MICHAEL CUDDYER PROBABLY WAS AS SURPRISED BY THE OPTION OFFER AS WE WERE
So I was out of constant contact with the great and powerful Internet for a few days and was catching up on news. Read along with various updates on free agency-to-be situations and saw, “The Rockies chose not to offer a qualifying offer to OF/1B Michael Cuddyer, making him a free agent.” But then I actually put on the blasted “I have reached the age where I must wear” reading glasses and saw that the “not to” was missing from the sentence. Okay, who knew that the Onion had taken over both MLB.com and ESPN.
Look, I would have bet my kids entire college savings fund (its not much, I mean, its not like they are on their way to Harvard with the money we saved…unless the Mega Millions numbers came in…wait…no, still not going to Harvard) that Cuddy was going to be entering free agency and that if the Rockies really thought they needed him they might, stress might, go up to $3 or even $4 million. Now, excersicing the option for $12 million on Brett Anderson, who when healthy is worth it but is healthy about as often as we have a balanced budget, might make sense, but Cuddy? No way he is worth more than essentially an incentive laden or small millions contract. So what in the name of all that is good were the Rockies doing not exercising Anderson’s deal knowing that pitching is a weakness and instead offering Cuddy $15.3 million where they are deepest as an organization, in the outfield.
We have all been waiting for our new GM Jeff Bridich to make his mark on this club, and, well, he has made it with these two veteran moves. Declining Anderson’s option made sense to keep the budget around $100 million and given his health issues. But getting out from under the $12 million a year the Rockies were paying for Cuddy was necessary to handle the pay increases going to Tulo, CarGo and DLR and with the expected arbitration #s for other players. What am I missing?
So I have compiled all the possible reasons that Cuddy was offered the qualifying option aside from his possession of secret pictures showing the entire Monfort clan in San Francisco Giants are the best paraphernalia. Please add yours:
- In an offense-poor world Cuddy’s bat is something that others will pay for, even if it includes a draft pick: This has to be reason number 1 and we have to remember as smart as we all are in the fan world, especially at roxwalkoff, that GMs and baseball people do know more about the market for players and the holes that other teams have. We have seen since the end of the PED era (if indeed it has ended) a precipitous decline in offense in baseball. The pitching is better than ever and while defense is important, bats that have thunder are getting rarer and rarer. In the AL the decision to move away from full-time DHs to go with the “rest a player” option has not really been successful. In fact the two teams that use a full-time DH regularly are the Red Sox and Ortiz (who won the World Series in 2013) and the Tigers who are perreniel playoff participants. Now the one doesn’t necessary cause the other but…having big offense like Ortiz or VMart is nice from that DH spot. Cuddy is a far better offensive player than earlier in his career. His swing has a better drive through the strike zone, his bat speed actually looks faster than 5 years earlier, his eye is better, and his power should maintain itself. Yes, he has trouble staying healthy, esepecially his hamstring, but how much of that is the running in the OF? If he is a full-time DH with some 1B for a left-handed 1B combo, then he could hold a great deal of upside for a team near the playoffs. Yes, he has a Coors skew, but as I have argued before there are two types of Coors effect, the large outfield and the flattened pitches. The one isn’t unique to Coors as there are large outfields across baseball. But the flattened pitches, not just curves but fastballs that straighten as they get close to home (usually due to pitchers overthrowing whereas pitchers who just relax, like CJ Wilson of the Angels, can throw anything at Coors, even in 2012), is the real reason for the Coors effect. As a general rule if you take the median between road and home numbers you get a feel whether the player is actually a solid to plus offensive player (which Justin Morneau was in 2014 and Cuddy was in 2013) or a poor offensive player (which DJ has been in each of his Coors years). Teams desperate for a plus offensive force, with a low draft number (20+), money to spend and who are close to win might, key word might, be willing to pay for Cuddy. This of course assumes that Cuddy rejects the qualifying offer – he won’t. Even though this is a one-year deal, it represents a $5 million raise, and I think most analysts would think it unlikely for a player of his age, with his injury history to get more than $7-8 million a year. Add in the fact that as we have seen the past few years teams don’t want to give up that pick and if Cuddy rejects the deal he will have to accept the idea of either waiting until after the amateur draft in the summer or retire. He won’t decline the option and he shouldn’t from his perspective. So then we go to option #2.
- The place where the Rockies are most blessed with talent is the outfield. CarGo I still believe is untradeable in his current state (what is that knee going to look like and how well does the hand heal, and if he starts to produce, well then he is worth his contract (based on the O+D contributions) and if the team is doing well they wouldn’t want to trade him (say its July 15 and the Rox are within 2 games of 1st and CarGo is playing like CarGo and you trade him…then the fans would revolt). So then the team looks to the market for its other outfielders. Drew Stubbs is a platoon player, but who would have value especially given his defensive gifts (how much greater is defense valued after watching Lorenzo Cain and Jarod Dyson run down balls all playoffs). Corey Dickerson is a young and cheap player with lots of offensive talent that is already showing itself. Would the Rockies trade Dickerson and/or Stubbs, who are both cheap and talented, at their highest value in order to fill gaps in the rotation, pen, and catching? If they want an upgrade at key places players like Stubbs and Dickerson would have to be part of the deal, and that means you need another quality outfielder since Kyle Parker has not yet established himself, thus you retain Cuddy for one more year. With luck you might get David Dahl here as soon as September 2015 (that would be a rush) and then you can make the transition to the next wave. Again, that is valuing Cuddy pretty highly ($15.3 highly) and at a time when the team would prefer to have CarGo in right to save wear and tear. But this is a possible explanation.
