A Closer Look at Michael Cuddyer

With the Phillies reportedly in serious pursuit of free agent Michael Cuddyer, I find myself caught in something of a time warp whenever I hear him mentioned. I still play MVP 2005 every once in a while. To me, even as the rosters get more dated with each passing year, it’s still a nearly infinitely replayable game.

I bring this up because, whenever I would play with my good buddy Baumann from Phillies Nation, Cuddyer would always have the biggest impact on the game. He’d make diving plays at third base. Come up with a solid double to drive home Lew Ford. You know, 2005-type things.

Of course, the Michael Cuddyer of 2011-12 bears no resemblance to Fake Michael Cuddyer from ’05. Since the end of that ’05 season, Cuddyer has logged all of 107 innings at third base (all in 2010) and spent most of his time in the outfield and at first base. He doesn’t seem like a logical fit to supplant Placido Polanco, so we’ll move forward assuming that a potential signing of Cuddyer would mean time in the corner outfield spots and at first. He’s spent some time (read: very little) at second base, too, but with one of Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez expected on the roster come Opening Day, there’s already a more viable backup option there.

Cuddyer handles lefties very well. His .311/.403/.589 slash in 176 PA against them last year is Victorino-esque, and his career OPS is more than .100 points higher against lefties than righties. That isn’t to say he’s unplayable against right-handers; he’s just especially dangerous against southpaws. And that’s an antidote to something Phils fans had heard about for a couple of seasons now: how the club and everyday lineup is too lefty-heavy. And really, the complaints aren’t exactly unfounded as it relates to LHB performance vs. LHP.

A look at Cuddyer’s In Play Slug heatmap (right) against lefties in 2011 shows some decent plate coverage. The cold spot down and in is a little surprising to see from a RHB against a lefty, but the strong showing in the heart and on the outer edge – from the top to the bottom of the zone, too – does compensate. Cuddyer also seems to fare better on pitchers in the lower portion than anything at the letters and up.

The drawback to that, naturally, is that Cuddyer can find the high pitches a bit too appetizing. Inside Edge reports Cuddyer as having a chase rate on pitches up and out of the zone near 50 percent, a weakness pitchers are sure to target with two strikes during the season. Pitches in on the hands also tend to draw Cuddyer’s attention often. It will be interesting to see how long his hands have the speed to turn on pitches in, especially if his next contract carries him through his age 35 season.

Cuddyer is also a candidate for the infrequently-used right-handed Ted Williams shift. When he puts the ball in play to the outfield, he’s pretty equal-opportunity. Most of his home runs tend to be pulled, but he’s not dependent on left field for hits past the infield.

Ground balls, on the other hand, are a bit of a different story. The Inside Edge spray chart (left) shows that, on balls in play since the start of 2010, Cuddyer pulls the ball a great deal. Now, this might not make a difference, again considering how little the right-handed shift is used. Either way, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright (maybe?) and Chipper Jones should be on their toes if/when Cuddyer comes to the plate.

What we have in Michael Cuddyeris a nice player; a guy who plays some different positions (none particularly well defensively) who appears appetizing to the Phillies for a variety of reasons, none of which should be confused for being the best player available. He would be a nice addition at the right price – as any player would – but to me, Cuddyer makes the most sense on a two-year deal. A three-year deal to Raul Ibanez ended on a rather sour note, Placido Polanco looks to be slowing as he enters his third year and Joe Blanton has a nerve issue in his pitching arm as his third year approaches. Three-year deals for Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino, plus the recently expired Ryan Madson, look to provide counterbalance. But those latter four were all at least three years younger than Cuddyer is currently when they signed. Apples and oranges, etc.

Would Cuddyer be a good fit for this Phillies club? I tend to think so on the surface. He’s no star player, but he does represent an upgrade from Raul Ibanez on both sides of the ball. The thing I’m struggling with is Domonic Brown’s eventual place in all of this. Signing Cuddyer to a multi-year contract – paired with Hunter Pence’s two remaining years of team control – leaves no place for Brown this season. Now, Ruben Amaro has stated that he wants Brown to basically spend the whole year in Triple-A, so that may be a moot point for ’12. Moving forward, though, what’s the plan? Does Cuddyer become your third baseman after Polanco’s deal expires, with Brown finally slotting in a corner outfield spot? Another wrinkle to the saga of the once-top prospect being curiously handled. It will be interesting to see how Cuddyer’s potential addition affects Brown’s future in Philadelphia; a future that seems muddier every week.

