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Will the St. Louis Cardinals sign free agent Michael Cuddyer?

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Michael Cuddyer is a righthanded-hitting free-agent right fielder. The Cardinals need a righthanded-hitting free-agent right fielder.

Doug Pensinger

The St. Louis Cardinals don't have many player types on their Hot Stove shopping list. Their rotation is overflowing. Every starting position player from this year's postseason is under team control for 2015. However, as RB noted on Wednesday, the tragic passing of 22-year-old Oscar Taveras has dashed the Cardinals' hopes for right field in 2015 and beyond and made the club's need for a corner bat all the more immediate. Coming off an injury-shortened 2014, free agent Michael Cuddyer might fit the Cardinals' needs.

Cuddyer notched just 205 plate appearances in 49 games last year with the Colorado Rockies. For a bit of perspective, Allen Craig dug into the batter's box 398 times as a Cardinals in 2014; Daniel Descalso, 184. After an injury-free 2013, Cuddyer's age-35 season was plagued by injuries:

  • Cuddyer hit the 15-day disabled list on April 18 with a left-hamstring strain and missed 28 games before his activation on May 20.
  • On June 6, Cuddyer was again disabled, this time landing on the 60-day disabled list with a left shoulder fracture to the glenoid socket. He missed 63 games due to the injury until the Rockies activated him from the DL on August 23.
  • On August 24, Colorado placed Cuddyer on the 15-day DL with a right-thigh strain. He was out exactly 15 days, missing 14 games.

When healthy, though, Cuddyer raked. The righthanded batsman put up a .332/.376/.579 (.414 wOBA, 151 wRC+) in 2014. Cuddyer struck out in just 14.6% and worked a walk in 6.8% of his PAs. This after hitting .331/.389/.530 (.396 wOBA, 138 wRC+) over 540 PAs in 2013 with an 8.5 BB% and 18.5 K% while playing his home games at Coors Field. Of course, in 2012 with Colorado, Cuddyer's numbers were less impressive: .260/.317/.489 (.344 wOBA, 99 wRC+). For what it's worth, Steamer projects a .262/.322/.425 (.329 wOBA, 109 wRC+) for Cuddyer in 2015.

Cuddyer has been particularly effective against lefthanded pitchers during his career, batting .291/.379/.506 (.380 wOBA, 132 wRC+) against southpaws compared to a still good (if unspectacular) .274/.332/.450 (.340 wOBA, 105 wRC+) against righthanders. Given Cuddyer's platoon splits, it's easy to understand why Cards fans were clamoring for him in October as a righthanded-hitting complement to first baseman Matt Adams. The thinking then was apparently for the St. Louis front office to do what it did a winter ago with Mark Ellis, another aged veteran seemingly still capable of filling a starting role in the majors. Since then, circumstances have changed, reducing the possibility that St. Louis will sign Cuddyer.

Cuddyer is ostensibly a versatile player. Over his career, Cuddyer has played first base, second base, third base, left field, center field, and right field. The Rockies signed Cuddyer to play the outfield and, over the last three seasons, he has played 1,864 1/3 innings there and 406 2/3 at first base. That's not to say that Cuddyer is particularly skilled at defending the green pastures of a ball field. Whether one looks at Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) or Total Zone, Cuddyer is a substandard outfielder by the metrics.

Having a poor fielder manning right field has not bothered the Cardinals much in recent years. St. Louis inked Lance Berkman to hit and man right field for 2011. The Cards then signed Carlos Beltran, still smooth but then rather slow, to hit and play right. Entering 2014, Plan A in right field was the rickety Allen Craig. All of these players were bat-first talents trotted out on the theory that they could hit enough to justify playing in spite of their fielding shortcomings. And that's just what they did (at least until Craig's production fell off a cliff last season). So adding a bat-only veteran like Cuddyer to start in right field would be within the Cardinals' comfort zone if seasons past are any indication.

The Rockies threw a monkey in the wrench last week, though, when they issued the free-agent Cuddyer a qualifying offer. If Cuddyer turns down the $15.3 million qualifying offer (he has until Monday to accept or reject it), the Rockies will receive draft-pick compensation. Any club that signs Cuddyer and does not have a protected draft pick in next June's Rule 4 amateur draft will lose its first-round draft pick. The Cardinals' first-round pick in the 2015 draft is not protected, so signing Cuddyer would cause them to lose that pick. Given the Cardinals' draft-and-develop philosophy and the high value MLB clubs generally are placing on such draft picks (e.g., the Mets are reportedly out on Cuddyer post-qualifying offer), it seems unlikely that St. Louis would be willing to sacrifice their 2015 first-round pick in order to sign Cuddyer to a multi-year free-agent contract, which is what folks are projecting the soon-to-be 36-year-old to receive.