Jason Kubel launched his 24th and 25th homers Thursday as part of Arizona’s 6-3 win over Pittsburgh. Despite some recent struggles, he’s the team leader in homers (by nine) and in RBI (by 11). He’s also hitting .281, which would be the second-highest mark of his career.
I wasn’t nearly as down on the Diamondbacks’ Kubel signing last winter as many in the twitterverse, but I did call it a “luxury signing” due to Gerardo Parra’s presence on the roster. The mistake many made was in looking at it as though the Diamondbacks were choosing Kubel over Parra. What they should have realized is that there would be plenty of room for both.
Of course, Kubel may well have already gone from being underrated last winter to overrated now. While Target Field was an awful place for him to hit as a member of the Twins, Chase Field is making him look quite a bit better than he truly is; 17 of his 25 homers have come at home.
The Diamondbacks, though, won’t have to worry about someone else overpaying him this winter based on those numbers; Kubel will be in the middle of a two-year deal worth a modest $16 million. With Parra also capable of starting, the Diamondbacks will have flexibility in the outfield if they decide to trade Justin Upton or Chris Young this winter.
Ideally, they’d keep the foursome together. However, whereas Upton, Young and Parra cost a combined $14.25 million this year, the salaries figure to climb to about $20.5 million next season and the Diamondbacks may want to spend some of that money elsewhere.
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.