I'm not going deep today on what I think because it's been pretty clear over the years that I'm a fan of Michael Cuddyer's. At the same time, the question of what to do about Cuddyer's future with the Twins is a multidimensional riddle that is filled with moving parts as the Twins regroup for 2012 and beyond.
And what better time to ask it than after a two-homer night, including a tie-breaking grand slam that turned attention away from Scott Baker's third inning of hell.
It's pretty certain that Cuddyer will be with the Twins through the rest of the season. It's hard to imagine a waiver deal in which the Twins would get appropriate value. Shorthand on the waiver rule: Teams could put in a claim if Cuddyer is placed on waivers and the Twins would have the option of working out a deal within two days or pulling him off the waiver wire. If more than one team makes a claim, the one with the worst record in the American League would get preference. If he clears the AL, then the process would begin with NL teams. (This paragraph was revised after a nice catch in the comments by Scottie3234.)
What should have/could have happened last week is moot, save for the bigger question about whether the Twins' front office will chart the appropriate course for the future -- and what that course should be. I'd like to think that not dealing Cuddyer was more about a future plan than part of the charade about title contention this season.
Quick contract review: Cuddyer is being paid $10.5 million this season in the option year of a contract signed before the 2008 season. Looking at the potential group of free agent outfielders, Cuddyer is expected to be a Type A free agent, who would bring the Twins either a first- or second-round draft pick in 2012, as well as a pick between the first and second rounds.
You can argue that the Twins are in such a state of flux that they should keep Cuddyer to provide stability, maturity and leadership in addition to his statistics. You can also argue that in a time of potentially significant roster change and player movement, Cuddyer is one more player who should be thanked for his service and shown the door -- especially if the alternative is signing him for a few seasons at $10 million or so per year.
Here are the dice rolls:
Predicting the true market: Before last season, many people assumed there would be hot and heavy action for Carl Pavano, and that didn't play out as predicted. There was not a lot of market clamor, and the Twins ended up bringing him back on a two-year deal without having a huge amount of competition for him.
Other players' health: I'm pessimistic about Justin Morneau's future, although I want to be very wrong. Is Cuddyer the Twins' main first baseman for the next few seasons? Does he play 90 games at first base and 70 in right field while Joe Mauer catches 90 games and plays 70 at first base?
Delmon Young: Can the Twins get much for him in a trade, opening an outfield position for Ben Revere (in 2012), Aaron Hicks (down the road) or an acquisition through a trade or free agency?
Cuddyer's priorities: Would he take a bit less to stay with the Twins? The "home team discount" is an overused cliche, and it's silly to expect a player to stay put when there's a significantly sweeter offer elsewhere. I'd also wager that Cuddyer, who will turn 33 next year, wouldn't mind being a part of a team that's built for a championship sooner rather than later.
Cuddyer is in the midst of his best offensive season and sells versatility on defense. His OPS+ (on base-plus-slugging percentage measured against the league average) is 138 -- a personal best in a season when offensive numbers around baseball are lagging. From 2006 to 2010 (except for 2008 when injuries wrecked his season), Cuddyer's OPS+ has ranged from above average (105 in 2006) to very good (124 in 2006 and '09). I will argue that he has pretty much saved the Twins from embarrassment this season.
A lot of people trashed his slow, RBI-impaired first month, and we had fun in Section 219 with the Cuddyer RBI watch.
But if you take away only the first 10 days of the season (after which Cuddyer was batting .107), Cuddyer's numbers are .316/.384/.523. We can play with his stats in any number of ways -- try making a 2011-only comparison with this guy -- but that's a sideshow discussion and avoids the question:
What should the Twins do about Cuddyer?