If any Twins player of the last 10 years was one of the Twins’ guys, it was Michael Cuddyer. The guy was seemingly beloved by everyone: the FO, Gardy, teammates, the press etc. If any Twin ever seemed like a lock to be re-signed, it was Michaeld Cuddyer. Yet somehow, some way (perhaps because Cuddyer (gasp!) didn’t want to re-sign) the Twins let Michael Cuddyer go, bringing in former A’s, Marlins and Nationals outfielder Josh Willingham to fill a similar role.
Willingham and Cuddyer are statistically-speaking pretty similar players. Both are 33, good-not-great hitters and butchers in the outfield. Cuddyer has consistently drawn praise for his “ability” to play multiple positions, though I’d argue that the willingness play several positions terribly isn’t versatility. Last season, the two were almost identical in terms of production (Cuddyer .284/.346/.459 124 wRC+, Willingham .246/.332/.477 123 wRC+). Over the past 4 seasons, though, Willingham has been the better hitter by a slight but significant margin posting a wRC+ of 126 to Cuddyer’s 113. Willingham has more power and better patience, though he strikes out quite a bit more often. He’s a dead pull hitter and At Over the Baggy, Parker Hageman showed why this approach might bring him more success in Target Field. Bottom line though, both of these guys can be solid 2-3.5 WAR cogs on good teams but can hardly carry whole offenses like they both needed to last season.
Despite their similarities, however, Cuddyer seemed to have the edge on the market. More teams seemed to be interested in his services (though a few National League teams seemed to mistakenly think he could actually play a position other than RF on more often than emergencies) and he was expected to command a better contract. That held true as the Twins locked up Willingham for $21 million over three years and Cuddyer drew a hefty 3 year $31.5 million dollar contract from the Rockies. This seems like a significant overpay for Cuddyer while the Willingham contract seems about right. Cuddyer’s superficial numbers might look pretty good in Coors Field, but there’s almost no chance he provides the Rockies with a suitable return on their investment.
The Twins are to be commended for this undoubtedly difficult decision. They’ve acquired an arguably superior player at a lower cost. Additionally, they’ll receive two supplemental picks due to Cuddyer’s type A status. These picks, especially for a team with a depleted farm system, are great compensation and, according to research by Victor Wang should provide an extra $5 million or so in value. Party. Bonus.
Could this move signal a shift in the FO’s thinking? Might we see more decisions based on analysis rather than loyalty in the future? Well, based on the Matt Capps signing, probably not. But we can sure hope so.
As for Mr. Cuddyer, I wish him the best of luck in his new digs. The guy was an absolute professional in every sense of the word over his tenure here and is, by all accounts, a great guy. Play well and enjoy that payday, sir.
Your song for today? A particularly heavy version of Ballad of a Thin Man by Bob Dylan.