Adding a non-star to play left field shouldn’t have been a priority for the Diamondbacks, but I’m not buying all of the talk that Jason Kubel is a downgrade for Arizona.
That’s not to say it’s not possible. Gerardo Parra hit .292/.357/.427 in 445 at-bats and won a Gold Glove as the Diamondbacks’ primary left fielder last season. He was also 15-for-16 stealing bases. Plus, Parra is just 24 years old, suggesting that he’s only going to get better.
Kubel, on the other hand, is a 29-year-old coming off a .273/.332/.434 season. He’s undeniably a defensive downgrade, with fielding numbers that place him among the game’s worst left fielders.
It’s also not going to be easy to mix-and-match, since both players are left-handed hitters.
However, Kubel’s arrival gives an already solid top-to-bottom lineup even more depth. The Diamondbacks are now looking at Ryan Roberts, who came in at .249/.341/.427 last season, as a No. 8 hitter. Paul Goldschmidt is a threat to hit 30 homers, and he’ll probably bat seventh initially.
As for Kubel, he should be much more comfortable hitting at Chase Field than he was at Target. Kubel came in at .300/.369/.539 with 28 homers in 2009, the last year of the Metrodome. In the two seasons since, he’s hit 12 homers at home and 21 on the road. Target Field appears to be about as harsh on left-handed power hitters as any park in the game, so it’s hardly unrealistic to expect Kubel to bounce back to .280-25 HR at Chase next year.
Even so, maybe the Diamondbacks will be worse with Kubel in left field and Parra on the bench. However, they’re certainly much better equipped for an outfield injury now. With Collin Cowgill gone to Oakland, the Diamondbacks were looking at Willie Bloomquist or a minor league veteran such as David Winfree or Cole Gillespie as a fourth outfielder. Now they’re in terrific position if an outfielder goes down, particularly since Parra can slide over to center field at a moment’s notice. Kubel should also get a crash course at first base, just in case Goldschmidt disappoints.
I was pretty surprised by the Diamondbacks’ move, and it’s easy to say that the money would have been better spent elsewhere. Certainly, Hiroki Kuroda projected to add more wins on to Arizona’s total next season than Kubel does. However, the Diamondbacks ran into the same problem as the Rockies this winter: their easiest offensive spots to upgrade were second base and third base, two extremely limited markets. Interestingly enough, they ended up going the same route as the Rockies with their big signing, plucking a former Twins outfielder. The big difference here is that Arizona gave Kubel a two-year, $15 million contract, while the Rockies went to $31.5 million for three years with Michael Cuddyer.
Also, the Diamondbacks, having gone to the playoffs last year and having already upgraded their rotation with Trevor Cahill, were in much better position to make a “luxury signing” than the Rockies were. Kubel’s addition probably won’t add more than 1-2 wins to Arizona’s total next season, but those 1-2 wins could be very key. The Rockies’ signing of Cuddyer also wasn’t more than a 1-2 win upgrade, and those wins seem less likely to make the difference between going to the postseason and staying home.