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Cuddyer to Third?

By: Derek Wetmore

The question in this post: is it a good move for the Twins to supplant the current third base situation with Michael Cuddyer upon returning from interleague play?

First off, it's not a one-dimensional move. Moving Cuddyer to third opens up a spot in the everyday lineup for Jason Kubel in RF, allows Delmon Young to continue his steady habit of starting (and hitting) in RF, opens up the DH spot for Jim Thome against righties, and allows Morneau and Mauer more "off" days by utilizing the DH spot when a left-hander is on the mound. For everyone clamoring that the M&M boys should be more durable - give it a rest. Both could use more days off and the fact is that a 162-game season is a grind and that hitters are much more productive at the end of the year if they weren't driven into the ground in June.

Someone mentioned that Cuddyer is partially deaf in his left in, and thus has zero chance of playing third base long term because he won't be able to communicate with his infielders since his left ear faces the other fielders. Someone seriously said that.. While it's something to consider, I think it's laughable to think that it would inhibit him in any way from playing defense, because every Major Leaguer knows what the upcoming play is going to be. It's not middle school baseball any more, where half of the players need the coaches screaming at them to figure out the play. Cuddyer, as far as I know, can still hear well enough to field his position properly and if his defense can hold up passably at third base, it's worth giving him a shot. Here's why:

Valencia becomes a bench player (or Rochester's starting 3rd baseman). Punto can fill in for Hardy while he nurses his sore wrist, and becomes the super-utility player (the role that he is fit perfectly for). Though Gardenhire would probably favor moving Punto back to third as soon as Hardy returns from the DL, but let's pretend he would permanently become that bench player and spot starter.

The lineup vs. right-hander hurlers becomes:

1 Span CF
2 Hudson 2B
3 Mauer C
4 Morneau 1B
5 Cuddyer 3B
6 Kubel RF
7 Thome DH
8 Young LF
9 SS Punto (Hardy when he is healthy)

The lineup vs. southpaws:

1 Span CF
2 Hudson 2B
3 Mauer C/DH
4 Morneau DH/1B
5 Cuddyer 1B/RF
6 Young LF
7 Kubel DH/RF
8 Valencia 3B (Punto when Hardy is healthy)
9  Punto SS (Hardy when he is healthy)

Look at that lineup versus righties! Incredible, but note that Cuddyer won't be as good defensively as some other options.

Vs. Lefites the lineup gets a little weird but positional flexibility is a wonderful thing to have as the summer wears on. And having that DH spot is such a huge boost to give Mauer and Morneau some wind when they need it. Why is Young hitting ahead of Kubel in the second lineup? Kubel doesn't hit lefties as well as most people probably think. He mashes righties.

I'm all in favor of trying Cuddyer at third because it keeps Kubel in regular playing time, gives Thome more at bats, and simultaneously solves the poor offensive third base platoon.

It's even better going forward. Cuddyer's $10.5 million 2011 option has also been picked up, and this allows the club time to evaluate their massive depth of young outfield talent by opening another spot in the outfield. Whether or not Cuddyer returns after 2011 remains to be seen, but I would bet he could become too expensive for the Twins. Positional flexibility like this can do nothing but help Cuddyer's chances of receiving his next paycheck from Minnesota, as the team has lacked a consistent starter there ever since Corey Koskie departed.

UPDATE: Joe Christiansen of the Star Tribune recently tweeted (after this post was published) that, "Gardy said Cuddyer is open to more 3B duty when Twins return to AL sked next week. #stribtwins"

Joe, like myself, noted that this would provide more regular playing time for the outfield situation and provide Thome with more at bats. Joe said that Gardy maintains that Thome's body isn't up to handling the wear and tear of the everyday DH duty. That's fine, give him a break against lefties, he doesn't hit them particularly well anyway.

Of course, if Cuddyer proves to be terrible at third base - enough so to negate all his positive offensive contributions and improved team positional flexibility -  then all of this goes out the window and Cuddyer should return to RF with the occasional start at 1B. He can hear out of his right ear, you know.

Derek Wetmore is a sports reporter with the Minnesota Daily. He also is the primary editor for the blog, Wet Socks, and an avid Minnesota sports fan.


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