December 12, 2011

Michael Cuddyer or Josh Willingham?

Nearly a week ago the Twins made Michael Cuddyer a three-year contract offer believed to be worth $25 million, and depending on which reports you choose to trust he's either holding out for more money to re-sign or hoping another teams steps forward with a similar offer because all things being relatively equal he'd rather not return to Minnesota. Or maybe he's just been too busy with newborn twin daughters to make a decision.

Whatever the case, the wisdom of re-signing Cuddyer involves factors that go beyond his age, performance, and salary. For one thing, if Cuddyer signs elsewhere the Twins would receive a first-round pick and supplemental first-round pick as compensation, which studies have shown is a combination worth approximately $5 million. That type of value (and two quality prospects) shouldn't be brushed aside, particularly for a team whose farm system has slumped of late.

Replacing his right-handed bat in the middle of a lefty-dominant lineup is also an issue, but the Twins have reportedly been preparing for that possibility by reaching out to free agent corner outfielder Josh Willingham. By choice or not, if the Twins were to let Cuddyer walk and sign Willingham to replace him they'd gain two valuable draft picks as part of the switch and, based on recent speculation about Willingham's likely asking price, might even save some money.

On the most basic level the question about re-signing Cuddyer is whether he'll be worth $25 million for the next three seasons, but on a deeper level the question should be whether he's more valuable than Willingham and two picks (and possibly some extra cash too). Not only is that a tough case to make, there might be a stronger argument for Willingham simply being a better player than Cuddyer even before factoring in the draft picks or money.

Cuddyer and Willingham are both 33-year-old corner outfielders with poor range, but Cuddyer has a better arm and offers more versatility defensively. This year Cuddyer hit .284/.346/.459 with 20 homers in 139 games for the Twins and Willingham hit .246/.332/.477 with 29 homers in 136 games for the A's. Combined during the past three seasons Cuddyer hit .276/.341/.465 and Willingham hit .257/.360/.479. Here are their year-by-year and 2009-2011 numbers:

2011            AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Cuddyer        .284     .346     .459     .805     121
Willingham     .246     .332     .477     .810     121
2010            AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Cuddyer        .271     .336     .417     .753     107
Willingham     .268     .389     .459     .848     129
2009            AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Cuddyer        .276     .342     .520     .862     124
Willingham     .260     .367     .496     .863     127
2009-2011       AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Cuddyer        .276     .341     .465     .806     117
Willingham     .257     .360     .479     .839     125

Cuddyer has consistently posted a higher batting average than Willingham, but the superior overall production has typically come from Willingham because he offers more power and plate discipline. However you slice it they're extremely similar players in terms of age, handedness, skill set, and performance, with Cuddyer likely holding a slight edge defensively and Willingham holding a slight edge offensively.

Given all those similarities I'm willing to believe the Twins would be better off sticking with the guy they know and clearly love, but there's a huge difference between preferring Cuddyer to Willingham and preferring Cuddyer to Willingham, two high picks worth millions of dollars, and perhaps some extra money. Subjectively the Cuddyer decision is no doubt very tough for the Twins, but objectively it's even tougher to argue that Willingham wouldn't be a better option.

  • http://www.gogonzojournal.com Anthony Varriano

    I’ve been making an argument on my blog for months that Willingham is certainly more valuable given the picks, money saved, and ability. I’ve wanted to see him as a Twin for a long time, and if Cuddyer doesn’t want to be in Minnesota I don’t want him in Minnesota. It’s that simple. The fact he’s holding out should push Terry Ryan to work on Willingham or Kubel or both. I don’t think there’s a move Ryan can make to sway Cuddyer, but I’ve proposed a few on my blog, including Hisashi Iwakuma or a trade for Brandon League, but if Cuddyer doesn’t think the Twins can contend, let him walk.

  • Mitchell Sullivan

    How long would either one remain in the twins outfield? Considering the glut in the twin’s OF it seems the question of defense superiority is only relevant for at most a single year. With Revere and span already in the majors and Benson no less then a year away the question of who has a better bat seems more important for an eventual switch to part time OF/DH. And it’s not like cuddyer would improve on his already well bellow average defense at other positions that he could be at all that useful of a backup other then RF.