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36 comments

  1. john

    November 06, 2011 03:13 PM

    I can’t help but feel that a three year deal would probably mean we never see Dom play another game in a Phillies uniform :(

  2. Will

    November 06, 2011 03:34 PM

    Cuddy is from my hometown so I have been following his career on and off the field since his high school days. With that being said, when I heard the Phillies were in pursuit I was thrilled. In fact, for a few years now my dad and I have always said how much we would love to have him on our team. He fits the Phillies clubhouse persona to a T. The guy is a professional hitter: solid, reliable, consistent. He’s a baseball fan: one of those guys who loves and respects the game and his play day in and day out reflects it. Philly fans will fall in love with this guy fast.

  3. LTG

    November 06, 2011 03:57 PM

    What would be a good price for Cuddyer? 2 years, $16 mil? Should we buy at 2/20M and pass at anything above that?

  4. Joe S.

    November 06, 2011 04:06 PM

    How about the factor that we would have to give up our 1st round pick to sign Cuddyer? I think that’s a bit pricey for a guy that might end up being a super utility player for us

  5. EricL

    November 06, 2011 04:31 PM

    Why do I not like the potential Cuddyer acquisition, let me count the ways:

    1. Too expensive. He’s going to cost upwards of 3/36mm IMO, plus a first round pick and that’s insane.
    – I know the Phils could receive better first round picks if Madson/Rollins walk, but (1) draft picks are not a zero sum game, as more is always better and (2) you’ve then opened up other holes which are going to need to be filled and they’ve already spent a big portion of their expendable cash on this super-utility guy.
    2. The team has only two regular LH batters. Two. So that whole, “we need to get a RH bat” is nonsense.
    3. The positions in which he would be most useful (3B/LF) are where he very infrequently plays, due to being deaf in his left ear. 15 appearances total at those positions since 2006.
    4. I’d rather see Brown and Mayberry get solid at bats and use the money not given to Cuddyer on trying to find a piece at SS.

    In a perfect world, Cuddyer would agree to a 2/16 type contract, would require no draft pick compensation, and would fill in at all those positions nicely, and nobody would have a problem with that scenario. But for a guy in his early 30s coming off one of his best professional seasons you’re not going to get him to take a ~25% pay decrease (made $10.5mm last year) in order to spend his 33/34 year old seasons here, no matter how much of a nice guy he might be.

    I’m all for addressing real needs, like SS, instead of overpaying a guy to cover positions where the Phils already have guys covering.

  6. Aaron gleeman

    November 06, 2011 04:36 PM

    Cuddy already rejected (scoffed at?) a two-year, $16 million deal from the Twins. So I have to think it’s going to take more than that.

  7. Paul Boye

    November 06, 2011 05:15 PM

    Joe: yes, that appears likely. I’m not thrilled with it, especially with the farm in a lean year. It could be mitigated by returns from Madson and Rollins, but on its face he seems an iffy guy to sign as a Type A. It doesn’t bother me too much, though, especially with early word that this draft class is a bit thin and the Phils were already picking 30th.

  8. hk

    November 06, 2011 05:46 PM

    In addition to the question of what impact a Cuddyer signing would have on Dom, it is important to ask what impact a Cuddyer signing will have on the team’s payroll and the shortstop position. By my accounting, the Phils are only in a position to sign two players to contracts with AAV’s of ~$10M and I read somewhere that RAJ has said closer is more important than shortstop. If this is true, they may be looking at signing, Cuddyer, a stopgap at SS (Clint Barmes or Yuniesky Betancourt) and a closer this offseason. If my accounting is correct, I’d sooner pass on Cuddyer if it means dropping out of the bidding on Rollins.

  9. Phil11

    November 06, 2011 08:05 PM

    If you’re Jimmy Rollins right now and you hear how adamant the Phillies are in getting Cuddyer, you a little ticked off right now? I mean basically they’re willing to get Cuddyer at any cost but not keep you the face of the franchise for the same amount of money. Cuddyer doesn’t fit in with the Phils for the exact reasons EricL stated.

    Why not sign Rollins and say Betemit. I think their money would be better spent that way. And I know this isn’t quantifiable but I’m not sure how the team will react to Rollins getting shuttled off when the team is willing to offer possibly the same years and money to an outsider.

  10. Scott G

    November 06, 2011 08:52 PM

    Where is he going to play? I think this signing is insane. If you believe that you can count on him at third, that’s one thing. However, as Paul pointed out, that’s not very realistic. Are you really going to sign a guy to play RF/LF/1B? I mean Hunter Pence is an everyday player, John Mayberry could play everyday in LF, and Thome/Howard at 1B is fine by me. In an ideal world where the Phillies would just buy everyone they wanted, I think Cuddyer would be great. SS is the most important defensive position outside of the battery, so why are we trying to sign a super-utility guy if we still need a SS and a closer?