- Similar to #2 but this time looking at 1B. Right now Justin Morneau with his low level deal financially and his return of power and batting title along with a stellar defensive profile makes this the ideal time for a trade. While the team seemed interested in players like Ben Paulsen and even Parker as potential future 1B options that are cheap, they are probably not ready for the full-time job now. The Rockies will need to act quickly on both option #2 and #3 before teams with needs in the OF or 1B don’t meet that need elsewhere. Offering Dickerson + package or Morneau + package early in the Hot Stove season, rather than later is necessary. To move quickly you have to have your plan for the next season in place already, and offering the deal to Cuddy does that.
- The team really does believe it is close to contention. Last year if Tulo and CarGo stay even remotely healthy, if Arenado doesn’t slide weird, and if every pitcher who has ever work a Rockies uniform up to and including David Neid hadn’t broken a bone in their hands last year (okay, not sure Neird hurt his hand gardening at his house, but likely given last season’s curse), then, well, the team very easily could have won 84-86 games (yes, I am leaving out the bullpen from beyond the grave and its coating every pitch in lighter fluid to ensure they got lit up, but I am trying to get to the logic here). Yes, that is a lot of caveats but, well, you can see where the team might think this is a season where they could indeed make a run. As we see season after season, teams can get hot, sneak into the playoffs, and do some damage. Why not the Rockies they must be thinking. They have talent around the horn. They need health, their pitching prospects to perform, and their bullpen reclamation to work (I am guessing in both explanations #2 and #3 above that we see deals involving bullpen pieces), but if this team is competitive players like Cuddy become more important. If they think they are close, then keeping Cuddy could make sense (again, it’s the $15.3 million part of the equation that doesn’t make sense, since if the team is raising payroll to accommodate Cuddy then wouldn’t it be better to spend that money on bullpen pieces and see if Cuddy back at $3-5 million?).
The bigger picture
I think that I might be thinking of this far too Machavelian. The answer may be far simpler. This is a very loyal organization and they love Cuddy. While we look at $15.3 million the reality is that it is only a marginal increase in his salary, from $10.5 million to $15.3. If he were 30, even with the injuries, has the potential to create enough offense that the salary could be acceptable (again, if he were 30 not heading to 36). Rockies management in its loyalty to players desires to keep the players who are fan favorites if reasonable. Walt Weiss seems to rely on appreciate Cuddy quite a bit, and with the new power post-house cleaning, he may have gone to bat for Cuddy. And if management does indeed think they can, with one more starter, with health, with a re-built bullpen, and a new catcher compete for a playoff spot, then Cuddy might be a key part. I think we all know there are going to be deals of player we like this off-season. One of the outfielders as I said above is going to be dealt because they have value and they need to use value to get the right pieces. We know that Tulo and CarGo are probably untradeable unless the team eats a lot of salary and in that case, keep them and see what they can produce. And if the ownership has agreed to go up in salary more than we expect, well, this team could make a run (it must get 145+ games from Tulo and CArGo and They have to get 145+games from CarGo and Tulo, they need 30+ starts from DLR, Matzek, and Lyles and see two of the crew of Tyler Anderson (who may be better than we think), Eddie Butler, and Jon Grey to pitch 20 starts and be competitive. If they get all this and a new bullpen along with a decent game caller behind the plate, yes, this team can compete. They can be as good as the Pirates who hosted the Wild Card play-in game. So, all I can figure is the team has a plan to be competitive this year and with all the moves they need Cuddy more than we realize.
In the end though, as a Cuddy fan, all I can say is please Cuddy, turn it down and please someone in the AL, sign him – he still has a lot in him and can really help you (and we can enjoy that draft pick).
As a first big move by the new GM, it is an interesting one. Let’s see how this all plays out before we go to the Attorney General and have him declared mental incompetent and lock him up. I think Bridich is a very smart, very talented guy who has a vision and hasn’t been afraid to do make tough decisions. If you read this article http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-obvious-lessons-of-one-dimensional-hitters/ you see that valuing a hitter like Cuddy is hard in the end. So, maybe the Cuddy move will work out in the end. But all of us are watching…and waiting…and hoping.
Additional Data: According to Fan Graph’s salary calculation – the value of the offensive production and defense ability in terms of their WAR calculation how much should the player have been paid gives us a way of seeing if the player was a bargain or if the contract the player signed was a disaster. In Cuddy’s career his highest value was 2 separate years of $11.8 million in actual performance, one of those two years was in 2013. Last year even with the missed time he still was worth $8.3, so the Rockies got pretty close to the nose on the contract the past 2 years (2012 was a disaster as he was paid $10 million but only produced $2.7 million of value. If Cuddy has a career year at age 36, not unheard of even post PEDs, then perhaps he could be worth $15.3 million (given his poor defense, at least by the current metrics, he is going to need to blister the ball). But the issue is that for this to happen he has to take ABs away from other players, and if CarGo isn’t traded due to health, then those ABs come at the expense of Corey Dickerson, a player whose 2014 was worth $14.4! And for a player paid the league minimum. If the Rockies are to make the playoffs with a 15-20th team payroll level, they need to get significant value in excess of the contract. They need more Corey’s, so again and again it looks like if Cuddy is here…Corey won’t be.