Jason Kubel an odd fit, but he can help Arizona

3 Comments

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.

La Russa steps down as White Sox manager over heart issue

tony la russa
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
1 Comment

CHICAGO — Tony La Russa stepped down as manager of the Chicago White Sox on Monday because of a heart issue, ending a disappointing two-year run in the same spot where the Hall of Famer got his first job as a big league skipper.

La Russa, a three-time World Series champion who turns 78 on Tuesday, missed the final 34 games with the underachieving White Sox. He left the team on Aug. 30 and doctors ultimately told him to stay out of the dugout.

La Russa has a pacemaker implanted in February and doctors later found another heart problem that he has not detailed.

“It has become obvious that the length of the treatment and recovery process for this second health issue makes it impossible for me to be the White Sox manager in 2023,” he said in a statement. “The timing of this announcement now enables the front office to include filling the manager position with their other offseason priorities.”

Chicago began the season with World Series aspirations but was plagued by injuries and inconsistent play. It was 79-80 heading into Monday night’s game against Minnesota.

“Our team’s record this season is the final reality. It is an unacceptable disappointment. There were some pluses, but too many minuses,” La Russa said. “I was hired to provide positive, difference-making leadership and support. Our record is proof. I did not do my job.”

Bench coach Miguel Cairo took over after La Russa stepped away. The White Sox showed a spark right after the change, winning 10 of 14. But they dropped eight straight in late September, dashing their playoff hopes.

La Russa, who is close friends with White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, was a surprise hire in October 2020, and he directed the team to the AL Central title last year.

But the White Sox sputtered throughout much of 2022, and there were chants of “Fire Tony! Fire Tony!” at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“At no time have I been disappointed or upset with White Sox fans, including those who at times chanted `Fire Tony,”‘ La Russa said. “They come to games with passion for our team and a strong desire to win. Loud and excited when we win, they rightly are upset when we play poorly.”

All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson and sluggers Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert missed significant time because of injuries. Catcher Yasmani Grandal and third baseman Yoan Moncada also had health issues, and they underperformed when they were on the field.

There were embarrassing breakdowns, too, like when the White Sox ran themselves into the first 8-5 triple play in major league history during a loss to Minnesota on July 4.

La Russa continued to be a lightning rod for fans who weren’t thrilled with his hiring in the first place. His lineups came under question as did his decisions in games.

Some fans chanted for La Russa’s dismissal following a strange call for an intentional walk to to the Dodgers’ Trea Turner despite a 1-2 count on June 9. Bennett Sousa had just bounced an 0-2 slider, allowing the runner to advance from first to second.

With the base open, La Russa chose to walk Turner even though there were two strikes. It backfired when Max Muncy smacked a three-run homer, propelling Los Angeles to an 11-9 victory.

Another moment that raised eyebrows happened early in the 2021 season.

During a 1-0 loss to Cincinnati, La Russa was unaware of a rule that would have allowed him to use Jose Abreu as the automatic runner at second base rather than closer Liam Hendriks in the 10th inning.

With a 2,900-2,514 record over 35 years with Chicago, Oakland and St. Louis, La Russa trails only Connie Mack on baseball’s career wins list. He moved past John McGraw last season.

But there were big questions about whether La Russa was the right person for the job when the White Sox hired him to replace Rick Renteria. He hadn’t filled out a lineup card since 2011, when St. Louis beat Texas in the World Series. There were doubts about how someone known more for his scowl than smile would mesh with a fun-loving team that had just delivered the White Sox’s first playoff appearance since 2008.

Then, shortly after his hiring, news surfaced of an arrest on misdemeanor DUI charges.

La Russa blew out a tire on the Lexus he was driving in a collision with a curb that February in Arizona, after going to dinner with friends. The case was filed on Oct. 28, one day before the White Sox announced La Russa’s hiring.

He ended up pleading guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving and was sentenced to one day of home detention, a fine of nearly $1,400 and 20 hours of community service.

La Russa also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in Florida in 2007 after police found him asleep and smelling of alcohol inside his running sport-utility vehicle at a stoplight.

La Russa captured championships with Oakland in 1989 and the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011. The former big league infielder and Sparky Anderson are the only managers to win the World Series in the American and National leagues.

He got his first major league managing job at age 34 when the White Sox promoted him from Triple-A to replace the fired Don Kessinger during the 1979 season. He took over that August and led them to a 522-510 record over parts of eight seasons.

The 1983 team won 99 games on the way to the AL West championship – Chicago’s first playoff appearance since the 1959 Go-Go White Sox won the pennant. But La Russa was fired in 1986 by then-general manager Ken Harrelson after the White Sox got off to a 26-38 start, a move Reinsdorf long regretted.