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.

Section 219: Willingham, Cuddyer and the myth of leadership

Posted by: Howard Sinker under Target Field, Twins fans, Twins management, Twins offense Updated: December 14, 2011 - 9:01 AM

The Twins have apparently taken the plunge and will swap out Michael Cuddyer for Josh Willingham. The players fit pretty much the same profile: Right-handers who can hit for power and don't play the field particularly well. Willingham is said to be coming to the Twins for three years and $21 million, which is several million less than the offer that Cuddyer didn't respond do, plus Cuddyer's departure will bring the Twins extra draft choices in June.

It looks like a good deal.

Yes, we'll miss Cuddyer. He soldiered on through last season when others didn't, for whatever their reasons. And he stepped in significantly for Justin Morneau when he couldn't play at the end of 2009 and for the second half of 2010. Those who made him a target of their wrath were aiming in the wrong place.

However, I'm not sure about the clubhouse leadership business. Sometimes, when we talk about leadership, there's a tendency to use the word as a synonym for accessibility. Yes, Cuddyer was great with the media and always available to celebrate the good times and analyze the bad.

But being a journalist's go-to guy for a clubhouse where hiding out has been a popular pastime for some of the talent isn't the same as leadership. In fact, I'll argue that "leadership" is one of those gratuitous accolades that means little when scratched and sniffed.

Are there leaders where you work? Or do the most valuable folks show up, do their jobs well enough to make others look better, respect their colleagues and bring bagels to the office every once in a while?

I don't want to think of Cuddyer as a leader because the Twins were in such free fall last season that you'd be forced to conclude that any attempt at leadership was a failure.

Instead, I'd rather think of him as someone who didn't shirk the responsibilities of his job -- on the field and in the community. If everyone on the Twins had made as much of their abilities and was as accountable as Cuddyer, there's no way the 2011 Twins lose 99 games.

He's a classy guy and a pretty good baseball player.

Cuddyer set an example. And I hope that Willingham does the same.

And one more thing. In today's reports about Willingham, there's another reference to payroll trimming, and how all of the available remaining money needs to go toward pitching -- that the $113 million payroll of 2011 is expected to be closer to $100 million in 2012, with about $96 million already committed.

But supposed payroll limitations shouldn't overrule Terry Ryan's judgment if he's convinced that a set of moves will make the team better. Right now, that means the Twins still should be pursuing Jason Kubel as an outfielder/DH, in addition to looking for the pitching help that's still needed.

I'll keep this simple: If the Pohlads can't let $100 million become $110 million or $115 million for the right players, it would be punch in the gut to fans who have every right to expect the Twins to be contending and not just rebuilding. To the credit of the Target Field-era Twins, such rigidity has not been on the list of mistakes made.

This is no time to start.

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