The Twins made their signing of Josh Willingham official yesterday, finalizing a three-year, $21 million deal with the veteran outfielder.
The move rules out a return to Minnesota for long-time franchise staple Michael Cuddyer, who'd been viewed as an alternative option to fill the same need.
Or does it?
While the Twins' interest in Willingham and Cuddyer had largely been framed as an either/or scenario over the first couple months of the offseason, there's been growing speculation that the club may consider bringing Cuddyer back even with Willingham locked in.
This strikes me as bizarre. It's not hard to see the appeal in a lineup that includes both bats, but the Twins are working with limited resources -- Terry Ryan would have to stretch the budget past ownership's desired target of $100 million to bring Cuddyer back -- and they haven't yet begun to address their flimsy pitching corps.
In fact, all the team has really done so far is subtract from a staff that finished second-to-last in the majors in ERA. It's tough to see how signing Cuddyer would leave much flexibility to add anything beyond the types of marginal minor-league arms they've already brought into the mix.
Not only would signing Cuddyer show a lopsided emphasis on offense versus pitching, it would also signal that the front office is focusing far too much on the present versus the future. It's great that Ryan and Co. are intent on righting the ship in short order, but they need to be rebuilding with an eye toward the organization's long-term health as well. Forfeiting a pair of high draft picks while committing $45 million to a pair of 33-year-old corner outfielders seems extremely short-sighted.
There's an inherent risk in making multi-year commitments to players that are aging into their mid-30s. Fortunately, that risk is mitigated in Willingham's case because $7 million annually is very reasonable for a player of his pedigree, which is why this deal has to be looked at as a slam dunk success for the front office.
By signing Cuddyer in addition to Willingham though, the Twins would be doubling their risk. Having both outfielders aboard would certainly strengthen the lineup in the short term, but the long-term ramifications are troubling and if the front office is willing to cough up an additional $24 million for a Cuddyer contract, it sure seems like that money could be put to better use on pitching.
[UPDATE: Such fears can be put to rest. Cuddyer signed a three-year, $31.5 million contract with the Rockies today.]