The Colorado Rockies decided to do what the Minnesota Twins rightfully decided to not do; give too much money to free agent outfielder Michael Cuddyer. The Rockies will give Cuddyer $31.5 million over three years, and that is too much for a player who is an injury-risk and is barely better than Josh Willingham (Cuddyer’s “replacement” in Minnesota). Although he is a great clubhouse guy, that doesn’t really mean that much when a player is making over $10 million a year when they don’t deserve such a contract.
Michael Cuddyer, despite my distaste for this contract, is a solid player who provides some good offense. However, the only reason why he is as good as Willingham is the fact that his defense is viewed as less poor than Willingham’s play in the outfield. However, that will change gradually during these three years given Cuddyer’s age and injury history. He may be a better baserunner, and that’s, admittedly, not likely to change any time soon; Willingham can’t run at all. If somebody ever calls Cuddyer versatile defensively, completely disregard their statement, because he stinks at every position on the diamond defensively. He was a disaster at second and has never played well at any position with at least 50 innings over his entire career.
The projections provided by Bill James have Cuddyer at 1.5 WAR in 2012, which translates to about $7.3 million. Although I see him as more of a 2 WAR, league-average player next season, his value will certainly depreciate over the course of his contract. I mean, Cuddyer will be 33 years old once the season starts, which means that he is about to start his decline in the year 2012. Paying $1o million a year to a player who is only going to get worse isn’t always ideal, and it wasn’t like the Rockies had a huge need in the outfield in the first place.
However, this deal isn’t completely awful given a few key pieces of information. First off, Cuddyer’s offensive numbers will only go up in Coors. That’s hardly much consolation with today’s park-adjusted numbers, but it is certainly feasible for Cuddyer to have a wRC+ of at least 120 in 2012.
If a win equates to $5 million, then Colorado is asking the former Twins fan-favorite to be worth 6.3 WAR in his new deal. This is precisely the reason why this is a poor deal. Cuddyer isn’t a player who will be worth 2.1 WAR a year, and he will most likely end up being worth 5 WAR over these three years. It is unlikely that he will be worth over 6 WAR, because the only tangible value he provides to a team is his solid bat. He isn’t a great hitter by any measure, and his offensive skill is worse than Josh Willingham’s.
When you compare the contracts given to Willingham and Michael Cuddyer, the realization hits you. The Rockies are paying for name value, while the Twins are getting more production for less. The deal wasn’t pragmatic for the Rockies in any sense of the word, because they already had a league-average right fielder in Seth Smith. His youth and extremely team-friendly contract make him a much better value than Cuddyer, and the former Twin is really a luxury that the team shouldn’t have signed. I honestly don’t get why the Rockies would overpay for a guy who they really didn’t need. In all honesty, this was a rather poor deal that was a waste of money.
Look, it’s not like Cuddyer is a bad player by any means. He’s a decent, league-average player, but he is also an overrated player who should have received $22 million instead of $31.5 million over three seasons. Part of the reason why Cuddyer is overrated is because of his good-guy reputation. That may sound counter-intuitive, but players such as Cuddyer are given too much credit for being good clubhouse players. Obviously he does have an impact in this regard, but it doesn’t make him a better or more valuable player. I doubt the Rockies have huge problems with team chemistry right now, and they just made the outfield more crowded by signing a guy they did not need to a deal that was ill-advised.
Just as Terry Ryan was smart to sign Josh Willingham to a three-year deal worth $21 million and spurn Cuddyer, the Rockies took a step in the wrong direction financially by giving Cuddyer more than $3o million. This isn’t a deal that will implode in their faces, because it doesn’t have that Crawford or Zito aura to it. However, it was an unnecessary signing and really a confounding one when looking at the other outfielders on the roster. There are bigger holes on this team, and the only way this deal is rectified is if one of these outfielders is traded in a “net gain” type trade for the Rockies. If this doesn’t happen, then I don’t see how this deal benefits the Rockies in any way.
In terms of direct analysis- such as WAR/$ or actual value over contractual value- this deal has the Rockies coming on the short end of the stick. This deal was a quizzical one, and the Twins have to be happy with what they did. They saved money- important for a team that will undergo heavier budget constraints, had the better deal in terms of value over money spent, filled a position of need, and obtained the better player. The Rockies, sadly, did the exact opposite of all these four things by signing Michael Cuddyer. The deal could work out, but, more likely than not, it will be another strange move in what has been yet another enjoyable offseason.