  11. Moose

    November 06, 2011 11:57 PM

    It’s rumors like this (as well as the Ibanez, Polanco, Howard signings and generally awful handling of Brown) that make me seriously question Ruben Amaro’s qualifications as GM.

  12. Joey

    November 07, 2011 06:13 AM

    Anyone else read the last line as ‘a future that seems muddyer every week.’?

  13. JC

    November 07, 2011 06:27 AM

    hk-Anyone who signs Bentacourt should get a mental evaluation.

  14. schmenkman

    November 07, 2011 08:05 AM

    JC – right on on Betancourt.

    So as EricL says, Cuddyer hasn’t been playing 3B or LF because he’s deaf in his left ear — he’s played a total of 14 games on the left side in the past 6 years.

    I wonder how big an impediment that is. If the Phillies are “seriously” considering him, they must thing it’s not that big a deal?

  15. hk

    November 07, 2011 08:58 AM

    JC: To be clear, I totally agree and was not at all suggesting they sign Betancourt (or Barmes for that matter). In fact, the point I was making is, if the opportunity cost of signing Cuddyer means have Barmes or Betancourt at SS, count me out.

    Phil11: Betemit is one name that I’ve been floating for a while. He’d be a perfect fit, even better than Cuddyer if the stories about Cuddyer being unable to play 3B are true. Rollins + Betemit > Cuddyer + Barmes or Betancourt. Another player that I would like to see them target is Albert Callaspo if the Angels non-tender him or are willing to trade him.

  16. Nick

    November 07, 2011 09:15 AM

    Platoon him at first with Thome.

  17. JC

    November 07, 2011 09:25 AM

    hk- I know you weren’t suggesting that. It was clear in your comment. I was just speaking in general- Betancourt is really bad.

  18. derekcarstairs

    November 07, 2011 11:09 AM

    hk – I would like to see the Phils deal for either Callaspo or the Angels’ Maicer Izturis, especially if the Phils re-sign Rollins.

    Polanco, Rollins and Utley could easily miss 90 games combined. The Phils will need a versatile, high-quality IF. Callaspo plays 3B, 2B and some SS. Izturis plays the same positions and has a lot of experience at SS. Both players are solid offensively and defensively, but without much power.

    Callaspo is under team control through the 2013 season. Izturis becomes a FA after 2012.

  19. bernie

    November 07, 2011 12:58 PM

    I can’t for the life of me understand going for Cuddyer. He’ll cost an extra $7M/yr over Mayberry, hits abut the same, and is worse in every other aspect of the game. If $16 – 24M is burning a hole in your pocket, there has got to be a better way to spend it. Needs – ss, relief pitching. High wants – a true 3rd baseman, a defensive outfielder with speed, some power. Low wants – a poor fielding infielder/outfielder who can get some licks on lefty pitching.

  20. Phillie697

    November 07, 2011 01:46 PM

    I think schmenkman might be onto something. When was the last time RAJ signed anyone the media has been reporting that the Phillies are “very interested” in signing? This could be a smoke screen for something else. What tho?

    Not to tote my own horn or anything, but if the freaking Royals can turn… Melky Cabrera into Jonathan Sanchez AND a prospect, RAJ, YOU can turn Victorino into Alexei Ramirez and Matt Thorton. Get on it!!!

  21. LTG

    November 07, 2011 02:59 PM

    Smokescreen for Yoenis Cespedes?

  22. Phillie697

    November 07, 2011 03:22 PM

    @LTG,

    LOL, what, get Cespedes and trade Vic, and use the $20 million we save to pay him? Still not Kemp tho :)

  23. Phil11

    November 07, 2011 08:20 PM

    Jonathan Sanchez is set for a massive decline and Melky Cabrera had a pretty good year. I think the Giants might have won that trade. The way Sanchez pitches is just not conducive to the long term. Far too many walks.

  24. hk

    November 07, 2011 09:43 PM

    Phil11,

    The flip side is Melky Cabrera had a BABIP-aided career year, despite that career year his lifetime OBP is .331 and he’s a bad fielder. At the same time, Sanchez most likely suffered last year from the combination of throwing too many innings in the Giants’ 2010 title run (213.3 after a previous career high of 163.3) and a short off-season to recover. If both guys perform in line with their career averages, that deal is a win for the Royals.

  25. Phil11

    November 07, 2011 10:23 PM

    I mean a guy that’s been around a 4 FIP for his entire career isnt much to write home about.

    If Melky carries anything over from his last season he’s worth it although it doesn’t look like anything special happened contact wise as far as hitting balls harder.

    I guess you could say the trade might turn out to be a wash considering neither of them figure to become big pieces of the team they were traded to.