  • Mitchell Sullivan

    I won’t count on the front office factoring in the draft picks that heavily. see one capps, matt

  • Iconoclast

    Good analysis, and I agree with the conclusion. But wouldn’t Willingham cost a second round pick? It’s really only a one draft pick difference between the two.

  • http://aarongleeman.com aarongleeman

    But wouldn’t Willingham cost a second round pick? It’s really only a one draft pick difference between the two.

    Signing Willingham would not require the Twins to lose a draft pick.

  • Evan

    The latest Morosi tweet makes it sound like Cuddyer is probably gone. Wonder what is meant by “huge news”.

    Michael Cuddyer’s FA decision will be huge news. Could happen soon. Big impact on #Twins, #Rockies plans.

  • Carl

    So what happens when the Twins decide that Morneau is going to be the full time DH because of his various injuries?

    I think the Twins are trying to re-sign Cuddy to be the full time 1st baseman. If that’s the case, how do we feel about that?

  • frightwig

    @Mitchell Sullivan

    I’d hesitate to say that Span-Revere-Benson amounts to a “glut in the Twins OF.” It remains to be seen whether Revere or Benson will even become respectable major league hitters, or if Span will come back from his concussion to be as good as he was in his first couple seasons.

    Of course, if the Twins are in rebuilding mode, that may be all the more reason to let Cuddyer go and take the picks.

  • wrong em

    I think the Twins are trying to re-sign Cuddy to be the full time 1st baseman. If that’s the case, how do we feel about that?

    If this were true, they still would most likely be choosing between Cuddyer and Willingham for money reasons, so it basically comes down to the same choice.
    And if Morneau is the full-time DH then Doumit has to go somewhere, which may as well be 1B.

  • http://fairmountservices@centurylink.net Steve

    When will this organization realize they need to build up their farm system? Morans!

  • mini_tb

    Morans?

    Like Erin Moran who played Joanie Cunningham, which almost sounds like a combination of Cuddyer and Willingham, on Happy Days?

    I pretty much never pick on spelling errors, but that’s funny!

  • Tito

    Willingham’s numbers from 2009-2011 look slightly better, but that ignores the fact that Cuddyer played 66 more games over that span.

  • Alex

    Hey mini,

    That wasn’t a typo. It’s an Internet meme.

    http://0.tqn.com/d/politicalhumor/1/0/n/U/moran.jpg

  • mini_tb

    Okay, so it’s that guy I’m picking on. I learned something new today.

  • Greg

    The Twins’ defense is already the league’s worst (according to the Defensive Efficiency stat), and sticking Willingham in RF would only make a bad situation worse. Cuddyer and Willingham are both DHs. The Twins should be looking for a real RF to play RF.

  • j-wowwwwwwww

    Doesn’t Revere and Span in LF and CF upgrade RF by shrinking the range needed to be covered by the lumbering RF of choice? The Twins need the RH bat in RF much more than they need another Ben Revere out there.

    Unless the Twins are going to douche money all over Beltran, Willingham/Cuddyer is a best case scenario.

  • http://jasonwinter.wordpress.com Jason w

    Or, crazy notion, put Span in RF and let the plodder (Willingham/Cuddyer) play LF.

  • birdofprey

    Sign Kubel, platoon him with Plouffe until Benson is ready, watch Tosoni to see if he’s coming along, and move Kubel at the trade deadline for pitching prospects.

    Neither Cuddyer or Willingham are worth it.

  • Mike

    One stat left out that really puts Cuddy over the top is GIDP: over the last 3 yrs Cuddy 22-26-18 for 66 while Willingham has under achieved at 11-8-6 for 25. Clearly Cuddy is superior.

  • Curt

    What is the “extra cash” in Aaron’s scenario? Willingham takes less money than Cuddyer? I’m voting Willingham either way.

    BTW, the Twins do not have a glut in the outfield. Span is a question mark with his concussion. Revere needs to prove he can get on base and Benson needs to show capability above Class A. The Twins also do not have a glut of left handed hitting. It might seem that way because of the lack of right handed hitting but unless Span, Morneau and (yes) Mauer can get back on track, and/or Kubel is re-signed, LH hitting is a hole too.

