Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

What Will The Colorado Rockies Do When Michael Cuddyer Returns?

Now feels like a really appropriate time to cover this subject. Rightfielder Michael Cuddyer is starting to run a little bit as he continues to rehabilitate his hamstring and edge toward a return to the team. Meanwhile, the outfielders taking Cuddyer’s spot in the lineup have been absolutely ranking. Corey Dickerson is hitting .385 with a 196 wRC+, four homers, and 10 extra base hits in just 57 total plate appearances and is coming off a four-hit game that included two homers and two doubles. Meanwhile, Brandon Barnes has continued to get on base and hit well even as his role has expanded, as in semi-regular at bats, he’s hitting .347 with 128 wRC+ (up 52 from last season), a .402 OBP, and solid defense. And now even Drew Stubbs is hitting. After hitting .255 with a .635 OPS in April, he’s hitting .370 with a 1.049 OPS in May, boosting his full-season average close to .300. So that’s three guys who have excelled since Cuddyer got injured, and moving one of them to left or center field is also not an option: Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon play those positions, and neither can be sat. This is a good problem to have, but it’s one that has to be discussed nonetheless. Since more players are playing well than there are spots available, what are the Rockies going to do?

One thing that could have been an option would be moving Cuddyer to first base, minimizing his defensive damage and letting the other three guys continue to get semi-regular playing time in the outfield. Well, that’s not an option anymore, as the Rockies went out and signed Justin Morneau to a deal in the offseason, and Morneau has proceeded to quiet all the critics. He’s now hitting .336 with power and looks like he did in the 2006-2010 years. With eight homers through a month and a half, Morneau looks legit and will not be going anywhere anytime soon.

Given that Morneau is locked in at first base and nearly every other player in the lineup is hitting the ball well, it doesn’t look as if any of the four (Cuddyer, Dickerson, Stubbs, Barnes) can be slotted in at any other position. Another option, though, could be to demote one of the three less accomplished hitters and activate Cuddyer. Remember, I’m writing about this kind of prematurely, because Cuddyer still could be a week or two from a return. It doesn’t look as if any of Dickerson, Stubbs, or Barnes will slow down any time soon, but if one does, they could easily be sent down to AAA, at least until the next injury. I hope that doesn’t happen, because I’m a big fan of all three of these players, and in particular Dickerson. It seems like sending Dickerson down to AAA would be wasting an MLB-ready bat. Dickerson’s bat is terrific, and he’s showing it.

The Rockies could also trade one of the four to open up more playing time. Now, since Stubbs and Barnes are in their first year of their Rockies career, it seems unlikely that they would be moved, especially since both are playing well. That likely leaves Dickerson and Cuddyer. There are arguments to be made for and against trading both Dickerson and Cuddyer. For Dickerson, a reason to trade him would be that he doesn’t have a long track record and could fetch a lot in a trade given the way he is hitting, but at the same time, would you trade a soon-to-be-25 year old with this type of hitting ability?

As for Cuddyer, a move to a team ready to win now could make some sense. While the Rockies look good right now, they could be even better in the future, and Dickerson is more likely to be a part of that than Cuddyer, who is more than 10 years older. He’s also a free agent after this year, so there’s no long term issue. On the other hand, he’s Michael Cuddyer! This is a guy who won the NL batting title last season and was well on his way to having another great year before going down with his hamstring injury. Why trade him when he has played at an all-star level for the last year and change? A trade of Dickerson seems unlikely, and while Cuddyer could move more easily, it still isn’t incredibly likely, at least before July.

Another option could be just leaving Cuddyer on the DL for a week or two longer than he absolutely needs to be. This is just speculation, and I’m not sure the Rockies would ever actually do it, but it makes a lot of sense. In that extra time, one of the other three could cool off, making the decision of who to send down easier, and it would also give Cuddyer some extra rest. This guy isn’t young, and some extra rest could well be beneficial.

And then there’s a final option: activate Cuddyer and use a roster similar to the one they started the season with. That would mean all six outfielders would be on the active roster, and a reliever (Chris Martin or Nick Masset) would be demoted. A six outfielder roster is, let’s just say, unconventional, but at least all six would get some playing time. It might be a better option than a trade or a demotion of one of the outfielders.

In the end, this whole post might end up being moot. Cuddyer is still likely a week or two away from returning, and a lot can happen in that time. With that being said, if things do remain the way they are now, I really don’t know what the Rockies will do. I suppose that the most likely outcome would be going with six outfielders until one gets cold, then demoting one. In mid-late July, the Rockies might start testing the trade market for Cuddyer. They could use another starter or a young infielder, and Cuddyer might be their best bait.

What do you think the Rockies are going to do with their six outfielders when Michael Cuddyer is ready to return? Leave your thoughts below.

Tags: Colorado Rockies

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