Baseball is a game built on numbers, strategy and occasionally some good old-fashioned math.
On Saturday, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed veteran outfielder Cody Ross to a three-year deal worth $26 million (largest free agency contract by the team since 2004).
While Ross played all three outfield positions for the Boston Red Sox in 2012, with two-time All-Star Justin Upton patrolling in right field, highly-touted prospect Adam Eaton likely securing the grounds in center field — especially with the October 21 trade of Chris Young — and a logjam in left field with defensive-minded Gerardo Parra and offensive-minded Jason Kubel, the math as it currently stands doesn’t add up in the D-backs outfield.
Depth is never a bad problem to have in any sport. In fact, if a team’s biggest issue during the offseason is depth, odds are the manager isn’t going to complain the following season. But although five outfielders — all of which bring a different set of skills to the lineup — would give Kirk Gibson plenty of options in 2013, the reality is someone likely will be leaving the desert in the coming days or weeks.
In his Sunday morning column, ESPN baseball insider Buster Olney opines that Kubel is likely that odd man out in Arizona.
The Diamondbacks’ intent is to trade another outfielder, and privately, some in the organization have indicated that the most likely guy to go is Jason Kubel.
This is why this deal makes sense from Arizona’s perspective: Kubel is regarded as a very subpar outfielder, while Ross is average, and a better athlete (with more speed) — at the same price. (Nick) Piecoro notes that the signing of Ross raises some questions of logic about Arizona’s plan. If defense is being given a greater value by the Diamondbacks, why did Arizona trade away Chris Young — a better defender than Ross, as well as being younger and carrying less long-term financial burden — early in the offseason for a modest package?
It’s all water under the bridge now: Arizona plows ahead with a higher payroll and more depth at the big league level, and if Kubel does turn out to be the guy the Diamondbacks trade, they could get a second-tier prospect in return for him. Kubel is owed $7.5 million for next season and has a $7.5 million option for 2014, with a $1 million buyout.
Kubel, who hit .250 with a team-high 30 home runs and 90 RBI, signed a two-year deal with the D-backs last December after playing parts of seven seasons with the Minnesota Twins. While Kubel, as Olney noted, has often been considered to be a subpar defender, he led the National League in 2012 with 14 outfield assists.
In fact, arguably more alarming in 2012 was Kubel’s nose dive at the plate over the final two months of the season. After August 1, Kubel hit just eight home runs and drove in 18 RBI, while watching his batting average drop from .287 to .250.
Olney listed the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles as the teams best-suited to land Kubel’s services.