-Christopher Walken on my sidebar.
I went to a game this summer with an out-of-town friend who'd come to check out Target Field.
He was amazed by the stadium, but sometime during the second inning he paused with alarm while sipping his beer.
"Are the fans booing one of their own players?" he asked.
I was confused. Then I noticed Jason Kubel was batting. "Oh, no," I chuckled, "they're saying KUUUUUUBES."
"I see," he sighed with a sense of relief. "I didn't think Minnesota fans would do that."
If only he could see us now. Kubel went 0-for-8 in the ALDS this year, giving him a 2-for-29 career mark in the playoffs, and now I can barely find a Twins fan who doesn't want him shipped out during the offseason. Granted, Kubel had a fairly substandard season this year, but he did rank second on the team in home runs, and second in RBI. It's not like he wasn't producing. What is wrong with these people?
Due to his anemic postseason numbers, there seems to be some question about Kubel's fortitude. This blows my mind. Kubel, as a major-league player, has an OPS sixty points higher with runners in scoring position than with bases empty. A career .394 hitter with the bases loaded, Kubel has hit seven grand slams. He's delivered some of the most memorable clutch hits of the past two seasons. He single-handedly broke the Yankees' spell over the Twins with a game-winning grand slam against Mariano Rivera in Yankee Stadium. It's silly to think that this man folds under pressure.
So, to what can we attribute Kubel's dismal postseason results? My guess would be circumstances and a lack of luck.
Kubel's first playoff experience came in 2004, when he was a 22-year-old rookie with one whole month of big-league experience under his belt. He went 1-for-7 with a double and an unforgettable late-inning strikeout against Mariano Rivera. Painful, but it's hard to hold that performance against him.
Kubel's next postseason experience didn't come until 2009, when he participated in the first of two consecutive ALDS sweeps against the Yankees. In six games between the two series, Kubel went 1-for-22 with 11 strikeouts. Ugly numbers, no doubt. But four of those six games were started by CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, both outstanding left-handers.
He is miserable against lefties. It's no secret, but it doesn't make him a bad player. He was also arguably the most dangerous hitter in the league against right-handers in 2009, and slugged 19 homers against them this past season even in a down year. Given that around 70 percent of the league's pitchers tend to throw with their right arm, a player like that has plenty of value.
The Twins have a $5.25 million option to retain Kubel's services for next season. Sure, they could buy it out for $350,000 and let him loose. But who's going to make up his 20 home runs in 2011? He's hit at least that many three years in a row and it's not often that the Twins come across players with such consistent power production. What happens if he goes somewhere else (say, to the White Sox, who sorely need a power-hitting DH) and has another season like his spectacular 2009? The Twins would look every bit as foolish as the Sox did this year for letting Jim Thome slip away to a division rival.
I'll concede that Kubel's upcoming salary is somewhat substantial for a player who can't competently field or hit right-handed pitching. If he doesn't improve on his performance from this year, it'd be a poor use of funds. But the Twins are already pumping far more money into Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, against all of whom Kubel looks like an incredibly safe bet. We know what the slugging lefty is capable of and earlier this season hometown fans were offended by the thought that he'd be booed at a home game.
Just because he failed to come through in eight postseason at-bats -- most of them unfavorable match-ups -- those same hometown fans are ready to run him out of town? It's a complete overreaction that hopefully will not gain any consideration from the front office.