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The Diamondbacks and Jason Kubel: Some Thoughts

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Well, that was an interesting thread. I don't think we've ever passed twelve hundred comments for a single move in the history of the SnakePit. Which goes some way to show how divisive a move this has been, with a certain section of the community really, really hating it, and most viewing it negatively. Personally, I won't necessarily argue with that viewpoint; I think it's certainly an odd move, if [and it's a significant if] that's the end of the story. We don't know, as yet, whether this is a precursor to a further trade that will free Gerardo Parra - in one way or another.

But if you don't fancy going through all the comments, I'll attempt to summarize both sides of the debate after the jump, in a Cliff Notes version of the discussion...

I think it's clear what the aim was - to provide the Diamondbacks with a left-handed power-threat, which is something they don't have for 2012, with the departure of Kelly Johnson and the dubious status of Stephen Drew [who had only 15 homers in his last full season anyway; good for a short-stop, but not so much in overall terms]. If he's not ready for Opening Day, Arizona would only have three left-handed position players on the roster: Miguel Montero, Parra and Lyle Overbay. While Montero, like Drew, has better power than most at his position, even he doesn't have a 20-homer season in his career. That's what Kubel brings to the table.

It's probably not a stretch to say if Kubel remains healthy, he could well be good for 25+ home-runs at Chase, especially since his former home in Target Field appears to drain the power from left-handed hitters. Since moving there in 2009, 21 of Kubel's 33 home-runs have come on the road. Fellow left-handed slugger Justin Morneau has even more extreme splits, with 18 of his 22 homers being away from Minnesota. Those 21 homers for Kubel were in 131 road games, which would be a 26-HR pace over a full season. If Chase plays like the hitter-friendly park it has been, it's not much of a stretch to hope for thirty bombs and a .280 average.

But there are legitimate questions as well, not least that Kubel hasn't played even 100 games in the field since 2004. Will his body be able to stand up to the everyday grind of playing left-field every day? No-one is arguing that his defense is anywhere close to Parra's, and there's a legitimate case that the offensive upgrade Kubel will likely present is largely countered by the defensive downgrade accompanying him [especially behind a fly-ball heavy staff like Arizona's]. And at age 29, Kubel is likely to be on the downside of the aging curve, though he has been very consistent thus far in his career, with five consecutive seasons of over 100 OPS+.

However, if we're going to doubt that, we also have to ask, are Parra's 2011 numbers what we can expect from him going forward? None of the neutral projections seem to think so. Last season, he had a .784 OPS, but even the Bill James system - usually regarded as optimistic for hitters - has him falling fractionally short of that. CAIRO drops Parra back to .738, and the Hardball Times [subscription only] have him at a line of .280/.332/.395, a .727 OPS. All told, as David Fung noted, those two systems project Kubel to be worth 0.6 and 0.8 WAR more than Parra in 2012. If so, then trading Parra would be selling high.

While acknowledging the great improvement Parra made last season, Nick Piecoro seems to think along these lines:

I’ve gone back and forth on Parra throughout his career, wondering if he’d ever be able to hit enough to be an everyday corner outfielder. He never had much power, never had much of a knack for getting on base and never was too successful against left-handed pitching. Without those things, his value as an outfielder was tied into his defense, and since he was limited to a corner position, his value was diminished... I wouldn’t blame the Diamondbacks if they thought this might be as good as Parra gets. He doesn’t seem to recognize how to pull the ball with consistency, greatly limiting his power. He tends to give a lot of at-bats away. He’s a ground-ball hitting machine.

There would certainly seem to be potential for flipping Parra and getting something significant in return, as he's a 24-year old Gold Glove winner, with four years of team control left. If the team think Parra is legit, they'll look to trade Chris Young (with his team-leading 139 K's), and move Parra over to CF. That might be a bit of an adventure in itself, since Gerardo had no starts there in 2011, and only three the year before. A trade of either would also resolve the roster situation, which currently has 26 players under contract for next season. Keeping Parra and Kubel would seem to necessitate prying some veteran presence out of Kevin Towers' finger, perhaps most likely Geoff Blum.

But even if Kubel is better than Parra next season, he'll be paid a lot more. Parra just missed out on being a Super Two [and qualifying for arbitration], so will instead get a salary likely not much more than league minimum, perhaps around $450K. Is Kubel worth $7 million more? Even his defenders would likely find this a bit of a stretch. Could that money have been allocated to another spot, that would be of better benefit to the team? It's hard to say, without knowing what further moves might be in the offing. But as Dan noted, the trio of Kubel, Chris Young and Justin Upton will be over $26 million in 2013, about 37% of the current team payroll, and likely unsustainable.

Personally, I'm on the fence, pending other moves. If these don't follow - the team holding on to Parra, in the belief he will get better yet - it will remain an odd signing, apparently overpaying for home-runs at the expense of an important component in 2011's success: outfield defense. [Or maybe Towers is, based on the pitching staff, going to go with four outfielders and three infielders?] I don't regard the signing as the disaster it's been painted by some - but it doesn't immediately appear to make the team $7 million better either.