January 21, 2008

Cuddyer in Center Field?

Hello. Hope you all had a great weekend. Some of you may not be back at work just yet, since today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and some businesses are closed for the day to honor one of America's most influential figures of the 20th century.

Well, in regards to baseball, obviously there still has not been a lot of talk about the Johan Santana trade front. And of course, if anything happens that is worth noting, I will give my thoughts on it.

The Twins seem pretty much set on offense. The current starters look to be:

Catcher: Joe Mauer
First Base: Justin Morneau
Second Base: Brendan Harris
Short Stop: Adam Everett
Third Base: Mike Lamb
Left Field: Delmon Young
Center Field: Jason Pridie/Denard Span
Right Field: Michael Cuddyer
Designated Hitter: Craig Monroe

Obviously, the only position of uncertainty we have left top fill is center field. There have been many names that have been talked about that could potentially fill that void, however the Twins still seem to be heading into the season with Jason Pridie and Denard Span battling for the job.

Pridie seems to be the front runner as he put up very good numbers in Triple-A last season, compared to Span's marginal numbers, however he did improve immensely as the season progressed and probably just needs a little more time in Triple-A before he'd be ready to take over.

But something many of us have not thought about is this; what if both fail to claim the starting job?

Well manager Ron Gardenhire seems to have thought of a possibility and told Charley Walters his thoughts:

T orii Hunter's successor in center field for the Twins could be Michael Cuddyer.

"With Delmon Young in right and Jason Kubel in left," manager Ron Gardenhire said.

That's a consideration of Gardenhire's if minor leaguers Denard Span and Jason Pridie can't convince the manager during spring training that they're ready to succeed Hunter, who left for the Los Angeles Angels via free agency.

"I'm going to talk to Cuddy about it," Gardenhire said.

Obviously, this doesn't mean anything more than if both Span & Pridie fail in spring training (which would be pretty hard to do on Gardenhire's standards), then Michael Cuddyer could be an option if the Twins needed a player to claim the position.

Many will probably think, "Great idea! He has a great arm and is a team player, he should be fine." And others are probably thinking "Are you joking, Gardy?"

Well I've been back and forth on this issue. Of course, I don't put a ton of stock into the report that he'll be our starting center fielder this season, especially knowing Gardenhire's history on players battling for positions. Remember, this is the same guy who started Juan Castro over Jason Bartlett at short stop in 2006. He also started Tony Batista at third base. And lets not forget about Sidney Ponson in '07. So unless both Pridie and Span go hitless in spring training and have horrible defense, then I think one will for sure claim the position. Of course, this is only a discussion if the Twins don't end up acquiring a new center fielder if the Twins don't acquire a center fielder either via trade or via free agency.

Cuddyer's arm ranks at the top in the league for right handers, so that's not the problem. The problem is that he ranks second to last in Zone Rating which measures the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his defensive zone. Of course, to cover center field, a player needs to have good range. Cuddyer's ZR in right field was .818, which would probably make his ZR in center field well below the .800 mark.

Do I think it's a horrible idea? No. Cuddy's a great player and a guy who'd probably do anything to help this team succeed, even if it means him playing a position which he knows he's not right for. And I think he could prepare for the season better, as in train harder if he knows he may have to take on a new role for the team. However, I think that if Gardenhire does go with Cuddy in center, he shouldn't hesitate to pull the plug if he fails.

Potentially the biggest problem I have with him in center is that I think that there are still plenty of options available either via trade or free agency, who would be better options.

Kenny Lofton & Corey Patterson still are available who would be fine players to add to this team as we have more than enough cap space. Another guy who could be a good option is Sean Barker. He has played his entire 6 year career with the Rockies, and is a free agent who would likely cost little to nothing. In 2,098 minor league at bats, he has posted a career line of .284/.342/.466 with 66 home runs, 341 RBI's and 126 doubles. He'd be a great low risk/high reward signing who we probably could just cut after Spring Training if it doesn't work out.

I'm not putting too much stock into the reports that the Twins are thinking of using Cuddyer in center field, however if Gardenhire is serious about it, I think that he's making a bad decision as their are better players suited for the job.