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Updated: December 15th, 2011 10:45am
Josh Willingham deal official, perhaps ending the Cuddyer era

Josh Willingham deal official, perhaps ending the Cuddyer era

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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The Minnesota Twins have finally made the Josh Willingham deal official -- a three-year, $21 million contract that could spell the end of the Michael Cuddyer era.

In the end, it appears as if the Twins no longer felt comfortable playing the waiting game on Cuddyer, who remained the team's No. 1 priority throughout the offseason. But a contract offered to Cuddyer during last week's winter meetings -- reportedly worth $25 million over three years -- sat on the table for eight days.

The Twins elected to move on to their contingency plan, the 32-year-old Willingham, who owns a .257/.360/.479 batting line with 69 home runs over the past three years. Cuddyer, also 32, owns a .276/.341/.465 batting line with 66 home runs over that same stretch.

When asked if Willingham's presence closes the door on Cuddyer, one Twins offical said, "We have not closed the door on anything."

But signing both Cuddyer and Willingham would likely force the Twins to trade either Ben Revere or Denard Span, both of whom are under team control for multiple years at very team-friendly salaries.

Willingham has played mostly left field throughout his eight-year career, but the word from his camp earlier this offseason was that he'd be willing to play anywhere -- meaning right field, specifically, which is where Cuddyer spent most of his time. Neither Cuddyer nor Willingham are known for their wide-ranging defense, but Willingham actually owns a better Ultimate Zone Rating over the past three seasons than Cuddyer.

The main concern with Willingham is his history of pesky injuries -- 17 games with a strained Achilles in 2011, 44 games due to left meniscus surgery in 2010, 50 games due to low back soreness in 2009 and a herniated disc in 2007. As a result, Willingham has eclipsed 500 plate appearances only twice in the last four seasons.

When asked during the winter meetings if the Twins had enough money to sign both Cuddyer and free agent Jason Kubel, general manager Terry Ryan indicated that it was one or the other, not both. With Willingham now taking over Cuddyer's chunk of the payroll, this move likely confirms that Cuddyer and Kubel will wind up on new teams.

Should Cuddyer and Kubel sign elsewhere, the Twins would be in line to collect up to three compensation draft picks.

Multiple reports still link the Rockies and possibly another team or two to Cuddyer, who likely ends his Twins career after spending 14 years in the organization. Cuddyer was drafted in 1997 with the ninth overall pick, and he eventually broke into the big leagues in 2001 at age 22.

In 11 seasons with the Twins, Cuddyer posted a .272/.343/.451 batting line with 141 home runs and 580 RBIs in 4,555 regular-season plate appearances. He also posted a .338/.372/.473 career postseason batting line in 78 plate appearances and played every defensive position -- including pitcher -- except catcher.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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