December 16, 2011
As of Thursday night it was believed Colorado was offering the same three years at $27 million, just above Minnesota's $25 million offer, and had no plans of going higher. However, their desperation for a third run producer and the rare opportunity to sign a coveted free agent is likely what motivated the final push.
If you recall, the last time Colorado made a splash in free agency was way back in 2001, when they signed pitchers Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle to mega deals to anchor their rotation. Both of those contracts quickly exploded in the Rockies face and led them to irrelevancy from 2001-2006. It's with those deals in mind that general manager Dan O'Dowd has approached free agency more cautiously, and also led free agents (especially pitchers) to look at Colorado in a different light during his regime.
In O'Dowd's mind, he finally found the right guy, at the right time, with the willingness to make the move, to make an expensive commitment. Now he crosses his fingers and hopes Cuddyer can adjust to playing 81 games above sea level, can maintain his productivity — he's averaging 22 homers, 82 RBIs, and with a .276 average over the past three seasons — and can be the stabilizing force offensively that allows them to compete in the pitching rich National League West.
I'm not sure Cuddyer is a great bet to provide that for the entirety of the deal, but with Todd Helton a candidate to have more games missed than RBIs, with Seth Smith unlikely to break out at age 29, and with Ian Stewart and Chris Iannetta deemed disappointments and now completely out of the picture, it's not difficult to understand why O'Dowd was willing to lay down the big money. He needs someone with a little respect around the game to back up Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. Cuddyer was the only realistic match.
Of course the Rockies will also take advantage of Cuddyer's versatility. Throughout his career he has logged time at both corner outfield and corner infield positions, as well as second base. Despite fan concern about Cuddyer's being deaf in his left ear making him a poor bet to play left field or third base in Denver, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he made starts at all of those positions for Jim Tracy at one time or another.
Also, during a conference call with season ticket holders on Tuesday night, O'Dowd made it clear that he's tired of his ball club underachieving. To fix that, he was intent on not only rebuilding his team on the field, but rebuilding his clubhouse. He concluded his thought by saying "We have a lot of really great kids, we just need to get men wanting to compete". I assure you those aren't subtle digs at Gonzalez and Tulowitzki, but rather overhand rights directed at some Rockies who have already left town, and others that will be competing for roster spots this spring.
From all accounts heard out of Minnesota, Michael Cuddyer is exactly the type of guy O'Dowd can count on to change the culture. He's a respected leader in the clubhouse, and he'll compete on a daily basis. Assuming that takes even a little pressure off their budding superstars both on and off the field, he'll be well worth a significant portion of the hefty price they have paid.