Stark listed Michael Cuddyer as one of the most underrated players in all of baseball.
The same Cuddyer who will make $10.5 million coming off an extremely disappointing campaign; who was described during that disappointing campaign by his manager as team MVP; who is widely cherished by a fan base that lovingly looks past his flaws in embracing his contagious smile and cannon arm... underrated? That's an awfully tough case to make.
In making it, Stark enlists the wisdom of an anonymous scout, who provides us with this jewel:
"If I was going to give a one-word description that defines him, that would be the word 'winner,'" the scout said. "He's not the reason you win. But he makes everybody else better."I dare say this scout is doing a bit of a disservice to his profession by spouting vague and hackneyed cliches that offer no insight into Cuddyer's actual value as a player, but I digress.
When he's at his best, Cuddyer is a very good hitter who helps the team significantly. Certainly this was the case in 2009, when his late surge was elemental in pushing the Twins to an unlikely postseason berth, and in 2006 when he hit .284/.362/.504 with 24 homers and 109 RBI. The problem is that in the surrounding seasons, the 32-year-old has annually posted a sub-.800 OPS with less than 20 home runs and mediocre (at best) defense at non-premium positions.
Right field and first base, the two spots where Cuddyer tends to spend most of his time, bear higher offensive expectations than anywhere else on the field. Even in his best seasons, Cuddyer has not ranked as one of the elite performers at his position, and when all is accounted for, his production could best be described as "solid" and "unexceptional."
A defender of Cuddyer will surely point to the outfielder's intangibles: his work ethic, his willingness to move around the field without complaint, his fan appeal, and so forth. I recognize and appreciate these things, but don't necessarily see how they go above and beyond what should be considered basic expectations for a professional athlete. Answering the manager's call to change positions, being friendly toward fans, and maintaining professional and respectable habits off the field -- these should be standards for a person being paid over $8 million to play baseball, no? Yet we frequently see these attributes glorified through media articles that minimize his undeniably underwhelming production on the field, perhaps because Cuddyer has such a bright personality and is easy to like for those who spend time around him.
Underrated? Maybe by those who decry his supposed lack of clutch hitting and label him "Cruddy" or "Cuddaver," but that strikes me as a fringe minority. Unless my read on the general public perception of Cuddyer is way off, it seems to me like "overrated" would be a far more accurate descriptor.
That doesn't mean Cuddyer is a bad player, and it doesn't mean I mind having him on the team this year. The Twins will need his right-handed bat and he could be a real difference-maker if he can stay healthy and produce like he did in '09.
But in my mind he's got a long way to go before his actual value surpasses his perceived value, which continues to be inflated by flattering but ultimately empty portrayals like the ones provided by Stark and his scout.