Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Not Crazy About Cuddyer

Longtime friend of the blog Bill, on his strong new blog The Daily Something, does a pretty nifty job of parsing out the Twins outfield/DH logjam.

For The Common Man’s money (of which there is precious little), the best alignments in the near future involve Denard Span/Carlos Gomez/Michael Cuddyer/Jason Kubel vs. RHP and Span/Gomez/Cuddyer/Joe Mauer vs. LHP with Mike Redmond or Jose Morales behind the plate. This would allow Mauer to rest his back until he proves he’s durable enough to be behind the plate every day. Delmon Young should be back in the minors learning either a) how to keep from hitting grounder after grounder to shortstop, b) how to play in the outfield, c) how to convey that he’s making a least a modicum of effort, or, ideally, d) all three.

Anyway, in the course of his examination, Bill throws out that Cuddyer “hits righties well enough to justify playing every day for most clubs.” It’s an argument The Common Man has heard time and again with the Twins, that they have five everyday outfielders, all of whom deserve to start and who could, in all probability, start elsewhere. In particular, a lot of Twins fans were hoping Cuddyer, the oldest and most expensive of the quintet, would have been dealt to start elsewhere. But is Cuddyer really that valuable? How many teams could actually use him?

Michael Cuddyer wasn’t healthy last year, so that’s a bad season on which to judge. That said, his career has contained exactly one year of very good hitting, 2007, when he hit .284/.362/.504 and had an OPS+ of 124. Other than that, he’s almost exactly an average hitter in his career. And since moving to RF, he’s been about five runs below average a year on defense. He has value, sure, but not as much as you’d think, given how Twins fans have built him up over the past three years.

So who might be interested in a slightly used Cuddyer? Could most clubs actually use an average hitter (not an average corner OF bat) to play a corner or DH spot? What if he makes $8 million a year? The answer, unsurprisingly is “no.” Here’s the breakdown, team by team:

AL East
Blue Jays

Adam Lind, Alexis Rios, and Travis Snider are just fine, thank you.

OriolesLF Felix Pie
Yeah, Cuddyer’s a better option than Pie at this point, and likely always will be. But I like Pie; he’s young and cheap and still has room to grow. A slight nod to Cuddyer here, though his contract makes it close.

The Rays have a plethora of corner men, and are unlikely to make use of Cuddyer.

Red Sox
No thanks, the Sox will stick with Jason Bay and JD Drew

The only way Cuddyer makes sense is if Damon moves back to center, weakening the Yankee defense further. And I don’tsee that happening, do you?

AL Central

The Indians could probably use Cuddyer, as LF Ben Francisco seems more like a tweener bat in a bopper’s position. Then again, Matt LaPorta may be ready any day.

If he’s healthy and has his head on straight, RF Jose Guillen is a better bet than Cuddyer. Even for the money, I might rather have Guillen for $12 million than Cuddyer for $8 million (but probably not). In any case, the Royals aren’t about to add to their payroll commitments.

LF Carlos Guillen, DH Marcus Thames
Carlos Guillen has been an adventure in LF, and Marcus Thames is no one’s idea of a good hitter, so maybe a Cuddyer in LF and Guillen at DH would make sense for a team that isn’t shy about handing out money to risky players (see Willis, Dontrelle), especially since it would save Guillen some wear and tear.

White Sox
Carlos Quentin, Jermaine Dye, and Jim Thome aren’t going anywhere.

AL West

DH Juan Rivera-Like Cuddyer, Rivera was last really productive in 2006. A lot really depends on whether or not Rivera is healthy, and his current 309/345/418 line suggests that he is. At $3.25 million, he’s cheaper than Cuddyer, and probably more valuable.

RF Travis Buck
Buck probably would be a better option against RHP, but Cuddyer is clearly a better overall hitter.

LF Endy Chavez, DH Ken Griffey Jr.
Chavez may be off to a hot start, but he’s way over his head. There’s no way he maintains a .400 OBP. And Griffey has looked done for most of the season. Wladamir Balentien should probably be manning one of the spots, but Cuddyer would be an upgrade at the other.

