Letting Jason Kubel Walk

Timing is everything in comedy and baseball options. The Twins inked Jason Kubel to a two-year extension (value: $7.2M) in January 2009. Kubel responded with a career best season. He hit 28 home runs, notched 35 doubles, and boasted career bests in each of the slash line statistics. On the surface, it appeared the 27-year-old was tapping into his offensive potential reservoir, but an uncharacteristically high batting average on balls in play appeared to the underlying key to his offensive downpour.

A full season later and Kubel’s $5.25M option for the 2011 season no longer appears to be a bargain. Not after the worst season of his career. Kubel spent more time in the outfield because of Jim Thome’s presence and his ability to play defense is about what one would expect from a career designated hitter. The power receded to previous career norms and Kubel’s strikeout rate ticked upwards. Oh, and to make matters even worse, Kubel’s BABIP slipped to .280 (his career average now is .299).

The past two seasons place the Twins in an awkward position. Before the extension, Kubel was a cheap above average hitter who worked as a DH on a small market team. The Twins are no longer that small market team and Kubel isn’t the best DH on the roster anymore. He’s not even the best left-handed hitting DH on the roster, as he struggles mightily against lefties (.322, .286, .297 the past three seasons) and requires a platoon mate. The man can hit righties, but cannot play defense or do much of anything else.

That makes him a fungible asset. Age is no longer on his side and one has to wonder how much a catastrophic knee injury zapped his minor league potential. The Twins’ payroll flexibility is better than it used to be, but not in the neighborhood of the Gotham teams, so while it’s only $5 million, one has to think the Twins would be better off using that money to re-sign the ageless Jim Thome and chip the rest in towards re-signing their favorite bullpen arm with an expiring contract.

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