It wasn’t dire for the Minnesota Twins to re-sign Michael Cuddyer. Instead of bringing back the former first round pick, the Twins have reportedly agreed to a deal with Josh Willingham. Terry Ryan can talk all he wants, but Willingham’s signing seems to indicate that Cuddyer will have to find a new team this off-season. While fans might be upset about losing one of their longest-tenured players, the Twins are better off allowing Cuddyer to test the waters elsewhere.
Cuddyer may have been with the Twins his entire career, but he wasn’t about to offer them a “home-town discount.” The Twins reportedly offered Cuddyer a three-year, $25 million deal. After he delayed his decision for too long, the Twins were able to sign Willingham to a slightly cheaper three-year, $21 million contract. While Cuddyer posted a higher WAR than Willingham last season, he’s not worth an additional $4 million when you consider all the factors.
It’s easy to compare Cuddyer and Willingham and see some similarities. Both players are 32 years old and play corner outfield positions (and not particularly well). While Cuddyer was a full win better than Willingham last season, Willingham has been a full win better than Cuddyer when you add their three year averages.
Cuddyer’s 2011 slash line of .284/.346/.459 is actually slightly better than Willingham’s .246/.332/.477, but Willingham also had to play in a tougher ballpark. According to the 2011 park factors, O.co Coliseum suppressed hits and home runs slightly more than Target Field. So while it looks like Willingham may have started his decline phase last season, some of his struggles can be attributed to his park. Even though Willingham also experienced a decline in his walk rate — due to a new approach at the plate — he still walked at a higher rate than Cuddyer last season. If Willingham’s new ballpark boosts his offensive performance to previous levels, he’s a good bet to be slightly better than Cuddyer going forward.
Not only are the Twins getting a slightly better player at a cheaper price, but they will also gain an additional draft pick once Cuddyer signs with another team. Under the old CBA, both Cuddyer and Willingham were considered Type A free-agents, meaning any team that signed either player would have to surrender their 1st round draft pick. With the new CBA, Willingham no longer carried that designation, meaning the team that signed him would be able to keep their 1st round pick. Cuddyer, on the other hand, remained a Type A free-agent. By signing Willingham over Cuddyer, the Twins not only are able to keep their first round pick, but will actually gain a draft pick once another team signs Cuddyer.
While it might be hard for fans to say goodbye to Cuddyer, the Twins made the right move here. Even though both players can be viewed as similar, the additional draft pick the Twins gain by allowing Cuddyer to walk makes this swap a clear win for Minnesota.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.