DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 15: First baseman Jason Kubel #16 of the Minnesota Twins hits the baseball against the Detroit Tigers during a MLB game at Comerica Park on August 15, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. The Twins won 9-6 (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)
Well, if you thought the D-backs were done with position players... Think again. Numerous sources report the team signed free-agent outfielder Jason Kubel to a two-year deal for $15 million; Steve Gilbert reports there's an option, but no word on the amount involved in that at this point, or if it's player, team or mutual. [Edit: Per Nick Piecoro, 2014 option is a mutual one, also for $7.5 million, with a low buyout of less than one million].
Kubel turns thirty in May, and has spent his entire career with the Twins since making his debut for Minnesota in August 2004. In his career, he has a line of .271/.335/.459, which works out at a 112 OPS+, with last season's numbers being very close to those - .273/.332/.434, 111 OPS+. [And a h/t to blank_38, who I just realized Fanshot this while I was still giving it Z's!]
The signing came as a bit of a surprise, since it was though that if the Diamondbacks were to sign anyone else, it would like be a pitcher, with free-agent starter Hiroki Kuroda reported to be top of their list. No-one had linked Arizona's name to Kubel - the Reds appeared to be top of the list - and it seemed like the 2012 outfield was already set. But trust Kevin Towers to have something tricky up his sleeve, and Arizona fans will probably heave a sigh of relief at the realization that they won't be defending their NL West championship, with Willie Bloomquist as their fourth outfielder next year.
Kubel was primarily a DH for the Twins early in his career, with 157 games there in 2008-09, compared to 107 in the outfield. However, over the past couple of seasons, he has mostly played right, with 133 appearances in RF over 2010-11, and only 79 playing Evil Abomination of the American League (as I like to refer to the designated hitter). There's a reason for this: Dave Cameron puts it bluntly, saying Kubel's defense has "essentially proven to be so bad that he should probably have been moved to permanent DH by now." His numbers suggest that whatever offensive improvement Kubel represents, will be negated by his defensive sub-mediocrity.
Part of that is because Kubel obviously won't be playing in right-field for the Diamondbacks. That spot is clearly locked up for the Diamondbacks, and it seems to be the case that Kubel will be the starting left-fielder, replacing incumbent Gold Glove winner, Gerardo Parra. On that basis, it seems like an odd move by the team: "Congratulations, Gerardo on your award. Oh, by the way, you're moving back to the bench." It's especially odd as Parra had a breakout season offensively, and will still only be 24 next Opening Day. It's possible this signing is a prelude to a trade, as Arizona sells high on Parra.
Assuming that's not the case, it'll be interesting to see how this shakes down in 2012. There's no doubt Gerardo is a better fourth outfielder than Bloomquist, not least because he can simply slot in to any of the three positions. I'll also expect to see him replace Kubel just about every day after the seventh inning. However, both he and Kubel are left-handed bats, so there's no platoon advantage to be found there. One wonders if another possible scenario would be to move Parra to center and trade Chris Young? The latter is now 28, and had a lower OPS than Parra last season. Who knows the mind of Kevin Towers...
Kubel did miss seven weeks of the 2011 season with a sprained foot, which kept his power numbers down to their lowest level since 2006. He also struggled after coming back, batting only .229 the rest of the way, as the Twins floundered their way to the worst season in almost thirty years. But over an average 162-game season, he has been good for 22 homers and 92 RBI in his career, alongside the .271 average, which is the kind of season only Justin Upton has produced for Arizona. I'm thinking he'll likely hit fourth, between Upton and Paul Goldschmidt in our 2012 line-up.
Nick Piecoro Tweeted some comments from management:
GM Kevin Towers said he had an offer out to Hiroki Kuroda for “10 days to two weeks” but couldn’t get a yes. Got tired of waiting around. Towers made it sound like he doesn’t intend to trade Gerardo Parra. “That’s not to say you don’t always keep your ears open if something presents itself, but we think we’re better with Kubel… Parra is still very much a part of this club and was a big part last year. You can’t have enough good players.” Kubel signing also means Dbacks likely to go with one of their prospects to round out the rotation.