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


17 Replies to “Room for Willingham AND Cuddyer?”

  1. I wonder whether Doumit is the DH under this scenario. Willingham, Cuddyer, Morneau and Mauer could all rotate through that spot with Revere out in left field. It actually gives the Twins a lot of flexibility, depending on Revere’s development and Morneau’s health.

  2. I think so, too, TT. A manager could even look at who he has pitching on a given day and decide whether he thinks he can afford to get by with a less than fleet-afoot OF. Think of how much fun Gardy would have with all of those things to ponder as he makes out a line up card!

    While I’m here and before someone brings up the draft picks they would give up by signing Cuddyer, let me just suggest this thought:

    I think the offer on the table to Cuddyer takes the value of those picks in to account. Essentially, Ryan is saying to Michael, “You are probably worth 3 years/27 mil (9 mil per year) on the open market as a ballplayer. You may get that offer from Colorado or Seattle or somewhere else and if you want to take it, we won’t blame you. But unlike those teams, we give up two high draft picks if we sign you and those draft picks have value attached to them, as well. We’re setting their value to us at $3 million. So if we sign you, we forfeit that value. So, to us, your value has to reflect that ‘loss’, which is why we’re only offering $24 million. If you want to stay in Minnesota, we’d love to have you at the cost of $24 million and two draft picks.”

  3. You know, the notion that those draft picks are worth $3 million would suggest that the Twins would be willing to pay at least that much in bonuses to players taken at that level. They won’t. More like half of that.

  4. Not necessarily, TT.

    My dad once told me that for every dollar I expected an employer to pay me, I needed to demonstrate that I was worth $2 to the employer because the company was in business to make money, not just provide me with employment.

    So, I guess my dad would tell you that if the Twins expect to pay those draft picks something close to $1.5 million between the two of them, then $3 million is exactly what the “value” of those picks is to the Twins… and what they would be giving up to keep Cuddyer.

  5. I’m guessing that if Cuddyer does come back, Span or Revere is gone for the best pitcher the Twins can get in return. Span’s contract is so team-friendly (assuming he’s healthy), and Revere is still an unproven quantity for whom I still hold out hope, so I’m not sure how I feel about this idea.

  6. The idea of 2 33-year-old outfielders, both with 3 year contracts, doesn’t do much for me.

  7. Three barely related thoughts:

    What Cuddyer has that Willingham doesn’t is defensive versatility. No one seems to state that positively. I guess you’re alluding to it.

    I have never bought into the $100 million payroll ceiling. Wasn’t that a number Ryan came up with out of his head at his first press conference? Because he never before had a budget over $87 million? If he made a mistake, I could see him not feeling the need to clarify the matter.

    I thought the real reason we were all waving Cuddyer good bye is because our minor league system needs the draft picks, whatever they’re worth in dollars. Don’t we still?

  8. JB, if I thought we were going to have two 33-yo outfielders 140 games a year, it wouldn’t do much for me either. I don’t expect that to happen. DHing, 1B… whatever… what I see are two 33-yo right handed bats with some pop and I don’t see why they’d become unable to hit between now and reaching age 35.

    A team with the revenue stream the Twins have right now should not have to “rebuild” with untested minor leaguers just because of one bad season.

  9. Craig, on your three points:

    1. yes Cuddyer has more flexability, but with Doumit and Carroll, I think we’re all hoping the need for that much flexability will be lessened. In any event, if you have to play Cuddy at 2B or 3B, you’re probably in so much trouble that it doesn’t matter.

    2. I used to think Ryan just pulled that number out of his… hat… too, but since then, I’ve read Dave St. Peter alluding to it, as well. I think it’s BS, but I think it’s what Ryan’s been told he should aim to do.

    3. If supplemental round draft picks were guaranteed MLB stars, I might be more concerned about those picks. They aren’t, especially in this organization. The Twins already have pretty decent talent at lower-to-mid minor league level and they’ll have the second overall pick this year. If that talent turns out to be solid, they’ll be competitive in 2015 already. What they need is help to win now, so they don’t see attendance drop so much that they enter a death spiral of low attendance/revenues and slashed payrolls leading to lower attendance/revenues and further slashed payrolls.

