When around fans of certain teams, simply saying a particular name aloud can cause a visible cringe or an audible groan. For Red Sox fans, "Bill Buckner" or "Bucky Dent" can get the job done. For Cubs fans, "Steve Bartman." For Giants fans, "A.J. Pierzynski." And the name that will always hit home for Twins fans is David Ortiz.
We all know the story. Ortiz was an under-performing slugger who the Twins elected to release after the 2002 season. Ortiz signed with the Red Sox and exploded. He developed into a perennial MVP candidate and perhaps the best designated hitter in the game. In six years since leaving the Twins, Ortiz has hit .297 while averaging 38 home runs and 121 RBI while helping the Sox to two World Championships and gaining a reputation as baseball's best clutch hitter. Meanwhile, the Twins have run out an assortment of failed designated hitter options -- from Matt LeCroy to Jose Offerman to Rondell White -- while never having any player come particularly close to Ortiz's average home run output.
Finally, for the first time since Ortiz's departure, the Twins look to have a legitimate DH option in Jason Kubel. It has taken the former star prospect some time to find his stroke after losing a year to a knee injury, but this season he finally started to show what he's capable of this year by hitting 20 homers, driving in 78 runs and slugging .471. Yet, for whatever reason, some fans feel that the team can't get rid of Kubel soon enough.
I have perused several message boards and blogs where fans have suggested that the Twins trade Kubel this offseason or hold off on offering him a long-term contract. Have these people learned nothing from the Ortiz fiasco? If comparing the two seems like a stretch, look more closely.
Both Kubel and Ortiz showed signs of being very good hitters while with the Twins, but both struggled with injuries and inconsistency, which caused the front office (and some fans) to sour on them. Take a look at the numbers Ortiz put up in 2002, his last season with the Twins, as a 25-year-old:
412 AB, .272/.339/.500, 20 HR, 75 RBI
Now compare those numbers to the ones Kubel posted this year as a 26-year-old:
463 AB, .272/.335/.471, 20 HR, 78 RBI
After being released by the Twins, Ortiz signed on with the Red Sox and hit .288/.369/.592 with 31 homers and 101 RBI. The following year he hit .301/.380/.603 with 41 homers and 139 RBI. And so forth.
I'm not saying that anyone should expect Kubel to turn into that type of hitter. But I cannot for the life of me understand why such a large faction of the fanbase has it in for him. This is a guy who hit 20 home runs on a team that ranked last in the league in long balls. He's a guy who hit two homers and a triple in the first game of that magnficent and hugely important series against the White Sox at the Metrodome late in the season. And he's a guy that still can improve. Kubel hit .320 in the minor leagues, there is plenty of reason to believe he can raise that average and his OBP and SLG along with it.
As Ortiz taught us, it's important to be patient with young hitters, which is why some people should rethink their eagerness in suggesting that the Twins trade Kubel or Delmon Young this offseason. I am very satisfied with the year that Kubel had and I don't feel that he's necessarily done growing as a hitter, which is why I strongly advocate that the Twins explore signing him to a three-year deal this offseason, thus locking up his remaining years of arbitration as well as his first year of free agency.
This organization doesn't produce hitters of Kubel's caliber often. It's important that the Twins do everything they can to make sure they don't let another one slip away.