Rockies have tough choice to make with Cuddyer

Club would hate to lose impact bat, but does it have position for free-agent slugger?

Rockies have tough choice to make with Cuddyer

DENVER -- The start of free agency leaves the Rockies with a decision regarding offensively productive first baseman/outfielder Michael Cuddyer.

As free agency began with the conclusion of the World Series this week, Cuddyer certainly didn't have a prediction to his future, which almost certainly will involve a nice payday. Free agents may sign with other clubs starting Monday at 10:01 p.m. MT.

"It's still really too early to count any team in or any team out," the slugger said.

Since signing a three-year, $31.5 million contract with Colorado before the 2012 season, Cuddyer has batted .307 with a .362 on-base percentage. He won a National League batting title in 2013 -- when he hit .331 -- and had a .332 average in '14 that would have given him the title (over teammate Justin Morneau) had he played in more than just 101 games. Cuddyer turns 36 next March, but his best batting averages have come the last two seasons, and his penchant for extra-base hits is still strong.

Cuddyer is the NL batting champ

The Rockies love his leadership and other intangibles, as well.

"From a production standpoint, I feel I'm better," Cuddyer said just before the regular season ended. "I'm maturing as a hitter, learning situations and executing, sticking to game plans and sticking to things that have allowed me to have success over the last few years. I feel I'm improving in those areas."

But there are cons.

Cuddyer has spent time on the disabled list each of his three seasons in Colorado, and his 130 games in 2013 was by far his most in purple pinstripes. But even that might not be a deal breaker. With the Rockies crossing their fingers that shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez stay healthy, they can't afford to gamble on one more All-Star type to do the same.

The injuries have been all over the place. Cuddyer's 2012 season ended in August because of a right oblique strain. In '13, he was placed on the DL with neck stiffness while also missing games with a bruised rib. This past season, he twice landed on the DL with left hamstring injuries, but the biggest injury was a fractured left shoulder -- suffered when he made a dive while playing third base, a position he had not played in four years.

Cuddyer's leg injury

"Nobody can predict injuries," Cuddyer said. "Every time I've come back, I've felt good. It's just one thing happens and you go out. I don't think I'm slowing down at all. Injuries derailed this season a little bit, but then I could go out next year and play 150 games. You just never know."

But if Morneau is at first base, and Gonzalez -- if healthy -- is slated to man right field, where would Cuddyer play? Corey Dickerson's offensive emergence makes him the starter in left, and Colorado sees leadoff man Charlie Blackmon as a center fielder. Cuddyer's defensive ratings in the outfield and first base are not strong because of his range, although the Rockies like his ability to make the right play and throw when he gets to the ball.

Even more, Cuddyer figures to have multiple suitors. The Brewers, Marlins, Mets and Pirates figure to be among the interested teams in the NL, alone.

At this stage of his career, Cuddyer isn't in a position to take a role involving uncertain playing time.

"I don't think I'm at the point in my career where I'm ready to platoon," Cuddyer said.

It's conceivable that the Rockies could make other deals that would make Cuddyer's potential role clearer. But there are suitors, and a two-year deal for more than $20 million is possible for Cuddyer.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.