Photo - Aj Mansour (KFAN)
By: Sam Ekstrom | KFAN.com
They say hindsight is always 20/20, but the Twins may be ruing their decision not to bring back Michael Cuddyer.
Cuddyer is coming off an MLB season-high hitting streak of 27 games that ended Tuesday night. Meanwhile, the man who replaced him in Minnesota, Josh Willingham, was placed on the disabled list Tuesday with a torn meniscus after struggling through the season’s first three months. He’ll have arthroscopic surgery that will sideline him for four-to-six weeks.
The Twins’ acquisition of Willingham looked pretty good when the team signed him in December of 2011. Willingham inked a three-year, $21 million deal with Minnesota, while Cuddyer—an 11-year Twin—fled to Colorado for a bigger payday of three years and $31.5 million.
The deal seemed even better for Minnesota after the 2012 season. Willingham had a career year at age 33, hitting 35 home runs and 110 RBIs with a .260 average. Cuddyer hit for the same average (.260), but only contributed 16 HRs and 58 RBIs in 101 games played.
Now the tables have turned.
Willingham was sent to the DL with a .224 average that barely touched .250 since the middle of April. He has 10 home runs, but none since June 2. Last year, Willingham had clubbed 18 homers by Independence Day.
Cuddyer? He’s aiming to get his name in the MVP discussion. The 34-year-old was hitting .339 entering play on July 3 with 14 HRs and 48 driven in. He also has the top OPS (.968) in the National League.
Willingham was thought to be the Twins’ top bargaining chip when it came to this season’s trade deadline, but a bum knee has all but wiped out his value.
At this point, the Twins should be content taking Willingham off the trade block. The 10-year veteran still has one year remaining on his contract, and his value can only get higher.
Though the Twins have a tendency to let veteran players finish their contracts—as they did with the likes of Torii Hunter, Jason Kubel, and, of course, Cuddyer—Willingham is virtually a guarantee to get dealt. However, with the Twins floundering and ostensibly in no mindset to win a division title this season, it would behoove them to wait on moving Willingham until he regains some of his former worth.
With Willingham injured, Minnesota is surely pining for somebody to put together the type of year Cuddyer is having statistically, but the squad could use Cuddyer’s leadership as well.
As a new generation of talent is ushered into the clubhouse, many of the familiar faces and voices have moved on. The mainstays that remain—Mauer and Morneau—are as classy as they come, but fairly aloof when it comes to taking control of a team. Willingham fits that same mold.
Cuddyer was always a vocal one; a leader of men. He was the glue that held six division-title teams together. If there’s anyone who could have helped bridge the gap between shifting generations, it would be Cuddyer.
Take nothing away from Willingham. He earned every penny of his salary in his first year with the Twins. But after taking a 180-degree turn for the worst, Willingham’s $7 million owed doesn’t seem like a steal anymore.
Let’s put it this way: In the theoretical matchup of Willingham versus Cuddyer, Willingham won Round 1, and Cuddyer won Round 2.
Now the question is: Will there be a Round 3 with Willingham in Minnesota?