January 18, 2008

Kubel & Morneau Avoid Arbitration (Update)

Last night, the Twins announced that they reached a deal with Jason Kubel on a one-year $1.3 million deal to avoid going to arbitration with him. It was his first year of three to go through this process. I think that the Twins will likely lock him up, but he has to show what he's got this season, which many think he'll finally break out and put up good numbers, I do as well.

Potentially the biggest problem I see with Kubel this season, isn't necessarily even his fault, it's manager Ron Gardenhire's. We all know that he likes to match-up left-handed hitters vs. right-handed pitchers, and right-handed hitters vs. left-handed pitchers. And rightfully so, if a player has problems hitting against either or, then they should be relieved of that duty if it's at all possible. With Kubel penciled in as the likely opening day starter at DH against the Angels, the Twins still have another player who will be platooning with him as well at that position, who hits from the other side of the plate. That player is Craig Monroe.

Monroe batted a dreadful, .194 and had an OPS of .555 in 263 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers in '07. In his career, he's a .249 lifetime hitter with a more respectable .720 OPS and in fact, nearly two-thirds of his 104 career home runs have come against right-handers. Those numbers though, still aren't great.

Kubel batted .236 against left-handers in '07, but he only had 72 at bats. In his career, he's hit .243 but he only has 115 at bats against southpaw's which is not a fair enough sample size if we want to properly analyze his ineffectiveness to hit against left-handers.

I'd like to see Gardy give the full load to Kubel, as I think it'd only benefit him as we may need to rely on him in a late-inning high-pressure situation and if he hasn't had a lot of AB's against left-handed hitters, he'll likely look foolish at the plate. Of course knowning Gardenhire would probably bring in Nick Punto to pinch hit, which quite frankly, I'd rather just see Kubel take his best whack at it 100 out of 100 times before letting Punto go into a situation like that.

Now, the other big thing I see happening is that Gardenhire likely won't bat Kubel ahead of Joe Mauer, which is in fact the reason why a lot of people are "giddy" about Kubel this season. Reason being is that he hit .328 with 3 home runs and an OPS of .955 in 58 at bats while batting in second, one spot ahead of Mauer.

I personally feel that the Twins will put newly-acquired second baseman Brendan Harris at #2 with Kubel likely finding a home in the bottom third of the lineup. This however would likely mean big numbers for Harris, however I think that Kubel's potential is still higher than Harris', which is why I'd rather see Kubel hit in the two hole.

If Gardenhire sticks with Kubel in the second spot of the batting order, I see big things for Kubel in '08. If not, I am sad to say that I think he'll put up another marginal season, perhaps slightly increasing his average, but probably not by any significant amount.

Justin Morneau also avoided arbitration for the second straight season as he agrees to a one-year $7.4 million deal with the Twins. It's a $2.9 million increase from a year ago, despite putting up significantly lower numbers.

I know that most would rather hear about Morneau, but there really isn't much to talk about with his situation. The Twins will likely explore re-signing him when they figure out what they're going to do with Johan Santana.

Update: Also avoiding arbitration is relief pitcher Juan Rincon who agreed to a one-year $2.475 million deal with the Twins. He had multiple off-the-field issues in 2007 which distracted him and he should be a guy to watch as a rebound player in 2008.