  26. Phillie697

    November 07, 2011 11:47 PM

    Yeah… You make it sound like a FIP of 4 is something to throw in the trash. That’s a eminently useful mid-rotation starter. On the other hand, an OF with a career wOBA of .320 and -23.6 career UZR is AAA talent masquerading as a major leaguer. If you call that a wash, not to mention the Giants added a prospect to the deal no less, then I think Brian Sabean is looking for an assistant who thinks just like you.

  27. Dan K.

    November 08, 2011 01:01 AM

    I’m extremely mixed on the Cuddyer rumors. What interests me more is that this is happening while we’re trying to re-sign Madson. It also sounds like if we don’t get Madson, we’re going after Papelbon.

    Now, I could be reading this incorrectly, but to me that says ownership has given the ok to pass the luxury tax threshold. If that’s true, this could be a very fun next few years.

  28. LTG

    November 08, 2011 01:07 AM

    Phillie,

    Well, at least somebody got the joke.

  29. JC

    November 08, 2011 08:46 AM

    RE: Melky Sanchez trade.

    Melky had one hell of a BABIPy year. He doesn’t get on base a lot, but he is now coming into his 27 year old “prime” so maybe his power doesn’t regress as much as we would think. I agree that’s not saying much but still. Would the opinion of Cabrera be different if his 2010 season wasn’t so bad?

    Sanchez just isn’t that good. He throws a lot of pitches, walks a too many and doesn’t go deep in games. He’ll be a useful pitcher for the Royals but he’s still a #3/4 starter.

    At the end of the day it comes down to the swap of two players who both have problems. I don’t really think one team has to “win” and one team has to “lose” a trade. Though, now the Royals get to play Cain…

  30. Phillie697

    November 08, 2011 09:47 AM

    @JC,

    This isn’t just about Melky’s 2010. He’s had six full seasons in the majors now, and he’s sucked every year except 2011, during which his walk rate went WAY down from career norm, strike out rate went UP, and had a BABIP that was way higher than career average. Does that sound like to you as someone who’s “turned the corner”?

    I agree Sanchez is no more than a #3 starter, but even that is better than Melky Cabrera.

  31. JC

    November 08, 2011 10:05 AM

    I hear what you’re saying Phillie697, I just don’t think it was such a bad trade. Yea he’s been in the league for 6 full seasons but he’s only going to be 27 now. Maybe the whole getting into better shape thing actually helped him last season.

    Melky is probably due to regress some but let’s say his increase in power is legit. Would we still expect his BABIP to drop so much? Even around 0.300 would still be better than his 09/10 seasons. And it’s not like he swings and misses all the time either. I’m not saying he’s going to be the same player as last year, or even a good player, but he can still be a serviceable OF.

    For me, this trade is really less about Melky and more about Sanchez. I just don’t think he’s that good. So I’m finding it hard to get really worked up about who won and lost this trade.

  32. Phillie697

    November 08, 2011 10:12 AM

    @JC,

    Well I agree with you on not getting worked up about who won and lost this trade :) Either way, a #3 starter is still more valuable than a serviceable OF, if only because the former is harder to find than the latter.

  33. JC

    November 08, 2011 10:19 AM

    But Phillie697, the Giants have Barry Zito. They’re golden!

  34. Phil11

    November 08, 2011 10:24 AM

    Yeah I’m in the same camp as JC. Sanchez just doesn’t impress me at all. I think the trade will be a complete non factor for both teams, hence why I say a wash. Sanchez pitched in a very pitcher friendly park and now he has to deal with a DH. All the walks he gives up will not fly and he just doesn’t eat innings.

  35. Mike Cush

    November 11, 2011 01:32 PM

    I agree with EricL 200%. Why spend a lot of money on a 34 yo guy that does not play any position well?

    We have Mayberry and Brown for leftfield, one should emerge, and if not, then you know your long term future much better.

    If you want a bopper, go get Aramis Ramirez for 3rd. Play Polanco at 2nd and Utley at first until Howard is back, afterwards you have 4 fron-line guys for 3 positions. They are all over 30 and will need regular rest, and Poly can play from the 7th on when winning.

    Sign a closer, a lefty reliever and Hamels to an extension. Hold on to some cash to pay someone if Galvis fails at SS or you have no confidence in Mayberry or Brown longterm.

  36. Phillie697

    November 12, 2011 06:14 PM

    “Sign a closer, a lefty reliever and Hamels to an extension. Hold on to some cash…”

    What cash is left after you sign a closer, a lefty reliever, Hamels, AND Aramis Ramirez? Do you imagine we have Scrooge McDuck for an owner?

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