    All I see in the Twins are holes that need to be filled.

  • Wyatt

    Give me Willingham over Cuddyer, period. Aaron laid out the offensive numbers, and here are the WAR numbers over the past 3 years.
    Willingham: 2.6, 3, 2.1 = 7.7 WAR
    Cuddyer: 2.8, .8, 3.1 = 6.7 WAR

    If you go back another year, the gap widens even further (10.7 WAR to 6.7 WAR). When you factor in the draft picks, it’s even more of an edge to Willingham. And finally, when you examine the fact that teams are waiting to see what Cuddyer does before extending an offer to Willingham, it tells me that Willingham will also go for less money. Also, Cuddyer’s “versatility” is mediocre at best, and now covered by Ryan Doumit.

    So, this is what TR should be seeing in front of him:
    RF option A: slightly better player + 2 draft picks worth approx $5 mil + most likely cheaper contract

    RF option B: slightly worse player + can play some mediocre 1st base as well + is “a great clubhouse guy” + most likely more expensive than option A.

    Give me option A!

  • BR

    I think the Twins have gone as far as they’re likely to go with Cuddyer. 3/$25M is a fair offer but far less than most were predicting he’d get. If he takes it, they’ll be getting decent value.

    If not, then Willingham is a good plan B, as long as he costs a bit less (and maybe for just 2 years). He hasn’t been as durable or versatile, but I suspect he could move to 1st if need be (he’s played there a couple of times in the majors and could work there during ST).

    If it were all up to me, Willingham for shorter money + the picks would have been the real plan A. I agree with those who say the Twins still need a ML-caliber OFer. Revere’s bat is not MLB-ready, and Benson looks like he’s at least a year away.

  • David

    I completely agree with Aaron’s analysis, but JW’s monster drop in OBP last year scares me a bit.

  • Josh

    I think this is the limit on Cuddyer too, and I think that’s a good decision. The only thing that really worries me is if Cuddy says no and signs somewhere else if someone else swoops in and grabs Willingham, who would be a good fit as the replacement.

    I’d be fine with Cuddyer back at 3/$25M; he’s probably reasonably fairly priced there, especially when you consider other ancillary benefits to having him back. But if he chooses to go, I want Willingham for a few years until the theoretical wave of OF prospects is ready for full-time duty.

    An OF of Span, Willingham/Cuddyer, Revere, Tosoni, and Benson could be interesting. It certainly could be an adequate OF. It could also be not productive enough.

  • http://jszym2write@yahoo.com jfs

    good analysis. i’m betting they sign cuddyer, if he wants to return. why? he has character. period.

    what about the draft choices? successful drafting isn’t guaranteed.

  • Jeff H

    Give the Hammer (Willingham) plus the picks and probably some saved money. Neither of these guys are long-term solutions. Sao, when faced with two similar short-term options, I favor the one that puts us in the best position for our future (money and picks)

  • http://jszym2write@yahoo.com jfs

    regarding the hoey waiver claim, guerra and jacobson remain from the santana trade. paltry return for arguably the best pitcher in baseball at the time.

    looks like they’re opening roster room for any interesting non-tenders announced tonight (11 p.m. central).

  • http://www.senseinthecenter.blogspot.com neckrolls

    I’m not totally clear on how the new CBA treats this situation. The Rockies finished with the league’s 10th-worst record. Under the old rules, they would have given the Twins their 2nd-round pick for signing a Type A like Cuddyer. Is that still the case? There’s a huge value difference between getting the 11th overall pick vs. the 70th.

  • noel

    So – the Twins would get two picks AND 5M, should Cuddy sign with another club???
    Come on Gleeman……

  • Jeff

    “what about the draft choices? successful drafting isn’t guaranteed.”

    That’s like saying you wouldn’t take a free coin flip for $50 because you might lose.

  • Mike

    “So – the Twins would get two picks AND 5M…” that isn’t what he said! He linked to a study that says those picks have a (perceived)value of about 5M. Of course, they may not have taken into account who is doing the drafting. The way TR drafted his last few years they would be worth a lot less.

  • ricky

    if the twins lose out on both guys why not try to sign Carlos Beltran? Beltran would bring great obp ability..

