Despite another dismal season in 2012, due mostly to shortcomings in the starting rotation, the Minnesota Twins did have a solid offense for the most part and the new pieces general manager Terry Ryan was able to add made an impact in that area.
Perhaps no new Twins player made a greater impact in 2012 than outfielder Josh Willingham, who was signed to a three-year, $21 million deal last winter after spending the 2011 season with the Oakland Athletics. Prior to that Willingham played exclusively in the National League, with the Florida Marlins (2004-2008) and the Washington Nationals (2009-2010).
Willingham missed his sixth straight game Monday night due to a left shoulder injury, and is unlikely to play the final two games of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays as a result. If that winds up being the case, he will still finish with career-highs in home runs (35) and RBI (110) as well as runs scored (85) in his first year in Minnesota. He will never be confused with a Gold Glove-caliber left fielder, but Twins’ fans who had to witness the misadventures of Delmon Young in that spot over the previous couple seasons can certainly admit Willingham was an upgrade this season.
When evaluating Minnesota’s signing of Willingham for ultimate impact, it seems best to take a look at the player or players he replaced. The obvious comparison here is Michael Cuddyer, who signed with the Colorado Rockies last offseason after spending his entire career to that point with the Twins. Willingham and Cuddyer are both right-handed hitters and the same age (33), though it’s worth mentioning the contract discrepancy as Cuddyer signed a three-year, $31.5 million deal with the Rockies.
Cuddyer’s versatility should also be noted, as he played multiple positions for Minnesota in recent years and did so again this season in Colorado by seeing time at first base as well as his typical right field. But Cuddyer battled an injury himself during the second half of the season, as an oblique issue landed him on the disabled list in August and led to him being shut down for the season last week. Cuddyer will finish 2012 hitting .260 with 16 home runs and 58 RBI as well as eight stolen bases over 394 plate appearances.
So Willingham clearly outdid Cuddyer in home runs and RBI, and increased his impact even more with significantly more plate appearances (615) as well as a better on-base percentage (.366 to Cuddyer’s .317). So given the investment that would have been required to retain Cuddyer, based purely on the contract Colorado gave him, the Twins clearly got a lot more bang for their buck by letting him leave and signing Willingham to a contract of the same length.