At the trade deadline this season, Jason Kubel was on fans’ “please trade” list, along with Ian Kennedy. Kennedy was sent to San Diego for relief help, but Kubel remains on the roster and in the team’s five-way OF logjam. So should Kubel still get moved?
Of course, the presence of the other four outfielders on the active roster is one of the biggest considerations in answering that question, because Kubel’s replacement would not be a replacement-level player. But before that, we need to determine what we have with the erstwhile outfielder.
Who is Jason Kubel?
Last year’s version of Kubel was above replacement, if only marginally. His last few seasons, with stats courtesy of FanGraphs and salary courtesy of Cot’s (not counting incentives):
Average* those wRC+ figures together, and you get a 107, slightly above league average on the offensive side of the ball, but not much to write home about. Take out Kubel’s fantastic 2009 season, and that average slips to 102. Towers looked pretty good after Kubel launched 30 bombs last season, but even then, he was only worth 1.5 wins to the team. So one thing we’ve learned here – throughout the last several years, Kubel’s defense has almost neutralized his offensive production (-37 Defensive Runs Saved for his career, including -5 DRS last season and -1 DRS this season). He needs to hit as well as he did last season or in 2009 to justify a starting role.
Kubel’s 71 wRC+ this season a far cry from making up for his defensive shortcomings. As of this writing, Kubel was about 80 at-bats short of qualifying for the batting title, but his -1.4 WAR this season would rank as the third-worst in baseball, behind only the White Sox’s Jeff Keppinger (-1.7) and the Blue Jays’ Maicer Izturis (-1.9). But WAR is a counting stat, so we need not limit ourselves to position players qualified for the batting title. Expanding the field only adds Paul Konerko (-1.5) and Tyler Moore (-1.4). Yes, that would mean that Kubel is tied for 4th-worst in WAR among 838 position players who have played any amount of time this season.
How much stock can we put in that 71 wRC+? Kubel was an above-average hitter for several years leading up to this year’s disaster, and with only 247 PAs to his name this season, we could still be in fluke territory. You would think that a career of creating runs at a 7% better clip than the average hitter would be worth something, to someone. Hell, a career of creating runs at a 7% worse clip than average should be worth something. Maybe it is — and we’ll get back to that in a moment — just not to the Diamondbacks.
Arizona has Outstanding Non-Kubel Options in the Outfield
The three outfielders who have the most PAs this season have posted wRC+ of 101 (Ross), 96 (Parra), and 85 (Pollock). The team would need Kubel to start producing much closer to his previous levels to justify a starting role, however,But even if Kubel started to create runs in the 90 range of wRC+, he wouldn’t come close to matching the other options, because the defense offered by Parra, Pollock and even Ross has been phenomenal. The defense of all four in the outfield:
Pollock’s range has been outstanding this season – that alone has been worth at least a win to the team already (10 Defensive Runs Saved are roughly equivalent to a win for WAR purposes). Ross and Parra have been pretty great at running down balls themselves, and have each also contributed with their arms (Parra’s rARM, or Outfield Arms Runs Saved, is a ridiculous 7 already this season). It should be no surprise, therefore, that all three of those players have posted significant WARs (Parra at 2.6, Pollock at 2.5, Ross at 1.6). In fact, among outfielders with at least 600 innings in the field, Parra ranks second in the majors this season in DRS, behind only Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez. Ross is 6th, while Pollock is 8th. By UZR/150? Pollock is 2nd, with Parra 6th and Ross 7th.
That’s right, by at least 2 metrics, Arizona has 3 of the best 8 defensive OFs this season. They don’t put up sexy numbers, but Arizona’s outfield is one of the best in the majors. The book on Eaton is that he is strong in the field as well, although I don’t have statistics to back that up. What we can back up: Eaton’s OBP in his minor league career is .450. At Reno last year (541 PAs), it was .456. If he can get even close to that at the ML level (and it’s .349 so far in 165 PAs), even average defense puts him ahead of the 2013 version of Kubel — and probably even ahead of the 2012 version of Kubel or the 2013 version of Pollock. Kubel’s career OBP, by the way, is .331.
Should the Team Keep Kubel?
