Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
When Michael Cuddyer smacks the ball around, as he did during the 2006 and .2009 seasons, there are some who have been quick to point out the defensive liabilities that lurk among his secondary statistics.
When Cuddyer doesn't live up to those seasons, his backers point out the important roles he's played on the Twins -- being the guy who has taken over at first base for Justin Morneau on an extended basis, his ability to fill in whenever and wherever he's needed and the fuzzy intangibles that cause dry heaves among those who drill for cold, hard facts.
Cuddyer is something of a baseball penny stock, whose value has fluctuated wildly during his career.
Those of you who are allergic to stat drilling need to bear with me for a minute here.
The website Fangraphs, which is excellent because it allows fans to go as deeply (or shallowly) as they want for data, has a tool that converts the Wins Above Replacement player statistic into a player's free-agent value.
In 2009, Cuddyer's "value" was $11.5 million. In 2010, it was $1.8 million. His career value numbers are here.
Every now and again, you'll see a comment or three that expresses disbelief over how the Twins could possibly have signed Cuddyer to a deal that, with his 2011 option, will pay him $33.5 million over four seasons.
But keep in mind that he signed that contract in January 2008 -- coming off two seasons during which his "value" was above $10 million. And it didn't help that he was injured for much of 2008 and played only 71 games, getting the deal off to a sour start. Plus, the Twins picked up his option for this year immediately after the end of the 2009 season, which was required under his contract.
So it's not like the Twins decided sometime last season to simply be nice and renew him for 2011. He earned it.
I try to avoid intangibles, so you won't get anything here about clubhouse presence or the fact that Cuddyer is one of the Twins who handles off-the-field interactions with the community and on-the-field interactions with the media as gracefully as anyone in the organization. Those are fine things, but they don't translate into more victories, the best I can tell.
Still, in a season where his offensive numbers were down (above average but not what we expect) and his defensive metrics were subpar, how much did Cuddyer increase his value by keeping the Twins from having a bigger issue at first base -- or by subbing at third base, center field and (for one hold-your-breath evening in Seattle) at second base? A bunch? A little? Not at all? What would have happened if Danny Valencia hadn't rescued third base?
Truth is this is a watershed year for Cuddyer. He'll be 32 on Opening Day and the Twins, right now, have high hopes down the road for young outfielders Aaron Hicks and Ben Revere. Can he have a season that compels the Twins to consider another multiyear contract? Can he have a season that makes him attractive to another team? Does a solid season change the way the Twins view Delmon Young and Denard Span? Could Cuddyer accept being a part-time player down the road when the young players are ready? Will he be managing the Twins in 10 or 15 years?
A lot of questions there. But as off-season talk blends into the first workouts of spring next week, there's no player whose value to the Twins is the subject of so many questions -- both primary and secondary -- as Cuddyer.
A read-to-the-end bonus: If you're looking for a list of MLB players on Twitter, this is the best one I've come across.
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