Jason Kubel is now a Cleveland Indian (or, he will be once rosters expand on September 1). Kubel figured to land somewhere once he was designated for assignment on Tuesday, and the trade does little to change the Diamondbacks roster this year or next.
In exchange for Kubel and cash to help offset the remainder of his salary, Arizona will receive a player to be named or cash. According to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, the Diamondbacks are paying the “vast majority” of Kubel’s remaining salary and Arizona will only get a lower-tier prospect (or cash). The left-handed hitter was signed in December 2011 on a two-year deal for $16 million. He made $7.5 million in 2012 and again in 2013, and is due a $1 million buyout on a $7.5 million option for 2014. Kubel is now with his third organization, having signed with Arizona after spending all of his previous career with Minnesota.
Losing Kubel does not affect the Dbacks’ chances of competing for the playoffs this season. On August 8, I took an in depth-look at Kubel’s production, where he fit on the roster, and whether or not he should get traded. But I’ll summarize here: after a very good season last year in which Kubel posted 1.5 Wins Above Replacement and hit 30 home runs, Kubel had been worse than replacement this year, at -1.4 WAR. Why? Well Kubel has only had two seasons above 1 WAR in his career, in large part because while he has been an average-or-better hitter at times, he is a pretty big liability defensively. At the point of the August 8 article, Kubel had posted an Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 Games of -25.2 (at the moment, it’s moved down to -25.4). And that figure is not too out of line with his career defensive performance (-15.4 UZR/150 for his career, in a large sample size of 4,643.2 innings). What Kubel accomplished on offense (107 wRC+ for his career, or slightly better than the average league hitter at creating runs), he tended to fritter away in the field. He could be an asset if DH’ing, of course…
Given all that, how will Kubel be used in Cleveland? Jerry Crasnick has been tracking the story from the start:
#Indians view Jason Kubel as primarily a depth acquisition. They felt he was better than the bats they have in AAA.
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) August 30, 2013
The post on the 8th wasn’t concerned only with what Kubel was or wasn’t producing, but what the alternatives were. Although Cody Ross has since been injured, the principles remain the same; Kubel was fifth on the depth chart then, and was even less likely to be given playing time once Matt Davidson is getting time at third base and pushing Martin Prado to the outfield more often. Gerardo Parra has been one of the ten most valuable outfielders in the National League this season due in large part to incredible defensive skills; Pollock is only slightly below average as a hitter, but well above average as an outfielder; and the speedy Adam Eaton has a minor league OBP of .450. And while there’s reason to doubt that Cody Ross will be as superb defensively next year as he was this year, Ross has been an all-around contributor for a long time and a better bet than Kubel to produce next year, even if he moves a tick down offensively or defensively.
It’s hard to call this trade a good or bad one, because it is of almost no consequence. Given Arizona’s other outfield options, the team wasn’t going to play Kubel much this season or exercise his 2014 option. The Dbacks did well to save a little money by sending him elsewhere. And if nothing else, we should all give Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson credit for recognizing that options better than Kubel were available — this team would look a lot different if Kubel were still starting for the team five or six days a week.
Best of luck to Jason. I hope he gets some playing time with Cleveland and lands next year with a team that fits his skills.
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