  10. Could happen… but I would not bet the farm on it happening. Right now the number one priority of the team is starting pitching. Number 2 priority is at least another established bullpen arm (hopefully right handed). I suspect that these will not grow on trees at Ft. Myers, from the fringe players the Twins signed in MiLB contracts, Doyle or the non-ready minor leaguers (Diamond, Hendricks etc.) BS took such a bet last season and it really hurt him. Unless this team builds a pitching staff, it would be hard to contend no matter who is on the field. Remember the pre-Ryan (Nolan, no Terry) Rangers? Could hit the ball out of the part but would lose a lot of 6-9 games.

    There is no way the Twins are rebuilding right now. The TV contract expires in 2012 and they really need a lot of butts on the seats and even more glued to Dick-n-Bert this season, to negotiate from a position of power for the next TV contract. (The current contract, btw is a pathetic 5 year / $12 million contract)

    We’ll see.

  11. Good point on the media deal being another reason why they can’t afford not to contend in 2012. All the more reason why putting Ryan in an arbitrary and unnecessary set of payroll handcuffs is insane.

  12. “My dad once told me that for every dollar I expected an employer to pay me, I needed to demonstrate that I was worth $2 to the employer because the company was in business to make money, not just provide me with employment.”

    Then the same would be true of the money the Twins pay their players. Under that scenario, the Twins are getting twice the value of what Cuddyer and Winningham are paid. That leaves you in the same spot relative to the money they need to save on salary.

    Their real economic value is the price at which the Twins would let a guy walk rather than pay him a bigger bonus. A lot of people have overvalued those draft choices, just as you did here. Or maybe its just that major league teams undervalue them.

    Craig –

    No, the minor league system is actually pretty strong. And a couple draft choices isn’t going to add much to that strength. Its just two more rolls of the dice among the 50 chances they get. The players taken in the 50-100 ranger are going to have a better shot at helping than the next 50 players taken, but not much better.

    I agree with you on the payroll. It was a number thrown out and Ryan has repeatedly said they will have the money if they think its warranted.

    Thrylos –

    I agree that pitching is a bigger priority. I don’t think they would sign Cuddyer if they thought that would foreclose adding a starting pitcher. That doesn’t mean they will be able to get someone they want, but I don’t think they will let signing Cuddyer prevent that.

    JB_Iowa –

    I agree with you. One of these guys is very likely going to get old in the next couple years. But these contracts are not so large that they will be a complete albatross.

  13. I think Ryan has to be focused on another starter as well. I only see Willingham and Cuddyer happening if: (1) they have plans to move Span or Revere for a SP (money-wise most likely Span although then they lack a lead-off hitter); or (2) they are pretty sure that Morneau will not be playing 1B.

    If Cuddyer signs for 3/$24m, that puts the payroll at $104m per JoeC’s calculations. Take out Span’s $3m and its back down to $101m. Thus allowing money to pay a starter and still keep the payroll in the same range as last year.

  14. I want to leave a totally unrelated comment for thrylos (just because I haven’t figured out how to leave a comment on his site).

    I am thoroughly enjoying your series about the Twins & Senators statistical leaders although it pains me (and ages me) to say I remember all of the Twins players. Good thing I don’t have personal memories of any of the Senators or I’d be feeling really old.

    Thanks for all the work you’ve put in on this series of posts and for anyone who hasn’t taken a look, it is well worth your time. There’s an amazing amount of info.

  15. JB,
    Just click at the little pen icon there for comments. There are about 8-10 more of them coming. I just think that baseball history is fun and puts things into perspective…

  16. Thyrlos:

    I second JB. Quite amusing. I’m reading Ring Lardner’s “You Know Me, Al” stories right now, so some of those Senators names are familiar. Cool to see the photos.

    Like JB, I also know every Twin. The photo of Tony Oliva makes me feel like I’m 4 years old again.