The strange square dance of Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer, the Twins, and the Rockies seems finally to have ended, and everyone — for the time being anyway — is happy with their new partner. The Twins get a player with a consistent track record of .800 OPS or better, the Rockies get the player they wanted from the start of the offseason, Willingham gets the starting job he deserves, and Cuddyer gets $10 million more than Willingham despite not really being that different a player in the outfield.
Due in no small part to a myriad of injuries to his teammates, Cuddyer was the Twins’ best player last season at 3.1 WAR, which is less impressive when you consider that the team was unable to field nine position players worth more than 1 WAR. His .284/.346/.459 line was good for the third best OPS of his career, which is more impressive when you consider he had to play half his games in cavernous Target Field. His wRC+, which includes a park adjustment, shows that Cuddyer was 24 percent above league average offensively last year, which is nothing to sniff at unless you’re in a 4 team league where any player less productive than Lance Berkman is just waiver wire chattel.
The move out of Target Field, which suppresses everybody’s home runs, will be helpful for Cuddyer’s offense, doubly so since he’s moving to Coors Field, which is particularly favorable for right-handed hitters. I do expect a few more home runs out of Cuddyer, 20-25 seems about right, but I don’t think the move is going to be the massive boon it may seem to be. Cuddyer hits a large number of groundballs, nearly 50 percent in both of the last two years, without hitting a ton of line drives or fly balls, and his HR/FB rate was already 13 percent last year. I just don’t see it jumping up much higher than that. It’s possible that he’ll see a small increase, which will lead to an extra home run or three, but he’ll be adjusting to new pitchers and new parks, which will work against him at least a little bit.
A huge part of Cuddyer’s value, both to fantasy owners and now to the Rockies, is his versatility. For most of last season, Cuddyer had enough games to qualify as an OF, 1B, 2B, and UTL, plus he threw a scoreless inning of relief. Add in the 17 games he played at 3B in 2010, and Cuddyer could be slotted in pretty much anywhere in your lineup except C and SP. He won’t be 3B eligible again in 2012, which is disappointing given the shallowness of the position, but he is going to be eligible in most leagues as a 2B.
While the average right fielder hit .269/.341/.441, the average second baseman didn’t fare quite so well, hitting just .260/.320/.389. Cuddyer may not be a good second baseman defensively, but as long as he has eligibility there, he’s a decent second tier option. If the Rockies decide to give Cuddyer some time at third base, so much the better, the average third baseman hit .252/.316/.390 and Cuddyer’s wRC+ would have ranked sixth overall among third baseman last year.
I definitely like Cuddyer in both NL-only and mixed, especially if he qualifies at 2B in your league or if it looks like the Rockies are going to use him as a non-first base infielder. A batting average of .270-.280 with 20+ home runs from your second baseman is really solid production, especially if you get him in the middle or late part of your draft. As long as you don’t expect him to hit 35 HR because of the move, you’re not likely to be disappointed with the production you get from Cuddyer.
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