Room for Willingham AND Cuddyer?

First, we finally get the big news about the Twins officially signing free agent outfielder Josh Willingham to a 3 year/$21 million contract, then quickly there were follow up reports that the Twins were also still holding out some hope to re-sign Michael Cuddyer, as well.

That’s big news! How big? Big enough that I couldn’t convince myself to post my already-written and ready to post column regarding my feelings about the Baseball Hall of Fame, that’s how big!

Instead, we have to discuss the possibility of having both Willingham and Cuddyer as members of the 2012 Minnesota Twins.

Josh Willingham (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Media reports indicate that Willingham’s paycheck pushes the Twins payroll to $96 million. I have no idea how accurate that is, but since checking the accuracy would require me to do the math myself, let’s just say it’s accurate. That means adding another $8+ million for Cuddyer pushes the payroll over the $100 million ceiling that GM Terry Ryan has been operating under. What we don’t know, of course, is how hard or soft that ceiling really is.

So that’s part of the question regarding “room” for both players. Is there room in the payroll for both? The other part of the question concerns whether there’s room on the field for both players.

On paper, Willingham is primarily a left fielder and Cuddyer a right fileder, so technically there’s room for each. You simply sandwich them around Denard Span and tell Denard to go after anything he can possibly get to, because Willingham and Cuddyer aren’t likely to be covering a lot of ground in the corners.

It would make for a pretty fair offensive line up, as the Strib’s Joe Christensen points out, inviting us to picture this line up:

1. CF — Denard Span (bats L)
2. SS — Jamey Carroll (R)
3. C — Joe Mauer (L)
4. LF — Josh Willingham (R)
5. 1B — Justin Morneau (L)
6. RF — Michael Cuddyer (R)
7. DH — Ryan Doumit (S)
8. 3B — Danny Valencia (R)
9. 2B — Alexi Casilla (S)

The Twins need to score more runs than they did in 2011 and that line up, when healthy, would do so.

Michael Cuddyer

Then again, the Twins also need to prevent opponents from scoring as many runs as they did in 2011. There’s little doubt that asking Span and Ben Revere to cover most of the expansive grass of Target Field’s outfield while Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Delmon Young manned the corner positions contributed to the elevated ERAs among Twins pitchers. You have to ask yourself whether an outfield with only one legitimate defender is the smart thing to do in Minnesota.

On the other hand, the only way you end up with that defensive alignment intact for most of the season is if you get full, healthy and productive seasons out of Morneau, Mauer, Doumit, Cuddyer, and Willingham. How much are you willing to bet on THAT happening?

I guess what I’m saying is that I like the chances of seeing Span and Revere side-by-side in the outfield an awful lot, assuming they both stay healthy themselves. Having Willingham and Cuddyer both just provides a lot more depth.

So, yes, I think there’s room for both free agents on the field.

But what about that payroll?

I’m not going to get too deep in to this because I’m still not convinced the Twins need to, much less should, reduce their payroll dramatically from last season. If they believe having both of these players will make the team better and if both will sign for what the Twins have established are amounts that the players are worth to the organization, then they should do so.

The only consideration is that screwed up “ceiling”. If Ryan truly has to stick to a number close to $100 million, he has to realize that scoring more runs is only half the challenge. He needs pitching that will prevent more runs from scoring and he needs a little more money for that, as well.

The Twins have enough money to sign both Willingham and Cuddyer, as well as adding another decent, but not top of the order, starting pitcher and still stay at or below last year’s payroll level. So long as that’s the case, then yes, Mr. Ryan, go ahead and sign both of these guys.

But if signing both means you have no money to improve the rotation or, worse yet, that you have to trade away Span or other critical returning players, well… that would be a really bad idea.

For now, I have to say I’m allowing myself to ponder the possibility of having Willingham and Cuddyer both in the line up and I like that thought.

- JC