Despite playing only 49 games in 2014, Michael Cuddyer is still one of the best hitters on the 2015 free agent market. Much like the Tigers' Victor Martinez, and, to a lesser extent, Torii Hunter, Cuddyer has gotten better with age; posting his two best seasons of his career at the plate over the last two years according to wRC+, which takes into account Coors Field's hitter-friendly setup. Cuddyer's coming off a 3-year, $31.5 million contract, and could be an attractive option for the Tigers if both Martinez and Hunter leave in free agency.
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
Michael Cuddyer is a 35-year-old right-handed hitter who was originally drafted by the Minnesota Twins ninth overall in 1997. He stands 6-foot-2, 220 lbs. and has played mostly played right field in his career, but he's also seen extensive time at first, second, and third. The two-time all-star won the NL batting title in 2013, hitting .331.
Why should we care?
Cuddyer can hit. In the event that the Tigers are unable to resign Martinez, Cuddyer is as good of an option as there is. Among major league batters with a minimum of 200 plate appearances, Cuddyer was 15th in wRC+ -- one spot behind J.D. Martinez and two spots ahead of Miguel Cabrera. He isn't normally seen as a great power hitter, but he actually was third in the majors in slugging percentage, ahead of even Victor Martinez (of course, Coors Field does make a difference here -- three of the top four batters by slugging percentage are Rockies).
Cuddyer can hit, and he won't be that expensive, either. The injury will deflate his market somewhat, and he won't be subject to draft pick compensation. MLBTradeRumors.com predicts a 2-year, $22 million contract, which is significantly cheaper than some other DH options project to be.
And although Cuddyer should only be signed if Victor Martinez walks and the DH spot is open, Cuddyer can play all over the diamond and could essentially be a backup corner outfielder and first baseman and emergency second and third baseman. If Cabrera opens the year on the disabled-list after offseason surgery, Cuddyer would be a much more attractive Opening Day first baseman than Don Kelly.
Why should we stay away?
One huge reason is his durability concerns. His age doesn't alleviate any of those concerns, either.
A second reason is his poor glove. Advanced metrics paint him as below average at every position, even first base.
Possibly the biggest reason to stay away is simply the possibility that he isn't as good as his numbers have been over the past two seasons, and that away from Coors Field and another year older, he'll regress. wRC+ does factor in park effects, and Cuddyer's home/road splits look promising, but Steamer projects Cuddyer to only post a wRC+ of 116 next year, which is only a touch higher than what someone like Torii Hunter projects at.
Lastly, if the Tigers add too many former Twins, Ron Gardenhire might want to come visit his former players. *shudders*
In the event that Victor Martinez signs elsewhere, these odds increase significantly. If expected contract and draft pick compensation are taken into account (or potentially even if they are not), Cuddyer is one of, if not the most attractive option to replace Martinez. However, by all accounts the Tigers are determined to bring back V-Mart, and Cuddyer fits best on an AL team that can allow him to DH most of the time.