I think the answer is yes, the Diamondbacks should keep Kubel, if the alternative is releasing him. Admittedly, Kubel doesn’t offer much value to Arizona right now, with four other OFs — especially because Martin Prado could get plugged into LF, if needed, on days when both Eric Chavez and Aaron Hill start. A below-average offensive performer can still offer marginal value, however, as a pinch hitter. And in pinch-hitting opportunities this season, Kubel has hit .267 this season, in part because he’s rarely called on to face LHP (against whom he sports a .161 average in 2013). The next coming of Erubiel Durazo he ain’t, but .267 is actually pretty good, and certainly better than pinch hitting Patrick Corbin.
That marginal value as a pinch hitter is the only thing that’s keeping Kubel on the roster right now (other than the hope of value back by trade). Kubel’s recent tour in the DH spot was uninspiring — he racked up a mere 2 hits and 0 walks in 16 PAs, with a depressing 6 strikeouts. And yet if he’s got anything to offer a team beyond pinch hitting this season, it would probably be at DH — it’s the discrepancy between his defense and the defense of the other outfielders available to manager Kirk Gibson that makes benching Kubel such an easy decision.
Should the Team Trade Kubel?
In a different environment, starting only or primarily at DH, could Kubel be a cheap upgrade to another team for the rest of the season? There’s no reason for Towers to give him away for nothing, but he could be worth more to an American League team than he is to the Diamondbacks. Arizona owes Kubel about $2M more for this season and a $1M buyout if they do not exercise his 2014 option, so the return would not have to be high.
After the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, teams can still move players. Minor leaguers not on a 40-man roster can get moved, and if a player passes through waivers, he can be traded as well. Most teams put most of their players on waivers in August every year, if only to disguise the teams’ intentions, because the waivers are revocable and the team can always pull them back (once — if they put a player on waivers a second time after a claim, the waivers are no longer revocable). From time to time, teams also work out trades with a team that has claimed a player on revocable waivers.
Waiver priority goes in reverse order of current record. So who might claim Kubel? I can’t see any team thinking of his $7.5M option for next year as a good deal at this point, so that limits the field to contenders who have a need or role to fill for this season. I’ll also eliminate NL teams from the field, because Kubel shouldn’t be worth any more to them than he is to Arizona.**
That leaves the Red Sox, Rays, Orioles, Yankees, Tigers, Indians, Athletics and Rangers. The Red Sox have extra OF parts and the irreplaceable David Ortiz at DH. The Rays are similar, with Matt Joyce having a similar (but cheaper) skill set. The Orioles are set for spare parts and are trying Henry Urrutia, and New York isn’t a possible destination after their acquisition of Alfonso Soriano. Detroit has no reason to supplement the expensive Victor Martinez, especially now that he’s starting to hit, and the Athletics have an OF glut to rival the Diamondbacks. And while the Indians seem like a possible fit, they haven’t been rumored to be looking for a bat.
That leaves the Rangers as the most promising destination for Kubel. They’ve been using the DH spot recently to get phenom Jurickson Profar in the lineup (mostly by spelling Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre), but Nelson Cruz is out for the rest of the season due to his Biogenesis suspension, and they were looking for an extra bat even before the trade deadline. I’ve heard conflicting reports on Manny Ramirez, who they’ve had toiling away in AAA since he left Taiwan, but if Manny has anything to offer, it could be as a platoon player from the right side. Could Kubel be the other side of the platoon?
I think it would behoove Kevin Towers to give Texas a call, just to see if the Diamondbacks could get anything of value. If not, the Diamondbacks are probably best off using Kubel as a pinch hitter and eating the option buyout this offseason. Just, for the love of all things gritty, please don’t put Kubel out in the field.
*I need to note that averaging wRC+ would normally entail weighting based on PAs per season – I simply averaged the figures for this exercise. For his career (which includes some time in 2004 and 2006), Kubel has a wRC+ of 108.
**For an NL team to trade for Kubel at this point, they’d have to be non-Inside the ‘Zona readers, too. And everyone reads this blog, right?
Update, 8/9/13, 11:20am: The Texas Rangers have acquired Alex Rios from the White Sox, meaning they are probably out of the running for an extra hitting piece like Jason Kubel. Looks like Kubel is probably with Arizona for the remainder of the season, unless a contender without backup options runs into an injury problem later this month.
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