Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Josh Willingham: What's Not to Like?

Depending on who you trust on Twitter, the Twins may or may not have agreed, in principle, to a deal with outfielder/DH free-agent Josh Willingham. Jerry Crasnick reported earlier this evening that a deal had been reached pending a physical - a report which was contradicted by Rhett Bollinger later in the evening saying that the two sides were close, but that they hadn't yet officially reached a deal...either way, I'm willing to bet that Willingham will become a Twin here within the next 12-24 hours so I thought I'd chime in. On an unrelated note, please forgive my scant postings over the last couple of weeks. I started a new job on Dec. 2nd and, well, it's been non-stop busy-ness since with no end in sight.

There's really not much to dislike about this deal from an outsiders perspective. Michael Cuddyer, whom Willingham is "replacing", is 32-years old, so is Willingham. Their hitting profiles are very similar in that they are both right-handed hitters with some power and good on-base percentages. In watching Cuddyer go to another team, the Twins get two draft picks in return and for a farm system that is somewhat depleted, the picks could not be coming at a better time. In addition, Willingham is likely to save the Twins a little bit of money. All of these things are positive. The only negative, in my opinion, is that you lose a guy in Cuddyer who has been a scrapper and a gamer for the last few seasons, who was clearly a good clubhouse guy and who was somewhat of a fan favorite. That said, none of those are reasons to keep a guy around.

Josh Willingham really didn't start to see regular big-league action until 2006 (age 27) but has been a pretty consistent big-league performer since, compiling a .262/.361/.475 triple-slash in 2,707 big-league at-bats. Since the beginning of the '06 season he has hit 131 homeruns (avg ~ 21/yr) and 155 doubles (avg ~ 26). Defense is where Willingham struggles a bit and where Cuddyer certainly has the upper hand when comparing the two players. Willingham will almost certainly be in left-field for the Twins - a position has spent the majority of his big-league career playing. He also gained some experience as a DH last year with Oakland so if the Twins get him, I would expect we'll see him used in that role as well from time to time.

I really hope the Twins do get Willingham. I was never bitten by the Cuddyer-bug, I respect him as a player and a hard-worker, but I think that the Twins benefit more in the long-run by letting him go. Willingham doesn't have quite the versatility that Cuddyer has defensively, but for a little less coin I'm willing to make the swap.