Michael Cuddyer is a pretty controversial player.
Some believe he's a consummate teammate whose willingness to move around the field extends his value drastically beyond what he does at the plate. Others believe his relatively poor defense at each position he can fill makes him a liability.
Some believe his ability to provide right-handed power has been vital to the success of a lefty-dominated lineup over the past several years. Others believe that, with his inconsistency and lack of clutch hitting at the dish, his offensive game is hugely overrated.
Some believe his effervescent and affable nature helps keep the clubhouse loose. Others believe his lack of fiery competitiveness is the type of thing that keeps the team from being able to step up to the big bad Yanks.
Regardless of where you fall in this debate, it's no secret how the Twins view Cuddyer. Ron Gardenhire called him the team's MVP earlier in the season, and while that statement is laughable based on Cuddy's production, John Bonnes was astute in pointing out a few weeks ago that the manager has a better grasp than anyone on what players do behind the scenes to help a team win. Gardy's not unaware that Cuddyer's core numbers -- whether we're talking about average, OPS, homers, RBI -- were the lowest they've been since 2005 (outside of an injury-riddled 2008 campaign). I'm inclined to believe that Cuddyer is a more valuable guy to have on the roster than his statistics would suggest.
With that being said, there's almost no way to justify the $10.5 million he's going to make next year after the season he just had. Calling Cuddyer's numbers in 2010 mediocre is being kind; he spent the majority of his time playing offense-heavy positions (poorly) and came up with just a .271/.336/.417 line with 14 homers over 157 games.
Cuddyer's salary next year is tied up in a club option, but a strange stipulation in his contract forced the Twins to decide on that option after last year. At that point, Cuddy had just finished up perhaps the best campaign of his career, having posted an .862 OPS with 32 homers and 94 RBI with a late boost in September that was extremely significant in the team's surge for a division title.
So, the Twins activated his option with little hesitation. Had they faced that decision now, I'd have to think they would at least have to think twice. He's a $10 million wild card. In his best seasons, he's provided a key right-handed power bat in the middle of the lineup, but only twice in his career has he fulfilled that promise and for the most part he has been -- as Aaron Gleeman aptly puts it -- "a perfectly solid player who's paid like and treated as a star." To top it all off, Cuddyer just had surgery on a knee which he now says bothered him all season long.
The Twins already have a lot of money invested in wild cards next year. Joe Nathan will make $11.25 million in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Justin Morneau, whose status is completely uncertain after he missed the second half this year with a concussion, will make $14 million. And in Cuddyer, the Twins will be paying $10.5 million to a 32-year-old coming off a disappointing season and knee surgery.
No matter what you think about Cuddyer, there's simply no denying that his hefty guaranteed salary next year poses a serious conundrum for a team that is already staring at some considerable payroll issues. He's locked in and his contract is essentially unmovable, so the Twins are stuck with him at this point. Given the questions surrounding Morneau, it's nice to have a guy around who can competently cover at first base, but $10.5 million should buy you a lot more production than Cuddyer has given this team in three of the past four years, regardless of what he's providing off the field.