Ed Thoma new
The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Bill Smith, the Twins general manager, has said repeatedly in recent weeks: The Twins value Michael Cuddyer and want to re-sign him.

They should be careful what they wish for.

Cuddyer’s impending free agency is a sharp challenge for the Twins front office.

One can easily draw up a list of reasons — good reasons — for the Twins to want to keep Cuddyer:

--- In a lineup that figures to remain heavily left-handed for several seasons to come, he is their best right-handed hitter — and one who mashes left-handers.

--- As the longest-tenured Twins player, he provides an experienced clubhouse voice to the younger players — and, unlike some of the previous “leaders,” his voice buys into the organizational philosophy.

--- He is willing, even eager, to step out of his comfort zone to play out of position.

On the other hand:

--- He’ll turn 33 before the 2012 season begins. A multi-year deal with him is buying into a declining market.

--- While he’ll play multiple positions willingly, he’s not really good at any of them. His value is strictly in his bat.

--- He doesn’t hit right-handers well at all.

There have been Internet reports that some bigger-payroll operations — specifically Boston and the Cubs — are interested in bidding for Cuddyer, with the Rockies and Giants also linked to him.

I have my doubts, frankly, that the sabermetric-oriented operations are going to go high on Cuddyer. The Red Sox may be losing Theo Epstein, but they will remain one of the games’ more statistically astute operations, and Epstein is going to the Cubs, so they’ll be more new school than in the past. I don’t see either wanting to win a bidding war for Cuddyer.

The Twins, for their part, don’t want a bidding war at all. Target Field has elevated them from the lower rungs of revenues, but Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau eat up much of that gain. The two former MVPs account for about a third of the payroll. A three- or four-year commitment to Cuddyer at $10 million a season would tighten the screws on the rest of the budget.

Cuddyer certainly fits an immediate need. The Twins don’t have an obvious replacement for him on hand for 2012, either as the right fielder or as a middle-of-the-order right-handed bat. But a multi-year deal would make him a roadblock for Joe Benson, and perhaps others, in coming seasons — seasons in which the odds are that Cuddyer’s play will decline.

Chris Parmelee’s September performance, and the use of Mauer as a part-time first baseman, suggests that Cuddyer’s role as Plan B to Morneau at first base is less important than it has been in recent years. If the Twins are serious about fixing the middle infield defense, the temptation to play Cuddyer at second base should be resisted. And if first base and second base are out of the equation, Cuddyer’s positional flexibility is largely negated.

The Twins last summer reportedly made a two-year offer to Cuddyer at $8 million a season. That was quickly declined, and I don’t blame Cuddyer for doing so. It would be a very good deal for the Twins, but almost certainly well below market for a player of his ability.

Emotionally, I want the Twins to keep him. Logically, I don’t think it makes sense.

Edward Thoma is a Free Press staff writer. He can be reached at 344-6377 or at ethoma@hickorytech.net.

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