Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cuddyer's Timeline

There has been lots of talk about Michael Cuddyer recently, primarily due to the Twins 3-year/$25 million contract offer. The natural conclusion, given all that chatter and at least one hard offer, was that a decision would be made soon. That hasn't happened.

News broke yesterday that the Twins are considered one of two finalists for Josh Willingham, another right-handed right fielder with 30 HR power. If Willingham were to agree to an offer with the Twins, it would essentially end Cuddyer's Twins career, as the Twins apparently can't afford both. Again, these report suggest a decision will be made soon.

I'm not at all confident that is going to happen.

There is a certain hierarchy to free agent signings and believe it or not, it has nothing to do with "setting the market." That is a myth. Just because some team paid a certain amount for one player doesn't mean that another team needs to pay a similar amount for a similar player. To get that similar player, you just need to have a better offer than the other teams.

Instead, the hierarchy works for logical reasons, by which I mean greed. Given two players, a team wants the better one. Once that player is gone, they want the next best one. And so on.

Want to know why you haven't heard too much about teams pursuing Cuddyer yet? Because they've been pursuing other, better players. There are two right-handed slugging free agents who are much better than Cuddyer (Albert Pujols & Aramis Ramirez), and two more that are comparable (Carlos Beltran & Willingham). Only one of those four players have signed, and it was Pujols on Thursday. Sure enough, reports are that the Cardinals are considering replacing his bat with Beltran. The Marlins and a mystery team also missed out on Pujols. Guess what they're likely shopping for right now?

It's not unusual for free agents to sign before the higher-rated players, but it's unusual for them to do so for a lot less than the market expected. The Twins offer to Cuddyer was considerably less than the market expected. It shouldn't surprise us it wasn't snapped up.
The situation with Willingham is similar. The Rockies, for instance, have already made it clear they might be interested in Willinham IF they don't get Cuddyer. So why would Willingham sign before Cuddyer?

There are other advantages to waiting, too. The Phillies made it clear they valued Cuddyer, but have been trying to work out a deal with shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Depending on how much they spend on him, they might be able to re-enter discussions with Cuddyer. The Red Sox have had interest in Cuddyer, clearly have a need for a corner outfielder, but have limited space before they go over the luxury tax threshold. How much they can spend might depend on whether they can trade away Marco Scutaro's contract, or can work out a multi-year deal with David Ortiz, lowering how much they pay him this year.

All the reports about contract offers and interest make it feel like there should be a speedy resolution. But logic suggests that it is in Cuddyer's and Willingham's best interests to wait this out awhile. If you've been compulsively hitting the refresh button on your favorite baseball website or twitter feed, you may want to recognize that Cuddyer's timeline may not match ours.

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