Is the Michael Cuddyer deal a bust?


Everybody loves Michael Cuddyer. He is friendly, hardworking, and classy. He is accountable, shows great leadership, and sets an example for everybody around. As such, it is difficult but also necessary to pose the following question:

Is the Michael Cuddyer deal a bust?

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Three years ago the Colorado Rockies signed Cuddyer to a three-year, $32 million deal as a free agent. That was considered an overpay at the time, as his former team the Minnesota Twins signed a similar player in Josh Willingham to a deal worth $10 million less. But the Rockies really wanted Cuddyer, so they paid for him.

Can we honestly say that was a success? We still cannot definitely answer this question, but we have a pretty good idea at this point. Here are some key points to discuss as we kick this question around.

What did 2013 mean?

The first item to consider here is Cuddyer’s tremendously successful 2013 season. As we know by now, Cuddyer batted .331, earned a National League batting title, and was good for 2.4 WAR according to FanGraphs. In the process of putting up those numbers, Cuddy captured the affection of Rockies’ fans everywhere and earned a firm grasp on the title of “fan favorite.”

In the context of this three-year deal, Cuddyer’s 2013 season stands out from the other two. Both the 2012 season and 2014 season were undone by extended time missed due to injury for Cuddyer.

So what does that make 2013? Was that the season that showed us what could have been if Cuddyer had stayed healthy? Was it a season that unfairly inflated expectations for Cuddyer as an aging player? Or was it the season that masked the fact that this three-year contract has generally been a bust, whether injuries are a reasonable excuse or not?

Whatever the answers are to those questions, I am inclined to think that 2013 served mostly to throw us off the scent of a bad contract that would have been atrocious if not for that season.

Cuddyer’s defense

As those who follow the Rockies have discussed at length by now, Michael Cuddyer is not a good defender. He is especially bad in the outfield. Defensive metrics might not be reliable or entirely accurate, but they can still give us a pretty darn good idea of what is going on.

The defensive metrics are not kind to Cuddyer, to say the least. He has totaled -24 defensive runs saved (DRS), per FanGraphs, in his three seasons in Colorado as an outfielder. His limited skills in the outfield have probably taken some of the shine off his offensive production, which might explain his modest WAR while in Colorado. That brings us to the next point…

He hasn’t been worth the money

One win costs $7 million, according to the analysis of former FanSider Lewie Pollis and others. Michael Cuddyer has earned $32.5 million from the Rockies in three years. As things sit now with the 2014 season winding down, he has accumulated 4.1 WAR (according to FanGraphs).

He might approach the point where he just scrapes towards producing a win per $7 million in total, but on a per-year basis that only happened once. Cuddyer’s three years in Colorado coincided with three seasons lost to injuries for Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.

Considering his assumed importance to the Rockies at the salary that he receives, his injuries have to be part of the conversation when it comes to the current abysmal state of the franchise.

Was 2013 a season that showed us what could have been if Cuddyer had stayed healthy? Was it a season that unfairly inflated expectations for Cuddyer as an aging player in Colorado?

Poor Roster Construction

The Rockies have many problems. On the one hand, their position players are nowhere near the top of that list of problems. Then again, their roster is so poorly constructed when it comes to those position players, with Cuddyer a big part of the problem.

The Rockies could have moved Cuddyer to first base. Instead they signed Justin Morneau. They could have traded Cuddyer multiple times. Instead they kept him, blocking at-bats for a young rising star like Corey Dickerson. At some point a front office has to make difficult decisions to make their roster make sense, but the men in charge in Colorado simply refuse to do so.

In the End

I love Michael Cuddyer. You probably love Michael Cuddyer. It’s almost impossible not to. That can make it tough to admit that the Rockies would have been better off not signing him.

Granted, injuries are impossible to predict, so this is an analysis that is only offered with the benefit of knowing what happened. Then again, it was known to be an overpay at the time, leaving only the slightest margin for error and praying for everything to go right over the course of three years, including good health.

For my part, I was all-in on signing Cuddyer as a right-handed bat for the middle of the lineup; as a matter of fact, my first-ever Rox Pile contribution was making the argument in favor of signing him. Unfortunately, it is hard to call the Cuddyer signing a success when you consider all three seasons as a body of work.

Maybe 2013 was so good that it’s impossible to call Cuddy’s deal a “bust,” but even still, the Rockies would have been better off using the resources that they used to sign him elsewhere. Injuries played a huge part in that, but that’s just life in Major League Baseball.

Those injuries should be a significant factor in any future considerations with Cuddyer, though here’s betting they don’t stop this front office from issuing him a qualifying offer this winter.

Right-handed power is hard to come by in today’s big leagues, but between his poor outfield defense, the wealth of young talent in the outfield behind him, and the fact that first base is blocked by Justin Morneau, it is time to move on from the Michael Cuddyer era.

It might also be a time, unpleasant though it is, to really consider whether it was a good move at all to sign him to the contract they did and hope that the Rockies learn some sort of lesson for future proceedings.