The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Baseball Blog

March 23, 2009

The case for Cuddyer

Monday's print column discussed the optimum defensive alignment for the Twins outfielders. Here I'll elaborate a bit — or chase a tangent.

Ron Gardenhire's preference is for a set lineup. This is in contrast to his predecessor, Tom Kelly, who shuffled players in and out. TK was no Earl Weaver, but he operated on the basis that there was no point in having a player on the roster he didn't use. Gardy has been quite content to have a Luis Rodriguez molder on the bench.

Kelly's approach was the right one when he took over the team late in the 1986 season. Both Billy Gardner and Ray Miller , his immediate predecessors, had used set lineups — and grumbled constantly about the poor quality of the bench players. Kelly used his reserves often, which kept them sharp, which made them better.

On the other hand, Gardner and Miller's everyday players prospered. This is an issue of balance managers have to deal with; overuse your bench, and you won't develop stars; play the same eight everyday, and your depth will decay.

Gardenhire appears to lean toward the everyday approach, which is what makes the current outfield setup a challenge.

Should he revert to form, the "right" group to be everyday players would be (alphabetically) Carlos Gomez, Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Delmon Young. They are the youngest and the most talented. They have room to grow. Michael Cuddyer is 30. His good years are, in the context of American League right fielders in the first decade of the 21st century, average. There's not much upside there, statistically.

But he shouldn't — and won't — be buried on the bench. First off, an average player is still quite valuable. Most players aren't as good as an average regular. Cuddyer is. A manager shouldn't dispose of that wantonly.

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