My first reaction is that Coors Field should treat him well. I would be surprised if he hit 40 homers there in 2012, but only a little bit. My second reaction, also pertaining to Coors, is that he should get the massive Colorado-based beer company to sponsor his idea for a “pay at the pump” style bar, where people can slide credit cards and pour their own beer (as reported by LaVelle Neal of the Star Tribune). That idea is so brilliant that even if I didn’t like Cuddyer before, I’d think he’s a genius after hearing it.
We’ve spent weeks – actually, months – talking about the merits of keeping Cuddyer vs. the possibilities of letting him go, so I’m not going to dwell on how good or bad this move was for the Twins. Instead, I’m going to take the opportunity to look back on Cuddyer’s time with the Twins and list some of his accomplishments.
Cuddyer was the ninth pick in the 1997 draft, so he began his career with some huge expectations. His minor league career only served to amplify those expectations, as he pounded pitchers at every level. But after he had his first Big League cup of coffee in 2001, it took Cuddyer a long time to find his niche as a hitter. He played second base, third base, and outfield, and his hitting was unimpressive at best. Through 2005, Cuddyer amassed just 32 homers in 1,109 plate appearances to go with a pedestrian .260/.330/.428 line. Not terrible, but definitely not the stats you expect from a #9 pick.
He had his breakout year in 2006, though, and the rest is history. Over the course of those years, Cuddyer eked his way into the top 10 in Twins history in a number of statistical categories: 10th in hits (1,106), 10th in home runs (141), 10th in RBI (580), and seventh in doubles (239). He juts misses the top 10 in walks; his 411 ranks him 11th. He never had any eye-popping numbers; instead, he built up his team leaderboard totals through day in and day out persistence, the same persistence that earned him the respect of fans all around Minnesota.
As I recall, though, Cuddyer wasn’t always universally beloved. There was some tangible frustration when he followed the great year in 2006 with a drop-off in 2007. I admit that I was a strong Cuddyer detractor at this time (fortunately, I was not a blogger then, so there aren’t any online anti-Cuddyer rants to make me look like a jerk). I wasn’t the only one. In 2008, after he re-signed for $24 million and went on to have an injury-plagued year with just three homers, someone edited his Wikipedia page to say that the contract was worth “$8 million per home run, and about 3 cents per strikeout.” The page has since been corrected, but I swear it was there.
Fortunately, Cuddyer had a much better year in 2009, and his stock amongst fans skyrocketed. Along with Joe Mauer, that year’s AL MVP, Cuddyer carried the Twins offense. He really stepped up after Justin Morneau got injured, playing first base and hitting a career-high 32 homers. 10 of those homers came in September, with the Twins fighting hard for a playoff berth. My favorite Cuddyer memory came in August of that year, when he socked two homers in one inning against the Royals. I think it was the 2009 season that guaranteed his place in Twins fans’ memories as a winner and a likeable player. I know that season definitely made me a Cuddyer supporter.
My second most memorable Cuddyer moment was when he got thrown out in Game 163 against the White Sox. If he’s scored, the Twins would’ve had a 1-0 lead. He didn’t, but it certainly wasn’t due to any lack of effort.
And that’s probably the best way to sum up Cuddyer. Sometimes he was great, sometimes he failed to produce. But he was always fighting hard for the team. As a fan, it’s often difficult to tell who the hard-working players really are – all we can base our opinions on is the second-hand testimonials of writers and other players in interviews. But Cuddyer gets such universal praise that I’m confident in saying he really is a good guy.
I hope he excels in Colorado for three years then retires and comes back to the Twins organization as a coach or a broadcaster, just a couple years before his induction into the Twins Hall of Fame.