DENVER (AP) — Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd thinks outfielder Michael Cuddyer is a perfect fit in Colorado.
With hitter-friendly Coors Field as the backdrop, Cuddyer donned a Rockies jersey and cap for the first time at his introductory news conference Tuesday after finalizing a $31.5 million, three-year contract.
The 32-year-old Cuddyer spent 11 seasons in Minnesota before agreeing to a free-agent deal with the Rockies late last week. He batted .284 with 20 home runs and 70 RBIs last season and went to his first All-Star game as the Twins’ lone representative.
A career .272 hitter, Cuddyer will wear No. 3 with the Rockies — a tribute to late Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew. Cuddyer described the Hall of Famer as “one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever met.”
O’Dowd also announced the acquisition of free-agent third baseman Casey Blake, pending the completion of a physical. Blake has agreed to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal worth $2 million, with another $1 million in available performance bonuses.
The addition of Cuddyer was the Rockies’ first major free-agent signing since 2000, when they brought in pitchers Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle for a combined $172 million. It was the culmination of a long process that began in mid-summer, when O’Dowd said the organization began doing its homework on Cuddyer in anticipation of making a run at him on the open market.
Convinced by their research that Cuddyer fit the bill in terms of character, leadership and baseball skills, the Rockies went all out in the last two weeks to wrap up a deal, O’Dowd said. Manager Jim Tracy and star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki also made frequent phone appeals to Cuddyer during the negotiations, urging him to join the Rockies so they could work together toward an NL West crown and World Series championship.
“For us, quite honestly, we thought it was a perfect fit,” O’Dowd said. “He’s a difference-maker for our club. We think his best years are still in front of him and he’s an off-gap hitter. He’s going to wear out our alleys here in Coors Field.”
Just as importantly, the Rockies said, were Cuddyer’s strong character traits, clubhouse leadership and willingness to help younger players.
“He gets it,” O’Dowd said. “He gets that this is a business about making a difference in others. He plays for a bigger purpose and he gets ‘team.’ We’re going to need that here and it’s a natural to him. He’s going to make our team better and he’s going to make our organization better.”
The Twins made a pitch to keep Cuddyer, but he decided to go in a new direction.
“The Minnesota Twins are always going to be deep in my heart, but I was excited about the prospect of being a Colorado Rockie,” Cuddyer said. “I’m excited about the future. The past is the past and it’s a great past with Minnesota, but we were excited about the situation here and the situation here is to go out and try to win a National League West title together.”
A versatile player in the field — Cuddyer has played every position other than catcher and shortstop — he’ll be counted on primarily to hold down right field for the Rockies, though there could be days when he moves to other positions. He’ll also give Colorado another big bat in the lineup, along with Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton.
Cuddyer acknowledged that Tulowitzki’s personal lobbying campaign to get him to sign with Colorado greatly influenced his decision.
“He called me quite a bit. That really meant a lot to me,” Cuddyer said. “What he conveyed to me was he was excited to have me as part of this team, part of this family. I’m excited to be his teammate. I’m excited to get to know all my teammates. It’s going to be a great time here.”
Playing home games at Coors Field also was attractive.
“Well, I’m excited about hitting here, no question about that,” Cuddyer said. “Coming from Target Field — it’s a gorgeous field but a tough place to hit. That’s pretty well-documented. Here, it’s a big outfield. I’m excited to hit these gaps out here. I don’t try to do too much at the plate, but I’m excited to be able to hit the gaps here, that’s for sure.”
Cuddyer said he looked forward to playing with Tulowitzki, Gonzalez, Helton, Dexter Fowler and a young pitching staff that he called nasty and promising.
“The thing that is the most exciting is we’re going to do this as a family and that’s what enticed me the most,” Cuddyer said. “Do I think we can win here? Absolutely. Do I think we can win just the National League West? Absolutely not. I think we can go further than that, but it’s going to take all of us to do it.”
The Rockies couldn’t agree more.
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