The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new priority in the off-season — re-signing Jason Kubel.
With all the uncertainty surrounding Justin Upton and the reality that the Diamondbacks will once again listen to trade offers for him in the offseason and with centerfielder Chris Young likely entering his last year with the organization in 2013, it is imperative that the Diamondbacks lock Kubel up long-term before he hits unrestricted free agency following the 2013 season.
When Arizona signed Kubel to a two-year, $15 million deal in December, it seemed like a luxury that Arizona really didn’t need. With Upton, Young and Gerardo Parra, the Diamondbacks outfield was a position of strength and it was young. But D-backs general manager Kevin Towers pulled the trigger on adding Kubel after his failed attempt to land free agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and Kubel has been nothing short of spectacular. Despite a rough start to August (3-for-24), he is hitting .279 with 23 home runs and 73 runs batted in. He is on pace to hit 34 home runs and drive in 107 runs — many of those RBIs a direct result of hitting behind Upton most of the year and taking advantage of the runners he left on base. But unfortunately after next season, he and the club have a mutual option for 2014 that has little to no chance of being picked up by the left fielder.
It’s hard to imagine that both Upton and Young’s days are numbered in Arizona, but in all likelihood they are. Young is being paid $7 million this season to hit .212 and he is a lifetime .238 hitter. He will make $8.5 million next year which makes him difficult to trade. And while great defensively and a player with some pop (129 career home runs), Arizona is very unlikely to pick up the club option they have on him of $11 million in 2014. You can’t pay a .230 hitter $11 million no matter how good he is defensively. And while Young is terrific in the field, it’s not like he is Brooks Robinson or Ozzie Smith. So next season is probably it for Young.
As for Upton, how many times can Arizona discuss trading him before actually pulling the trigger? This season has been miserable for Upton as he is on pace to hit 13 home runs and drive in 66 runs. He has been a non-factor most of the season. While I still believe the 24-year-old can be a good player and contribute to the success of the team, chances are that his name will be bandied about during the winter meetings. And if Towers finds a deal he likes, I can see him getting out from under the remainder of Upton’s $51.25 million dollar contract.
Upton is making $6.75 million this season but that number jumps to $9.75 next year, $14.25 in 2014 and $14.5 million in 2015. Those last two years are numbers that you pay a great player, not a good player. So if Towers can move him and get something decent back in return, he will.
Which brings us to Kubel. He has been one of, if not the best free agent pick up this season. He has done everything that has been asked of him and more and been a great teammate and clubhouse veteran. He is a proven run producer and is excelling hitting at Chase Field while playing surprisingly good defense in left field. And he is only 30 and very much in his prime.
If Arizona wants to keep him around, they better get working on a new contract this off season. Because if Kubel puts up big numbers again next year he may just price himself out of Arizona. Moving Upton would clear enough money for the organization to pay Kubel fair market value and the Diamondbacks could go forward with a 3-4-5 of Goldschmidt, Kubel and Montero. Not a bad middle of the order.
So while all eyes will be on Arizona adding a shortstop with the likely departure of Stephen Drew and the trade rumors sure to swirl again about Upton, look for the D-backs to start working on a new deal for Kubel to lock him up long-term.