Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Willingham would add pop, brings line-up into focus

The Twins were stuck between a rock and a hard place over the course of the last week as the team waited for a decision on the three-year, $24 million contract offer they had proposed to free agent right-fielder Michael Cuddyer. Since being a first round selection of the Twins in 1997, Cuddyer has only known one organization and it is becoming apparent that he will have to become accustom to a new team for next year. The Twins had made bringing Cuddyer back a top priority but the team could not wait forever. On Tuesday night, reports began to fly that the Twins had agreed to terms with free agent Josh Willingham on a multi-year offer but later in the night some of the reigns were drawn in as the reports changed to say the team was nearing a three-year, $21 million agreement. Because the Twins have money tied up in other players, this will essentially end the Cuddyer-era in Minnesota.

Willingham and Cuddyer will both be 33-years old next year and each of them made their first All-Star Game in 2010. But the upside to Willingham has been his ability to hit for more power and a high slugging percentage over the course of his eight-year career with the Marlins, Nationals, and Athletics. Last season with the Athletics, Willingham hit a career high 29 home runs while spending the most of his time in left field. The right-handed hitter has held his own against right handed pitching by batting .264/.356/.470 in his eight seasons at the big league level. Against southpaws he has stayed close to his career averages by hitting .254/.372/.489 since 2004. Last season, his ability to pull the ball was on display as all of his home runs were between center field and left field.
ESPN Home Run Tracker
He even showed the ability to drive the ball literally out of Target Field in 2011 with a 420-foot shot off of Scott Baker on May 10th. Here's the video evidence to back-up the previous statement.

The signing of Willingham brings into focus much of the Twins starting line-up for next season. His multi-year deal will most certainly push the Twins near their self-imposed payroll limit. This means that all of the Opening Day starting line-up is most likely on the roster after Willingham signs on the dotted line. There are still some injury concerns and positions to sort out once the team meets up in Fort Myers. But for the time being, here are the nine men set to be penciled in against the Orioles on April 6, 2012:
C: Joe Mauer
1B: Justin Morneau
2B: Alexi Casilla
3B: Danny Valencia
SS: Jamey Carroll
OF: Denard Span
OF: Ben Revere
OF: Josh Willingham
DH: Ryan Doumit

This is quite the contrast to the line-up that took the field in Toronto for Opening Day last season. By the end of the year, Gardenhire never got to use his Opening Day line-up except for the first day of the season.
C: Joe Mauer
1B: Justin Morneau
2B: Tsuyoshi Nishioka
3B: Danny Valencia
SS: Alexi Casilla
OF: Delmon Young
OF: Denard Span
OF: Michael Cuddyer
DH Jason Kubel

The fan inside of me is sad to see Cuddyer have to exit the organization because of the leadership he provided and all of his work in the Twin Cities community. From the Twins standpoint, they are getting a comparable player to Cuddyer for less money and they will get two compensatory draft picks once he signs with another club. A year removed from a 99-loss season, the two high draft picks are looking very nice and the Twins were still able to sign a very good free agent to replace Mr. Cuddyer.

In an almost forgotten about part of the story, Jason Kubel is in the same boat as Cuddyer in the fact that he is most likely not going to be back with Twins for next season. The rumored deal for Willingham will push the Twins payroll to $96 million for next season and that number is getting close to the $100 million mark that Terry Ryan discussed at his introductory press conference. The Twins are expected to use the rest of their payroll space to sign arms to add some depth to their pitching staff. The exodus of Kubel will also net the Twins a compensatory draft pick. With this added pick, the Twins will have the second pick in the draft along with three other picks before the start of the second round.

This is not a bad haul of top-tier draft picks for a team looking to add prospects to their minor league system.


Andrew said...

I also think that Kubel is likely gone now, but others seem to think that the Twins might try to hang onto him. Personally, I'd rather see the money allocated to pitching.

NoDak Twins Fan said...

If the market really fell out for Kubel and he want to come back for really cheap, I could that as a possibility. There just doesnt seem to be room for him at this point

Andrew said...

It certainly would seem to be a glut of guys that can DH: Mauer, Morneau, Doumit, and I would add Willingham to that list if he needs a day off from the outfield. Kubel, whether in RF or DHing, seems unecessary, unfortuantely. He had some great seasons with us, though.