Rockies find 'difference-maker' in Cuddyer

Rockies find 'difference-maker' in Cuddyer

Rockies find 'difference-maker' in Cuddyer
DENVER -- There is an area on the club level at Coors Field, down the right-field line, which provides a beautiful view of the field. There's just enough room between two walls to set up a stage and have news conferences. The Rockies reserve these for special occasions.

On Tuesday, the introduction of outfielder Michael Cuddyer qualified.

In the winter of 1999, they used the space to introduce outfielder Tom Goodwin, the first big free-agent signing for general manager Dan O'Dowd. Later that winter, highly touted third baseman Jeff Cirillo and other acquisitions modeled a new uniform. Last winter, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez smiled and officially announced his lengthy contract. Beyond those and a couple of special gathering in the Coors Club in the bottom area of the stadium for Troy Tulowitzki's contract signings, the Rockies don't have many winter news conferences.

Tuesday's presentation showed how much the Rockies think of Cuddyer, who made official a three-year contract that will pay him $10.5 million each year.

Cuddyer will play right field, with Gonzalez moving to left after finishing last season in right. A needed right-handed power bat, Cuddyer will most likely hit fifth or sixth in the Rockies' batting order, after hitting .284 with 20 home runs and 29 doubles for the Twins last season. Cuddyer also could move to first base on days the Rockies want to sit left-handed-hitting veterans Todd Helton and Jason Giambi.

But Cuddyer, 32, represents more than a player to fill holes in the lineup.

"We don't have many of these," O'Dowd said. "We earmarked Michael probably the middle of last summer as someone we thought probably was a difference-maker for our club."

O'Dowd said Cuddyer's best years are in front of him, he can be effective hitting to the power alleys at Coors, and his versatility is a plus. But the Rockies like his intangibles.

"In all our due diligence we've done throughout the years, we've never really had anybody come back like the comments that came back on Michael, as far as what he is as a teammate, what he does in the community," O'Dowd said. "He gets it. He gets the understanding that this is a business about making a difference in others, he plays for a bigger purpose and he gets team."

O'Dowd said Cuddyer also knows what it's like to play for a team with a tight payroll, and he can help the Rockies' young players become winners.

The Rockies targeted such players after falling far below expectations and finishing last season 73-89. In addition to Cuddyer, they've signed catcher Ramon Hernandez for two years and $6.4 million, and on Tuesday O'Dowd announced the team has reached an agreement, pending a physical, with veteran third baseman and utility player Casey Blake for one non-guaranteed year at $2 million, with $1 million available in performance bonuses.

Cuddyer, who received daily calls from Tulowitzki in the final days of the free-agency process before agreeing to the contract last week, welcomes the responsibility.

"One thing that I really try to put focus on is being accountable," Cuddyer said. "I'm accountable for everything that I do, accountable for all my actions out there on the field. I expect that from my teammates in return. I have their back and hopefully they have my back as well."

The Twins, for whom Cuddyer appeared for all 11 of his big-league seasons, offered a reported three-year, $25 million contract, and the Phillies and Mariners also made pushes for him during what has been a special winter. On Dec. 6, his wife, Claudia, gave birth to twin girls, Chloe and Madeline. The Cuddyers also have a 3-year-old son, Casey.

Cuddyer's addition also could bolster the outfield defense. Alongside two potential Gold Glove Award winners with center-field range and speed -- Gonzalez in left and Dexter Fowler in center -- Cuddyer has the range to play right at Coors. In addition, his 53 assists since 2006 rank seventh among Major League outfielders.

The Rockies are likely to move last year's left fielder, Seth Smith, who has been heavily mentioned in trade talks with the Braves. The Rockies have their eye on infielder Martin Prado, who could settle the Rockies' second-base situation.

Cuddyer also announced that he chose No. 3 to honor the late Harmon Killebrew, who had a Hall of Fame career with the Twins. Cuddyer wore No. 5 in Minnesota. Cuddyer said he became a good friend of Killebrew, who died this past May 17.

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