  • Katz

    The analysis is great but doesn’t factor in the intangible qualities Cuddyer brings to the Twins. He’s one of their clubhouse leaders and he’s an excellent makeup guy. That stuff makes a difference even if doesn’t show in the numbers. That said, it looks like its a moot point anyways from that tweet. Willingham will be a nice replacement option if they lose him and the picks will be good to have.

  • Wyatt

    Katz, in my personal opinion, the only way I would take cuddyer’s intangibles into play is if he and willingham were about even. That’s not the case here. Willingham’s the slightly better player, and factor in the draft picks and expected cost of each player, and in my opinion is a no brainer.

  • EmeraldAxe

    Katz,

    There is a perception of Cuddyer bringing leadership to the clubhouse where few other players seem willing or able to step into the role. But I’d ask, what good has this done the Twins in recent years? During some of the most critical moments, the team choked. The answer may be to find different (and arguably more capable) leaders.

    As for Cuddyer’s value in the marketing department, this would be hard for the Twins to replace. As a fan, I could not care less about how much extra PR support the team has because of Cuddyer’s local celebrity, I care about wins.

  • ewen21

    Emerald Axe brings up a valid point with regards to Cuddyer’s ‘leadership qualities’. I’d like to take it a step further and site an instance where he failed to show leadership qualities when he obviously should have…

    If you recall, early in the year when things were going bad, Gardy called a team meeting. He said his piece and at one point he opened things up for comments from the players. It was reported that the silence in the clubhouse was deafening until ONE player spoke up. That player was Denard Span. I found that to be telling. Why didn’t Cuddyer use that forum to speak out? At around that time he suggested (through the press) that there wasn’t enough ‘fire’ in the clubhouse. Yet when an opportunity to tell this to the team presented itself he bailed on it.

    I think people need to back off with all this talk about ‘intangibles’…..it’s an illusion.

  • JA

    If Cuddyer comes back, great. He fits the mold very well, easy to watch and to root for. Willingham offers power, but not much else. A healthy Carlos Beltran would be the guy to target. Better defense, better hitter, plus a switch hitter, and more than likely a one or two year deal. Incentive based 1 year deal with an option?

  • Steve J

    what about the draft choices? successful drafting isn’t guaranteed.

    Neither is failure.

    Seriously, why does this type of idiotic statement get made when there is an overwealming body of historical evidence that shows the most cost-effective way to aquire major talent is through minor league development, which comes mostly from the amature draft.

  • Paul

    To me the value of the draft picks tips the scale to Willingham. But I certainly understand the value of clubhouse presence and team chemistry, and the fact that ascertaining their value is always a subjective thing best left to the best minds with the best firsthand view. Apparently, with all considerations taken into account, the Twins slightly prefer Cuddyer. OK. To those that use the 99 losses as testament to the untruth of Cuddyer’s leadership value I suggest the possibility of clubhouse aspects not in your view. In Peewees, HS, College or the Pros, nothing pisses players off quite like incompetent roster handling. Part A: Jettison Hardy, Crain, and Guerrier. Part B: Hire Nishioka, Dumatrait, and Dusty Hughes. Good players speak up. If the wrong things are said in response…away you go. It’s obvious the Twins lost the clubhouse. Ryan might view Cuddyer as a NECESSARY step in correcting that.

  • Andrew

    Give me Michael Cuddyer. I don’t want to be objective, I want to follow my heart.

  • http://twinkietown.com steve hoffman (SHS)

    Willingham in 2 of the last 3 years was also facing NL pitching…… and he is a month OLDER than Cuddyer.

    In a vacuum non-draft pick related context I”D take CUDDYER EVERY TIME

    it isn’t even that close for me.

    Cuddyer will age bettter too and was a much better prospect coming up .

  • http://twinkietown.com steve hoffman (SHS)

    WIllingham’s K rate last year was also EXTREMELY excessive.

    Kieth Law is on to something here peeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeps

  • Noel

    Hey ‘Mike’. Ok – but he did write this, right after the link of the perceieved value of the picks being 5m:

    “That type of value (and two quality prospects)”. Which I take it as “5m AND two quality prospects”…..