If Minnesota Loves Jason Kubel, Set Him Free

The seemingly unending slow dance between the Minnesota Twins, the Colorado Rockies and Michael Cuddyer is over. As Matt Klaassen already analyzed, the Twins will probably be better off seeing other people in right field. For Terry Ryan and Minnesota, the attention now shifts back to another old flame: Jason Kubel. Kubel has already earned some interest from the Indians, and if Kubel leaves Minneapolis, the Twins can pick up a third compensatory draft pick to go with the two the Twins pick up with Cuddyer’s departure. But reports say the Twins could be looking to keep Kubel for next season instead.

Between Denard Span, Ben Revere, Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Chris Parmelee, and Trevor Plouffe, the Twins appear to have the outfield, first base, and designated hitter spots covered. If the Twins really love Jason Kubel — and, more importantly, if they really love long-term assets — they should set him free.

Jason Kubel’s bat is very much a major league-quality one. Year-in and year-out, the Twins have been able to rely on average or better from the 29-year-old:

But with Kubel, a player who can hit a little bit but is limited to right field, or more often, not playing the field at all, is he really worth keeping? It depends on the Twins’ answers to two questions. How much better is Kubel’s bat than those already under contract? And, with that answered, is that difference worth the extra money and losing the chance at a much-needed compensatory draft pick.

The answer to the first question is a bit depressing for the organization — Kubel could very well be the team’s fourth best hitter if he returns, and the second best if Mauer and Morneau continue to struggle with injuries. The ZiPS projections for the Twins are already out, and here’s what it says about the bats the Twins already have between the outfield, first base, and designated hitter:

Player OPS+
Willingham 129*
Mauer 120
Morneau 116
Kubel 109
Doumit 95
Span 93
Plouffe 87
Parmelee 81
Revere 77

*No ZiPS yet; three-year average wRC+ used

The answer, it would seem, is that Kubel is significantly better than the other options available internally. However, Revere’s defense should be enough to earn him a spot in center field, which would push Span to left or right field depending on where the Twins play Willingham. That leaves just first base and designated hitter open to Kubel, and those spots will be filled routinely by Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau as the Twins will, in all probability, play it somewhat safe with their stars in their returns to the diamond.

Then, is it really worth it for Minnesota to save 300-to-400 plate appearances at DH for Kubel over some platoon combination of, say, Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit? The Twins will improve defensively without Kubel plodding around spacious Target Field, and if they set him free — to Cleveland or some other team — the return of a compensatory draft pick should do much more for the team in the long-term than anything Kubel can provide.

Let him go, Terry. You can find another, better, younger Kubel in June.



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