With Ichiro Suzuki back in the fold, the Yankees are set in all three outfield spots minus a right-handed complementary piece. They are still lacking a DH though, and given the offensive hit they’re expected to take behind the plate and in right field, finding a legitimate offensive producer for the DH spot is quite important. Raul Ibanez had some amazingly clutch homers in September and October, but his regular season performance (102 wRC+) didn’t wow anyone.
The Diamondbacks have been a popular team this offseason, mostly because they keep floating Justin Upton’s name in trade rumors. GM Kevin Towers has already dealt outfielder Chris Young (for Heath Bell) and top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer (for shortstop prospect Didi Gregorious), plus he’d made a handful of stealthy free agent signings (Brandon McCarthy and Eric Chavez). Upton’s name continues to pop up in trade talks, but both Steve Gilbert and Ken Rosenthal recently reported Towers is more likely to trade Jason Kubel.
Most Yankees fans remember the 30-year-old Kubel for his grand slam off Mariano Rivera a few years back (video), and to a lesser degree his dreadful postseason performances against New York while with the Twins (2-for-29 with 13 strikeouts). He signed a two-year, $15M deal with the D’Backs last winter and rewarded them by hitting .253/.327/.506 (115 wRC+) with a career-high 30 homers. Let’s see if he’s a fit for the Bombers…
- Kubel, a left-handed batter, hits righties pretty hard. He posted a .264/.348/.540 (129 wRC+) line against them this past year and .267/.338/.485 (119 wRC+) over the last three years. As his spray charts show (2012, 2010-2012), he’s primarily a pull hitter against righties and that will play very well in Yankee Stadium.
- Despite the modest OBP, Kubel works the count very well. He saw a career-high 4.25 pitches per plate appearances in 2012, and over the last three seasons it’s 4.13 P/PA. That’s up there in Kevin Youkilis and Nick Swisher territory. Kubel drew a walk in 11.4% of his plate appearances against righties this year and 9.7% over the last three years.
- Outside of a foot sprain that cost him two months in 2011, Kubel has avoided the DL every year since knee surgery cost him the entire 2005 season.
- There’s a $7.5M club option ($1M) buyout in Kubel’s contract for 2014. It’s affordable enough that even if his team doesn’t want him in 2014, they would be able to exercise the option and find a trade partner.
- Kubel is a platoon bat. He hit just .234/.291/.446 (90 wRC+ and 29.6 K%) against southpaws this season and .239/.304/.403 (90 wRC+) over the last three years. That’s not an Ibanez-level split, but it’s still below-average.
- The various defensive metrics all agree that Kubel is a poor defender in both outfield corners. He has plenty of experience in each spot and this isn’t a sample size issue. He’s a terrible defensive player.
- Speed? It’s not happening. Kubel has eleven stolen bases (in 17 attempts) in nearly 900 big league games, and he’s taken the extra base just 30% of the time his career. That’s well-below-average and awful.
Towers is the president of the anti-strikeouts fan club, which is why he’s traded Mark Reynolds and Chris Young while letting Adam LaRoche walk as a free agent since getting the job in Arizona two years ago. Kubel’s strikeout rate has climbed in each of the last five years, topping out a career-worst in 2012, so perhaps that’s why the club is more inclined to move him than Upton. Both guys will whiff 120+ times a year, but Upton offers a ton more upside and a more well-rounded game in general.
The $7.5M price tag for 2013 isn’t cheap, but the Yankees would be able to maximize Kubel’s value by sticking him at DH and letting him take a couple hundred at-bats against righties. The short right field porch with his pull-oriented approach should result in some big power numbers, enough to replace Ibanez and make up for some the offense lost by going from Nick Swisher to Ichiro. He can also fake the outfield in case of emergency and is right in the prime of his career, so age-related decline is not a concern.
There haven’t been many trade involving one year of a left-handed platoon-ish DH in recent years, so we don’t have many comparables. Arizona acquired their shortstop of the future in Gregorious but they still need a long-term third base answer, though they’re unlikely to get that type of player back for Kubel. For Upton? Sure. But not Kubel. The hard-throwing but erratic Tony Sipp is their only lefty reliever, so maybe the eminently tradeable Boone Logan and a solid (but not elite) prospect would work for the D’Backs. I didn’t like the idea of Kubel as a everyday right fielder, but he sure does fit New York’s need as a left-handed DH.
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