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Twins Sign Kubel. Why?

The Twins avoided arbitration with Jason Kubel yesterday, signing him to a two year contract that the Star-Tribune claims is for about $7 million and contains a team option for 2011 that is worth $5 million. So, the deal is either 2/7 or 3/12 for Kubel’s final two years of arbitration or his two arb years and his first year of free agency. Most people will probably consider that a good deal for the Twins – getting a useful bat under team control for reasonable prices without a long term commitment.

I’m not so sure. As R.J. noted this morning, the Pirates just signed Eric Hinske to a one year deal worth between $1 and $2 million. In what world is Jason Kubel a significnatly better player than Eric Hinske?

Kubel’s last two years show a pretty stable skillset – aggressive hitter with above average power, will take some pitches, and absolutely awful in the field. His wOBAs in 2007 and 2008 were nearly identical (.342 and .345 respectively) and are basically what we can expect from Kubel going forward. Heading into his age 27 season, Kubel is what he is – a guy with a decent bat and no defensive value. His career UZR in the OF is -18.9 in 1,375 innings, and the Twins seem to have recognized that he’s a full time DH for the rest of his career.

What’s a DH with a slightly above average bat worth? A little bit more than half a win above a replacement level player. In 2007 and 2008, Kubel accumulated a total of +1.2 wins in 983 PA. Given everyday playing time at DH, we can estimate he’ll be worth between 0.5 and 1.0 wins for 2009.

Compare that to Hinske (the guy who had to settle for a one year deal as a role player on a terrible team) – the offensive skillset is practically identical, but Hinske can actually play a competent 1B/OF. The offensive difference in their CHONE projections add up to 2-3 runs over a full season, but the defensive gap is clearly much larger. It’s hard to make a case that Kubel > Hinske.

Yes, Hinske’s five years older, but MLB is full of players with that skillset. Minnesota could have just used Hinske this year, then found his clone next winter, and so on and so forth. Same reward with none of the associated risk that goes with multiyear contracts.

I know, I know, it’s only $7 million over two years. But it’s a needless use of resources. The Twins budget isn’t that of the Yankees or Red Sox, so to contend, they need to maximize the return on all the dollars they spend. Especially in this economic climate, where good players can’t find contract offers, giving a multiyear deal to Jason Kubel doesn’t maximize the return.