I concur with my pal Mark Heuring when he declared that there are no finer four words of the English language than "Pitchers and Catchers report!"
Yes, over the weekend my favorite MLB club, the Minnesota Twins, reported to Spring Training in Fort Myers, FL in hopes of erasing the memories of one of the most wretched regular seasons in franchise history. I could say that the Twins will be better than last season but, of course, that's damnation with faint praise when you consider the only way they're worse is if they lose 100 games or more. Nevertheless, I see a third place finish for our club in the AL Central with 80-85 wins.
Gone are long-time staples Joe Nathan, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer. Despite that, I feel reinstalled GM Terry Ryan made some shrewd (if not underrated) moves by adding veterans Josh Willingham (OF), Ryan Doumit (C/OF), Jamey Carroll (SS/2B/3B) and Jason Marquis (SP).
Because Cuddyer was such a class guy and staple of the Twins franchise for ten seasons, it's hard for me to wish him any ill will with his new team, the Colorado Rockies. But that said, part of me hopes he doesn't put up some big offensive numbers like he's capable of doing in the thin air that is Colorado's Coors Field. I say that because I grew incredibly weary of the incessant bitching amongst many Twins fans when J.J. Hardy was putting up impressive numbers with the Baltimore Orioles last season. Yes, in hindsight, it was a dreadful move to give up a player of Hardy's caliber for two (to be kind) pedestrian relief pitchers. But when the trade was made, the idea was Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka would make a more than an adequate replacement for Hardy. Again, to be charitable, that didn't quite work out.
The point is, a good number of Twins fans pitched a fit when Cuddyer was allowed to leave after last season via free agency. And if he puts up the kind numbers which he's capable, 2012 will be a veritable replay of the Hardy bitterness. But with that said, I believe choosing Willingham over Cuddyer was absolutely the right move.
The Twins saved $10 million over three years by signing free agent Willingham instead of Cuddyer (they're only six weeks apart in age), and they will also receive two compensatory draft picks from the Rockies. Add to that fact that in 2011 Willingham had career highs in home runs (29) and RBIs (98) while playing half his games in The Oakland Coliseum (an even more dreadful hitter's park than Target Field), I think this will turn out to be Ryan's signature move. And if you look at career stats, Willingham has a slightly better slugging percentage and OPS than Cuddy.
I think Cuddyer will definitely thrive in the National League because of his ability to play multiple positions. A player like that is invaluable in the NL given there are many more positional rotations because of pitchers hitting. But my sincere belief is Willingham will more than make up for Cuddyer's departure in both caliber of play as well as character.