When the Twins first signed Jason Kubel to a minor league contract, I was pretty excited but also didn't think too much of it as he was pretty bad in 2013. Between the Diamondbacks and Indians, Kubel only mustered a .216/.293/.317 triple-slash with only 5 home runs in 290 plate appearances. With that type of performance, I really only mustered a "meh" once the obligatory "I've got a fever and the only prescription is more Kubel!" comment was expelled.
However, Kubel feels that his poor performance last year was from a nagging quadriceps injury in his left leg that wouldn't go away for three months. If that's true, then 2013 was just an outlier for Kubel and it would appear that the Twins just got an absolute steal for this season, especially when it seems like both parties believe Kubel is capable of being a DH come April.
Still, there is part of me that is a little worried. First, in the two years since he left the Twins, Kubel's strikeout rate has ballooned. In 2011 (another injury-plagued year for Kubel), his strikeout rate was 21.4%, which was pretty high but still fairly normal for a power hitter. But, last season he was at 31.7%, which was actually a higher rate than Adam Dunn last year, and Dunn is well known for his whiffing. In fact, with enough plate appearances, Kubel would have ranked fourth in the majors last year in strikeout rate, behind Chris Carter, Mike Napoli, and Dan Uggla.
Second, it's the projection models that don't look too favorably on Kubel. Both Steamer and Oliver on FanGraphs see Kubel hitting somewhere around .230/.300/.400 next year, which is pretty putrid for a designated hitter.
Granted, these projection systems often heavily weight the prior season, so there is a good chance that a healthy Kubel could easily beat that .700 OPS. But what if he doesn't? Would the Twins really commit 400-500 plate appearances to him if he's not the Kubel of old?
If the Twins choose to go another route, here are some players that I could see becoming the new designated hitter at some point this season.
We started to see more of Willingham at DH last season after his knee injury, and being the best power threat in the lineup until Miguel Sano arrives, I'm sure the Twins would love to keep him healthy. He may not like avoiding the field in his contract year (he may want to prove to other teams that he can still play outfield), but he really is not a good defensive outfielder.
Arcia was rated as a decent defensive outfielder in the minor leagues, but he did little in the field last year to suggest those reports were correct. It's probably too early in his career to say that he's DH-bound, but with Byron Buxton on the way and Aaron Hicks hopefully roaming the outfield as well, Arcia may simply be pushed out just because he's the least athletic of the group.
This is one where I'm not even fully sure if it could happen. With Joe Mauer at first base and the corner outfield spots full already, Colabello is going to need to play somewhere, but we're not sure where yet. If the Twins still believe in his power potential despite his advanced age in his sophomore year, he could find some at-bats as the DH.
With Miguel Sano's impending arrival, Plouffe will likely be moved off of third base. While some think he'll become a super-utility player, if he's having a good year with the bat the Twins may choose to put him at DH while keeping Arcia and Willingham in the field.
What do you all think? While it would definitely be preferable for Jason Kubel to be the DH all year long, who would you see (or want) filling the role if Kubel falters?