COMMENTARY | In the winter of 2011, the Minnesota Twins had a decision to make with Michael Cuddyer heading into free agency. With the outfielder coming off a career year, general manager Terry Ryan had to decide whether giving him his final massive payday was worth it.
When the Colorado Rockies gave Cuddyer a three-year, $31.5 million contract, Ryan's answer became no. To respond, the Twins signed Josh Willingham to a three-year, $21 million contract and made him their starting left fielder to replace Cuddyer's impact in the lineup.
As both outfielders enter the midway point of their three-year contracts, it's becoming fair to wonder again if signing Willingham or retaining Cuddyer was the right direction for the franchise.
After the first year, the answer was overwhelmingly in Willingham's favor. After being thrown in the middle of the Twins' lineup, "The Hammer" thrived and assaulted the left field bleachers at Target Field and anywhere else he played in.
With a career-high 35 home runs, Willingham won an American League Silver Slugger award and figured to be a key part of the Twins' lineup in 2013.
Meanwhile, Cuddyer found issues in his first season with the Rockies. When he was on the field, Cuddyer put up respectable numbers, but was on the disabled list for a good chunk of the season and couldn't make a similar impact as the team finished at the bottom of the National League West standings.
As a player that could play multiple positions in the National League, Cuddyer still had value for the Rockies, but it wasn't expected that he could flirt with the Silver Slugger numbers like Willingham had put up in his first season with the Twins.
One year later, both players are showing why baseball is extremely unpredictable.
Willingham is struggling with the Twins, and found his way on the disabled list with a sore back. In turn, the lineup has struggled to score runs and any trade value that was there after 2012 has disitergrated with the addition of a sore left knee.
Cuddyer has become the talk of baseball this season as he's putting up a monster year aided by a 27-game hitting streak. A .344/.390/.590 stat line is blowing his career average of .274/.343/.461 out of the water and he's quickly closing in on other career highs across the board as the All-Star break approaches.
Now, the Twins must be wondering if Willingham's issues will continue and Cuddyer will improve. Leaning on what has played out in 2013, I believe that to be the case.
Both players will be 35 entering the 2014 season, and both will be counted on to be key contributors in their lineups. As mentioned before, Cuddyer is solid defensively and is able to help out wherever he's needed while Willingham was difficulty tracking a routine fly to left because of his bulky knee.
Perhaps a season of rest will do the trick and both teams will be satisfied with what their veteran outfielders have done for them when their contracts expire after next season. However, if Willingham can't stay healthy and Cuddyer continues his torrid pace, Twins fans will wonder what could have been.
Chris Schad is a lifelong Twins follower that has spent a majority of his life cheering the Twins on through the dark '90s and success of five American League Central championships in the 2000s. His work has also been published on Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @crishad.
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