Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cuddyer Will Be Back

Yesterday on Twitter, I asked the question:

What percent sure are you that Cuddy will be w the #Twins next year?

I got twenty responses, ranging from 1% to 99%; such is the range of opinion. I answered 80%, simply based on the fact that he likes the Twins and the Twins like (and, probably need) him. It seemed like something that would find a way to get done.

But after looking into my crystal ball, I think I’m going higher. And Cuddy might not be as thrilled with coming back as we (and he) might think. Here’s why.

If he keeps up his current pace, Michael Cuddyer will not just be a free agent, he’ll be a “Type A” free agent. What does that mean? It means he and the Twins need to do a dance:

Step 1: The Twins need to decide if they are going to offer Cuddyer arbitration.

This means that the Twins are essentially offering Cuddyer a one-year contract at whatever an arbitrator would decide he is worth, which is ironically probably more than he would make on the free agent market on a per year basis. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I did a quick analysis and figured that Cuddyer could be in line for as much as a three-year, $27 million contract. But if the Twins offered him arbitration, I’d need to guess that he might get ten or eleven million for 2012.

Why would the Twins offer that? We’ll get to that in step two. There is a major incentive for them to offer that deal to Cuddyer.

Likely result: the Twins offer arbitration. In general, the Twins have been willing to overpay for a one-year deal. We saw it this year with Matt Capps and Carl Pavano. There are countless other examples over the last ten years. The Twins worry about the length of multi-year deals, but often will pay a premium to only be tied up for one year.

Step 2: Cuddyer needs to decide if he will accept arbitration.

If he accepts it, he foregoes his free agency and goes to the arbitrator to figure out what he makes for 2012 and delays free agency by a year. That’s not a small risk. If he’s had a great year, not only is he risking that he won’t have as great a year next year, but he’ll be a year older, 33 instead of 32. He does not want to do that.

But rejecting it is tricky, too, and this is where we find out WHY they Twins offered arbitration.

Any team that offers their Type A free agents arbitration is compensated for losing them. Usually, this includes an extra compensatory high draft pick and another very high – first or second round – draft pick from the team that signs him. So any team that signed Cuddyer would not only need to pay the freight, they would also need to send the Twins their very high draft pick. In MLB, this is something that teams have been generally unwilling to do unless it has been for very desirable guys, especially over the last couple years. That greatly reduces Cuddyer’s potential suitors. His agent and he will need to decide if they’re likely to rank high enough for a big contract AND a high draft pick.

Likely result: if Cuddy accepts arbitration, it’s over – Cuddyer will be a Twins in 2012, albeit a grumpy one. So lets’ assume he rejects arbitration, just so we get to step 3.

Step 3: Cuddyer hits the free agent market with a loadstone around his neck.

Really premier guys are not slowed down by costing a team a first round pick. But Cuddyer, especially before this year, was not a premier guy. He suddenly falls behind some of the other names out there who teams don’t have to give up a first round pick to sign.

For instance, Jason Kubel doesn’t look like he’ll be a Type A free agent. As such, a team wouldn’t need to give up their first round pick to sign Kubel. So if the choice is signing Cuddyer and giving up the pick, or signing Kubel and not, you can expect that Kubel leapfrogs Cuddyer. Cody Ross is another example of a guy that could do the same thing. Pretty soon, the teams that are will to pay big bucks dry up.

You might remember, this is essentially what happened to Carl Pavano this offseason. By January, most starting pitchers had signed. Pavano was the subject of plenty of rumors, but no really good offers. Instead, teams kept telling the media that the Twins wanted Pavano to return, and Pavano wanted to return, and nobody wanted to give up their draft pick, and…..

And eventually the Twins worked out a fairly reasonable deal with Pavano.

Likely result: ditto.

The Twins know this. They are certainly not opposed to it, given how many other outfielders they might be leaving, and how desperate their team is for right-handed power.

They will also lose the ability to offer that arbitration if they trade Cuddyer. They’ll also lose the chance of getting two high draft picks for him if he walks as a free agent. Any offer for Cuddyer is going to need to be crazy good, and the Twins would need to feel like they have no hope of competing, and even then, I’m not sure the Twins would pull the trigger.

So, up my prediction to 90%. And whether you like it or not, expect Cuddyer to be in a Twins uniform next year.


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