Minnesota makes first official move since re-signing Nick Punto.
As neide reported last week, the Twins had been working on getting Jason Kubel under contract. While deafening silence has been the MO from the front office to this juncture of the winter, I'm more than happy that the Twins made this choice. According to Joe Christensen, Kubel will make about $2.75 million in '09, and $4.25 million in 2010. The option is for $5 million, bringing the the deal to a potential three-year, $12 million dollar total.
Jason's last two seasons have been remarkably similar, with 2008 showing a slight increase in power (21 points in slugging, 22 points in isolated power). At this point he's the only other threat in the lineup besides Justin Morneau to send one long, which gives him some unique value. But more importantly, the Twins have locked up a good hitter through his remaining arbitration years, with an option to keep him in town at a very affordable price. Even with his injury history, a three-year deal for a hitter from ages 27 - 29 is relatively low risk.
This move means that all five of the outfielders on the major league depth chart are under team control through at least the next two seasons, with Michael Cuddyer being first up when his deal expires at the end of 2010. Does this have any effect on whether or not the Twins view any of these outfielders as expendable? I don't think so; if the offer had been to any of the younger three, the answer would naturally be yes. But in this situation, all Minnesota has done is buy up a year of free agency from Kubel. So if, like me, you're looking for clues as to how the Twins will balance out playing time for five guys who want to play full time, there's nothing of use to be found here.
Moving back to Kubel specifically, among designated hitters with more than 200 plate appearances in 2008, his OPS (.805) ranks 5th out of 13. Milton Bradley (.999), Aubrey Huff (.912), David Ortiz (.877) and Jim Thome (.865) are the top four, while he had a better year than big names like Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Frank Thomas, Travis Hafner and Cliff Floyd. This isn't to say that Kubel is unequivocally better than any of these guys, or that he's the fifth-best DH in the league, but it's definitey representative of what kind of production he's capable of. On top of that, he'll be 27 this season. The rest of these guys are at least four years older, and some won't even be in the league while Jason will still be in the physical prime of his career. After many, many years with a dearth of talent or options at designated hitter, I won't lie, it feels good to think that for at least a couple of seasons our search for a bonafide offensive force at that position could be in the rear view mirror.
This is big news for the Twins, all things considered over the off-season. If you're jonesing for a bit more action, and I can't blame you, hang onto this thought: for the first time in years, the Twins haven't gone after bargain bin veterans on the backslides of their career in order to supplement the roster. At least they haven't done this yet. And that's a good thing.