When I first saw read of the Kubel signing, my first thought was "WHY?". I'm sure many of my fellow D-backs fans also thought likewise. However, the more I thought about it, it makes sense on many levels.
If you've read the analysis from Fangraphs and many others, the discussion is mainly that most believe Kubel is not an upgrade over Parra when defense and baserunning are factored into the equation. Let's tackle that first by comparing Kubel and Parra.
In 2011, Kubel and Parra's line look like this:
Kubel: .273/.332/.434, .333wOBA
Parra: .292/.357/.427, .340wOBA
Now looking at this, it seems like both players are pretty comparable batting wise, but Parra had 16 intentional walks, mostly due to hitting 8th in the lineup. If you take even just 10 of those intentional walks away (lets be on the generous side and say he got on base the other 6 times through a hit or walk), his on base dips down to .337.
Since Parra will be entering his age 25 year, there is definitely opportunity for improvement, but as a prospect, this past season is about what most scouts viewed him being in his prime, a slap hitter that will about around .280-.300 with little power and average on-base skills.
With Kubel, his numbers the past 2 years dipped after his career year in 2009. I believe that's partly due to the move to Target Field, where I've read is a challenging place to hit for lefty pull hitters. Even though Kubel will be going into his age 30 year, with the shift to the NL as well as hitting in Chase Park, I don't think it's unreasonable to think that he will improve on his batting numbers from the prior 2 years. I've read that there were concerns about his decline in walk rate and increase in strike outs, but this has also coincided with his career high in taking pitches. This is only a guess, but I wonder if his ankle injury this past year had anything to do with his change in approach?
Anyway, I feel like I'm ranting, so let me get down to my point. Last year, the Dbacks wasted the following number of plate appearances on the following players:
Xavier Nady - 223
Melvin Mora - 135
Sean Burroughs - 115
Collin Cowgill - 110
Russell Branyan - 69
Geoff Blum - 55
Wily Mo Pena - 46
Cody Ransom - 37
Brandon Allen - 37
Josh Wilson - 10
Cole Gillespie - 7
Robby Hammock - 2
That's 846 plate appearances! Now, I Goldschmidt will get about 400 of these plate appearances, but that's still 400+ plate appearances that won't be wasted on the players listed above now with the Kubel signing. Even though Kubel is going to be tabbed as the every day starting left fielder, does anyone really think he'll end up with more than 500-550 plate appearances?
Now we have 9 games where the DH is covered and there will be 30+ starts where Trevor Cahill (extreme ground ball pitcher) will be pitching where Kubel won't be as much of a defensive liability. I can also see Parra starting almost every game Collmenter (as I'm sure you all know, extreme fly ball pitcher) pitches with a few games here and there with the other pitchers. I think there are enough at bats and Gibby is creative enough in the way he uses his players that I think both Kubel and Parra can get 500+ at bats this year.
I've read where some people have criticized the Dbacks for spending $7.5mil a year for the next 2 years on what was perceived as a non-necessity. However, as I've broken down above, I don't see this as an expensive "insurance" policy. The Dbacks had money to spend and instead of wasting 2 years committing to Saunders or 1 year on Kuroda, we really did improve upon an area of need, empty at bats. Also, with the upgrade of Cahill over Saunders, is it unrealistic to think that a combination of Miley/Bauer/Skaggs will outperform Saunders or Kuroda?
Ultimately, I do like the Kubel signing. I think he'll improve on the 400+ empty plate appearances the team had in 2011. Also, I believe not committing to Saunders and Kuroda (it sounded like he wanted a player option for 2nd year) will not prevent any of our young pitchers from contributing in 2012 and 2013, which adds even more value to the team as a whole.