Over the weekend, the Minnesota Twins picked up their 10.5 million dollar option on RF Michael Cuddyer to keep him through 2010. Cuddyer has been a member of all five of the Twins playoff teams from the first decade of the millenium.
EDIT: Cuddyer’s option was for 2011. I regret the mistake, but the assumptions in this article still hold. 10.5M is too much to commit to Cuddyer.
Still, the Twins are the epitome of the small market team. 10.5 million dollars is certainly not an insignificant amount for them. The Twins have never broken a 75 million dollar payroll, and their average payroll since 2007 is approximately $65 million. It’s hard to say where the Twins payroll will be next year. They can expect an influx of revenue due to the opening of Target Field, but given current economic times, a significant increase in team salary is unlikely.
A liberal estimate of the Twins 2011 payroll of $70 million leaves Cuddyer as 15% of their payroll. Cuddyer’s offensive performance in 2009 was among the best of his career. His .370 wOBA tied his previous career high from 2006, and his 32 HRs marked a career high. He was worth 4.2 wins above replacement from a purely offensive standpoint last year.
Of course, we don’t measure value without including defense, and that’s where Cuddyer’s value sinks. Cuddyer has bounced between positions in his career, but since 2006 nearly all of his innings have come in RF. Familiarity has not improved Cuddyer’s skills in the field, as he has never put up a positive UZR in RF, bottoming out at 17 runs below average this year. With a -10 UZR/150 in RF, Cuddyer’s defensive contributions roughly equal those of a DH, and with his age 31 season coming up, it’s not likely that we’ll see improvements anytime soon.
As his career numbers suggest, Cuddyer’s probably not quite as bad in RF as he was this year, but he ‘s also probably not quite as good a hitter either. His ISO ballooned to .245 this year after two straight years under .200, mostly thanks to a ridiculous 17.1% HR/FB ratio. Going forward, his career wOBA of .346 is a much better estimate than his .370 wOBA from 2009. A .346 wOBA, over 600 PAs, is only worth roughly 8 runs above average. With the defensive contributions of a DH, that comes out to roughly 8 runs above replacement, or 0.8 WAR.
It’s very hard for a team to compete when paying a starting player 10.5 million dollars to contribute less than 1 win. It’s even harder for a team in the economic condition that the Twins are. This move seems more like an appeal to the fans rather than an attempt to build a winning team. The better way to appease your fans, however, is to win baseball games. Cuddyer is a slightly above average hitter who is a complete defensive non-factor. He helped the Twins win games as a cost-controlled young player, but the money he will make can help the team much more than he can. The Twins needed to let him go.
Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.