The Twins have three long-time staples hitting the free agent market this offseason, making it the biggest organizational crossroad since 2007, when the contracts of Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva expired.
The team had to let both those players go, while also trading Johan Santana, because in all three cases the contract demands were exorbitant. That's how it tends to go when 29 other teams are in the negotiating mix. With Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan all set to shop themselves this winter, some tough decisions lie ahead for the brain trust at Target Field.
Unlike 2007, the Twins are equipped financially to bring back all three players, although doing so might consume the bulk of their spending money. With a daunting variety of areas to address, as I outlined on Wednesday, it seems unlikely that all three players will be retained. I suspect that one or even two of these familiar faces will land elsewhere.
Of the three, Kubel is probably most expendable. Losing his reliable righty-mashing ability would sting, but the Twins -- ideally -- already have two middle-of-the-lineup left-handed bats on the roster and he's coming off a pair of underwhelming seasons. On the flip side, his injury hampered season might keep him affordable.
Nathan would be tougher to lose. The Twins are bereft of quality right-handed relief arms, and Matt Capps almost certainly won't be back. The team will clearly decline Nathan's $12.5 million option for next year but might be able to get him back on a two-year deal at the same price. If not, there will be quite a few alternatives on the market.
Cuddyer is the guy that the Twins really don't want to let get away. He's generally considered the clubhouse leader and is cherished by coaches, teammates and fans alike. He's the team's best outfield power bat, and his ability to play first has been invaluable with Justin Morneau's ongoing injury issues. If you remove Cuddyer from the roster, the best remaining right-handed bat might be… Danny Valencia? Trevor Plouffe? Not good.
Unfortunately, of the three players discussed here Cuddyer has the most leverage entering this offseason. He's coming off a very solid campaign in which he posted an .805 OPS with 20 home runs while making his first All-Star team. He might just be the second-best right-handed bat on the market behind Albert Pujols.
The Twins reportedly offered Cuddyer a two-year, $16 million extension during the season, but they had to know that wouldn't come close to getting it done. Given his high rank within the free agent class and his sterling reputation, Cuddyer should be able to get three or even four years at an average of $10 million or more.
At that point, the Twins need to look past their affinity for him and honestly assess how they think his game will age. Locking into a contract that assures a potentially declining 36-year-old big money down the line is not a situation the Twins need to get themselves into.
My guess? The Twins' best offer will be a three-year deal, at maybe a little over $30 million, with a team option for 2015. If Cuddyer won't budge on a guaranteed fourth year, I'd guess he'll be playing for another team next season.