Monday, November 9, 2009

Twins Pick Up Cuddyer's Option

The Twins picked up outfielder Michael Cuddyer's option for the 2011 season on Saturday, rewarding him for his solid contributions down the stretch last season.

Cuddyer signed a three-year, $24M contract with the Twins prior to the 2008 season, plus an option for 2011. The contract stated that the option must be picked up within five days of the conclusion of the 2009 World Series, and the Twins did just that, rather than paying the $1M buyout.

Cuddyer enjoyed a fine season in 2009, setting career high marks in homers (32), triples (7), hits (162) and total bases (306). He batted .276/.342/.520 for the season with 34 doubles and 94 RBI. It was his fine performance after Justin Morneau got hurt in September which proved his value to the team.

Moving from right field to first base to replace the 2006 AL MVP, Cuddyer batted .282/.321/.563 in September with 8 HR and 24 RBI. He followed that up with two more homers and five RBI in the five October regular season games as the Twins caught the Tigers on the season's final day and defeated them for the AL Central Division title in the tiebreaker game.
With the trade of Carlos Gomez on Friday, the Twins will send Cuddyer to right field every day in an outfield alignment which will also feature Delmon Young and Denard Span. The Twins expect these three to be in their positions every day in 2010, which is something the club did not have in its crowded situation last season.

Picking up Cuddyer's option is an absolute no-brainer for the Twins. He is the team's longest-tenured player, debuting in 2001, and is a leader in a very relaxed clubhouse. His hard-nosed effort is evident and he is simply a Ron Gardenhire-type of player. Still affordable at age 30, Cuddyer's numbers should track for the next two seasons, provided he stays healthy. Injuries destroyed his 2008 campaign (.249/.330/.369 with 3 HR and 36 RBI in 71 games), but Cuddyer played in 150 and 144 games in 2006 and 2007, respectively, demonstrating his durability.

Plus, as ESPN's Buster Olney pointed out in his Sunday blog, there is a much bigger issue at play in picking up Cuddyer's option:

"There might be risk that the Twins won't get full value in return for Cuddyer in 2011 at a $10.5 million salary, but it's worth remembering that everything the Twins do in the months ahead can be viewed through the prism of their Joe Mauer Project. They will try to persuade their franchise catcher to sign a long-term contract (and give them a hometown discount, presumably), so they will do everything in their power to demonstrate they can contend consistently. Cuddyer is a well-liked and highly respected veteran who has been good for the Twins -- teammates remarked about how many big hits he got down the stretch as they drove for the AL Central title -- so picking up his 2011 option can be seen as part of the early down payment on Mauer."

Fellow ESPN-er Rob Neyer does not like the move:

"Of course the problem is that Cuddyer has entered his decline phase. He'll turn 31 next spring and (more to the point) 32 in 2011. He might be just as good in 2011 as he was in 2009 -- but we know that he probably won't be. We know that instead of being a (roughly) $9 million player, as he was this year, he's more likely to be an $8 million player or a $7 million player.

No, the differences between Cuddyer's salary and his value is not a great deal of money. But the Twins have a history of overspending on decent players while complaining about the high price of truly great players. Remember, it was just a year ago that they couldn't afford Johan Sangana but quite happily blew $9 million on Craig Monroe and Livan Hernandez. And if they're not able to keep Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer in the long term, their money management is simply going to drop them from contention."

However, I like the move, and it was the only one an organization which is trying to keep its marquee player could have made.

Roster moves are plentiful in November, and the Twins started their shuffling last week with the trade of Gomez and the outrighting of infielder Brian Buscher to AAA Rochester, and he can become a minor league free agent in a few weeks. Buscher made the club out of spring training last season as a left-handed bat off the bench and an occasional replacement at third or first base. He hit .235/.360/.316 with 2 HR and 12 RBI in 136 at-bats. The Twins will likely pursue a free agent option for third base, meaning they needed Buscher's space on the 40-man roster, but they could look to bring him back as a minor league free agent option next season.

Carl Pavano also filed for free agency Saturday. Acquired by the Twins in August from the Cleveland Indians for a minor leaguer, Pavano made 12 starts for the Twins down the stretch and went 5-4 with a 4.64 ERA in 73.2 innings. He would be a nice fit for the 2010 rotation, but could get too expensive for the Twins. His fine showing in the ALDS (7 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs in a loss to the Yankees), coupled with his nearly 200 innings of work after an injury-plagued past few seasons, may attract suitors in a thin free agent pitching market behind John Lackey. Still, Pavano seemed to enjoy his time in Minnesota and would be a good option provided the Twins could get him at a discount.

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