Consider this: the 2009 season is the first year Michael Cuddyer would have been eligible for free agency, and as part of his new contract he’ll be making $6.75 million. Cuddyer has had only one season (2006) in his entire career in which he has posted better offensive numbers than Kubel has in each of his past two. Kubel has improved in each of the past two seasons and is reaching his peak years, so there’s no reason to believe he won’t either sustain or improve his performance over the next three seasons. So, in all likelihood, the Twins will be paying Kubel more than $1.5 million less in his first free-agent eligible season than they are Cuddyer, in spite of the fact that Kubel has pretty clearly established himself as the better hitter. This is a nice contract.
Dave Cameron doesn’t think so. In an article published Wednesday on FanGraphs.com, Cameron asserts that Kubel is basically the same player as Eric Hinske, who signed with the Pirates this week for $1.5 million, and uses this for the basis of an argument that paints Kubel’s contract as a needless risk for the Twins.
Let me first say that I am a huge fan of Dave Cameron. His work at the U.S.S. Mariner is outstanding and he’s truly one of my very favorite baseball bloggers outside of Minnesota. That’s why it pains me to say that he is woefully misguided on this topic.
From a purely statistical standpoint, there is some merit to the Kubel/Hinske comparison. Hinske is a .254/.335/.438 career hitter; Kubel weighs in at .268/.326/.445. Both rate dreadfully in the field, both display some nice left-handed power, both have fairly similar K/BB rates. What Cameron effectively ignores is that Hinske is four-and-a-half years older than Kubel and has nearly 1,800 more major-league at-bats. The only time Cameron makes any mention of the age difference between the two players is in this paragraph:
Yes, Hinske’s five years older, but MLB is full of players with that skillset. Minnesota could have just used Hinske this year, then found his clone next winter, and so on and so forth. Same reward with none of the associated risk that goes with multiyear contracts.This is a completely baffling sentiment. First of all, five years of age and 1,800 at-bats of big-league experience are not inconsequential. We know what Hinske is by this point, but the fact that Kubel was a minor-league stud who missed a year of crucial development time due to a devastating knee injury and has been steadily improving ever since makes it much harder to judge what he’s capable of. In Kubel, I see a player who is inching closer and closer to the monster hitter he was in the minors. In Hinske, I see a washout whose utility doesn’t stretch beyond left-handed pinch hitter. The two players may share a “skillset” but are likely to be on opposite ends of the spectrum this year as far as how effective their skills really are.
As for Cameron’s suggested plan of using Hinske this year, then finding his “clone” next winter and continuing that path to keep the DH spot filled... it's fine in theory, but it's also something the Twins have shown absolutely no ability to do historically. As easy as it ostensibly is to find decent hitters who can fill the DH role, the Twins went almost half a decade without a competent player in that spot until Kubel’s emergence.
As for the supposed risk associated with the contract, the Twins are paying Kubel about a million more than Hinske will make this year (inconsequential considering their budget surplus) and they’re on the hook for $4.1 million in 2010, which they can pretty easily afford. That’s it. That’s all the risk they’re assuming. They can buy out his option for a paltry $350K in 2011 if his game goes to hell. The reward, which Cameron seems to believe doesn’t exist, is that the Twins have locked up a young, improving, in-house slugger to fill a position that has been a huge liability for them historically, and they’ve done so at a very reasonable price. No need to search the scrap heap on an annual basis for the supposedly ever-present slugging DH that is always available for a million bucks. Those who have followed the Twins are sure to appreciate this luxury, and one would think a person who had to suffer through Jose Vidro as a DH a year ago would appreciate it as well.