Even with Josh Hamilton going down, Texas has an abundance of outfielders.

NL East

LF Garret Anderson, RF Jeff Francoeur
Anderson’s on the DL and Francoeur is what he is, an out machine with some power. I’d take Cuddyer any day.
Price plays a huge role here. Cuddyer wouldn’t supplant either Hermida or Cody Ross.

LF David Murphy/Fernando Tatis
For all their spending, the Mets could definitely use a LF. Murphy and Tatis are adequate offensively, but have made their pitchers miserable with their creative interpretation of Left Field.

The Nats sure do suck. And perhaps they could use Cuddyer. But with one outfielder (Lastings Milledge) banished to the minors, and another (Elijah Dukes) seemingly indifferent to everything and everyone, the Nationals are inundated with corner OFers who should already be playing.

Signing Raul Ibanez was probably a mistake, but he’s still a better option than Cuddyer.

NL Central

Cuddyer can’t match the youth, potential, and affordability of Hunter Pence, or the offensive production of Carlos Lee.

Corey Hart and Ryan Braun are both younger and better.

Colby Rasmus is the future, and Ryan Ludwick seems to be for real. Rick Ankiel has great power and more upside than Cuddy, and Chris Duncan is far cheaper.

Despite the slow start, Milton Bradley is still a better player than Cuddyer. And so is Alfonso Soriano.

RF Brandon Moss
OK, you got me.

LF Chris Dickerson

NL West

Upton and Jackson are too young and talented to be supplanted by Cuddyer.

Manny is twice the hitter Cuddyer is, and Andre Ethier already swings a better bat and still has room for improvement.

Randy Winn is older than Cuddyer, and has less power, but he’s also got a lot more speed, has good range, and gets on base at a better clip.

Money’s tight in San Diego, and they aren’t moving Brian Giles out to bring in Cuddy.

Brad Hawpe is pretty much a statue in RF, but his offense far outstrips Cuddyer and he’s cheaper.

So, for those of you keeping track, The Common Man counts eight teams (Reds, Pirates, Mets, Braves, Mariners, A’s, Orioles, and Tigers) for whom Cuddyer could step in, with his contract and his performance, and be an asset over what is currently in house. There’s one maybe in the group, the Indians, though that depends on how they proceed with LaPorta. That’s less than a third of the teams in the league. That's not to say, mind you, that Cuddyer isn't valuable. In fact, he is a deserving starter on the Twins, and probably their 5th best hitter. And if Cuddyer continues to flail away in 2009 (currently .216/.298/.311), he's going to play his way out of a job, and eventually The Common Man and other Twins fans are going to have to put up with another season of Delmon Young’s adventures in the outfield. I’m not sure there’s a more depressing thought in all of baseball.

Back tomorrow with some Federal League randomness.


Bill said...

This is insteresting stuff, but my statement wasn't meant to indicate that most clubs should consider trading for Cuddyer, but that if they had him, he'd play every day. And some of the guys that you're comparing him to wouldn't be there, because already having Cuddyer, they wouldn't have that hole to fill. I mean, obviously it's all dependent on him getting back to where he was in 2006 or at least 2007. But I don't see any reason he can't.

But in any case. Jose effing Guillen? Seriously? And the Rangers' plethora of corner OFs include guys named Marlon Byrd, Nelson Cruz, David Murphy, and a guy who used to be Andruw Jones. I sense some anti-Cuddles bias in the analysis...

lar said...

A couple of thoughts:

* I'm with Bill... I think taking Jose Guillen at $12 mil over Cuddyer at $8 mil seems a little harsh
* The Tigers may have been a team that wasn't shy about handing out money to risky players, but I think that's far from the case now. (Though paying Gary Sheffield $14mil to play on the Mets is prett dumb, even if Sheff does stink).
* Plus, I think you underestimate the Padres utter need to shed payroll. I think they'd definitely take the hit in public goodwill and production to exchange Giles and his contract for Cuddyer and his... that's a few mil right there.
* Is Jermaine Dye indeed better than Cuddyer? It's an honest question...

Good stuff, though.