It was announced this morning that free agent outfielder Jason Kubel had signed a two year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks worth $15 million. My immediate thought upon hearing of the Kubel signing was “um….why?” The Diamondbacks have a perfectly capable left fielder in Gerardo Parra. In 2011, Parra had a .774 OPS in his third season in the majors at age 24. Kubel on the other hand, had a .766 OPS at the age of 29. So on the surface, this is a strange move, just because of the extra financial commitment that Kubel will require.
But there’s a second part of this deal that is more crucial than offense, and that is defense. Parra won a Gold Glove in 2011 for his performance in left field, with a 9.8 UZR and +11 DRS, both of which are excellent marks. Playing both corners in limited time in 2011, Kubel turned in a cumulative -2.8 UZR and -3 DRS. Since his rookie year of 2004, Kubel has never had a positive UZR, and his best DRS total has been +1. So essentially, on defense alone, Parra is a full win better than Kubel.
Offensively, Kubel has more power potential. His career ISO is .192, despite a .162 mark in 2011 that was his lowest since 2006. Parra on the other hand, posted a career high in ISO in 2011 at .133. But in a loaded Arizona lineup that features six players with 20 homer potential (Justin Upton, Chris Young, Ryan Roberts, Miguel Montero, Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt), is more power necessary over better defense? The Diamondbacks top three returning starters, Josh Collmenter, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, all have extreme fly ball tendencies. Why would you want to take a glove like Parra’s out of the field in order to add a player like Kubel, who is at best, a minor upgrade on offense, and a major downgrade on defense?
I did hear a rumor that this trade would be a precursor to trading Young, the team’s talented, but frustrating, center fielder. Young is under contract until 2013 for a total of $15.5 million, with a club option for 2014 for $11.5 million, so it’s not as if his contract is a huge bane on the organization. And by putting Parra in center field, the Diamondbacks really aren’t gaining a ton on defense, because Young is pretty damn good in the field. His DRS has been positive in every season of his career, and his UZR has been on the positive side more often than not. Young usually keeps a lower batting average than Kubel, but is a more valuable player overall. Young’s last two seasons have tallied up 4.6 fWAR each, while Kubel is at 3.9 total for his career.
I can’t understand why the Diamondbacks would want to bring Kubel in, especially if it results in Parra getting shifted to a bench role or Young being traded. With this signing coming on the heels of the Trevor Cahill trade that seemed bizarre at the time, I’m really confused as to what exactly Kevin Towers is doing with a team that didn’t need a ton of tweaking to begin with.