The Punto-Cuddyer Syndrome

First off, I like Michael Cuddyer. Let’s get that out of the way right up front. I’m a fan of the man and assuming there’s no 12th hour change of heart on the part of Cuddyer and/or the Twins, I’ll miss watching him in a Twins uniform and wish him success with whatever team he suits up for in 2012.

That said, I’ve been around long enough to know that baseball is first and foremost a business these days, not only for the people running the teams but for the players, as well. And both parties have had to weigh a number of factors as they decide whether Cuddyer would continue being a member of the Twins.

Michael Cuddyer

For the Twins, it is perfectly reasonable to step back and question what the player’s worth is to the organization. They should be (and I’m certain they have been) considering his age, his level of past productivity, not just in the most recent season but over the course of the past several years, the value of his clubhouse presence, the value of his work in the community, and the value of the draft picks they get when he signs elsewhere. They also are clearly looking at other available options to replace his presence on the roster and what those options would cost, compared to the cost to bring Cuddyer back. It certainly sounds like it’s going to be cheaper to sign Josh Willingham and he certainly appears to be a comparable talent.

Cuddyer, as well, has things to consider as he weighs whether to return to the Twins. He and his agent have established what they think he should be worth on the open market. The Twins haven’t been offering that, so Cuddyer and his family have to decide if being a career Minnesota Twin is worth potentially leaving a few million dollars on the table. I wonder how many of us would do that. Cuddyer also has to determine how important having a better shot at winning a championship is to him. The chances of doing so in Minnesota over the next three years are probably not as good as they would be in Philadelphia, Boston or, arguably, even Colorado. I think it’s fair for him to wonder just whether it might be best for his career to move on.

In other words, I can see plenty of reasonable factors for either the team or Cuddyer to decide either that they should or shouldn’t continue their relationship.

But what I have never understood is the level of venom that a very vocal segment of the fan base (at least among those who haunt the internet) express in Cuddyer’s direction. At at time when many of us question the toughness of some of the Twins “stars” and their willingness to play through bumps and bruises, Cuddyer is one guy who has consistently tried to do that. Yes, he’s had some injuries over the years and yes, he’s had years that have been better or worse than others. He’s not a superstar. He has weaknesses.

But he’s played a pretty significant role in whatever levels of success the Twins have had in recent years.

Is the problem that people think he’s overpaid? Maybe, but is that his fault? He, like every player, has an agent who’s responsible for getting the best contract terms he can. We should dislike Cuddyer for that?

I think there’s a certain segment of Twins fans that take a particular joy, or at least satisfaction, it tearing down players that they view as being “liked” too much. These people think they’re smarter than most Twins fans and so they trot out this statistic or that criteria to demonstrate that anyone the rest of us dumb fans “like” isn’t as good as we think they are. It happened with Nick Punto and it’s happening now with Cuddyer.

So, in all likelihood, Cuddyer will move on now. That means the haters can joke and feel smug and superior to the rest of us who have valued his contribution to the team and the way he seemed to genuinely enjoy and appreciate the fans… just as they did when Punto finally signed elsewhere.

Most of us have been on this earth long enough to realize that there are people who can only feel better about themselves by denigrating others. I don’t like spending much time with such people on either a social or business basis. I’ve found myself with much less patience for that personality type in the virtual world lately, as well.

I’m not saying there’s no room for debate about the abilities and contributions of players, coaches, managers, GMs or any other member of the Twins organization. Debate and discussion is what we’re all about. Criticism is fair. If someone isn’t doing their job well, pointing that out is fine.

But when it turns personal or when it clearly has less to do with abilities than it does simply wanting to trash a guy that others happen to like just to be contrary… to show us all how much smarter you are than the rest of us… to point out how stupid we all are for liking the way a guy conducts his life on and off the field… you’re not showing us how smart you are, you’re just being a jerk. You’re showing the rest of us a lot more about yourself than you are about anything or anyone else.

These folks threw a little party when Nick Punto was shown the door and we’re already seeing evidence of the same thing as Cuddyer’s time as a Twin appears to be drawing to a close. It makes me wonder who these brilliant people who are so much smarter than the rest of us will choose to pick on next. I guess Matt Capps will be around for a little while longer, but he really isn’t popular enough with fans, in general, to make picking on him all that fun.

Punto had to leave to get the championship jewelry that every player wants. Now he’s signed with the Red Sox, giving him a helluva lot better shot at more such opportunities than anyone associated with the Twins has. And I’d be willing to bet Cuddyer will land in a situation with a better shot than he’d have had in Minnesota, too (just as Joe Nathan did).

So if you are one of those people who enjoy hating on a guy who has done nothing but give 100% to his team, his team mates, his fan base and his community, congratulations… it looks like you’re getting what you want.

But we all know it won’t make you happy. You’ll just need to find someone else to put down in order to make yourself feel superior again.

And that’s sad.

- JC