April 17, 2006

Another Jerk


An individual who is observed to be inconstant to his plans, or perhaps to carry on his affairs without any plan at all, is marked at once, by all prudent people, as a speedy victim to his own unsteadiness and folly.


- Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers

Heading into spring training the feeling seemed to be that the Twins would begin the season with Michael Cuddyer and Lew Ford splitting time in right field, and would send Jason Kubel down to Triple-A for a couple months to both get healthy and start hitting again after an entire season off. When Kubel started showing that he was relatively healthy and hit well near the end of camp, the Twins decided instead that they would bring him north with the team and hand him regular at-bats in right field.

He started against Roy Halladay on Opening Day and against Josh Towers the next day, and after a couple days on the bench so Cuddyer and Ford could make their season debuts Kubel was back in right field for the next two games. Sadly, after going 0-for-2 with a walk in the sixth game, the Twins abandoned their plan. Over the next six games Kubel received a total of four at-bats, and when Ruben Sierra was activated from the disabled list Sunday Kubel was sent down to make room on the roster.

Kubel's situation represents yet another example of the Twins mismanaging their young hitters. This long-standing tradition is something I discussed earlier this month in relation to Jason Bartlett, and now you can add Kubel's name to the long list of position players who have been jerked around to varying degrees over the years because of the Twins' impatience, indecision, and lack of long-term planning.

If Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan were so impressed with Kubel this spring that they felt he had to make the Opening Day roster, that's fine. However, if that's the case he needed a lot longer than four starts to establish himself in the lineup. And if a poor performance in four measly starts was enough to convince Gardenhire and Ryan that Kubel in fact wasn't ready to be playing regularly in the majors right now, then their decision to bring him north was terribly shortsighted.

Meanwhile, the jerking around of Kubel also meant that the annual tradition of jerking Cuddyer around also took place. With Kubel at Triple-A Cuddyer is now in line for the bulk of the at-bats in right field, which is fine. However, the problem with how the situation played out is that during Kubel's incredibly short opportunity to claim the everyday job, Cuddyer sat on the bench. In fact, Cuddyer's situation was basically the opposite of Kubel's.

Cuddyer barely played during the first six games of the year and then, once Gardenhire apparently soured on Kubel, he was back to playing regularly. Again, this shows a lack of planning on the Twins' part. If they thought this spring that Kubel should be the starter he needed a much longer leash than one week after not playing at all the previous year. And if the team thought this spring that Cuddyer should be the starter they shouldn't have kept him on the bench for the first week of the year.

Instead, Kubel was given false hope and shown that the organization is perfectly willing to jerk someone around if they play poorly for a handful of games. And Cuddyer is now expected to do well with the starting job and will certainly lose his spot in the lineup if he doesn't, yet he wasn't even given the chance to play regularly during the first week of the year to prepare himself. It's a mess all the way around.

I refuse to believe that the lack of development among young position players over the past decade is a coincidence and I refuse to believe that the numerous cases of the team jerking hitters around doesn't have a negative impact. If you give Kubel a starting job and then take that job away from him a week later, that's going to do something to him. If you continuously move Cuddyer in and out of the lineup, nailing him to the bench in between short stints of regular at-bats that come at a different defensive position seemingly every time, that's going to do something to him.

And if you don't believe me, here's what Kubel said shortly after learning of his demotion:

I couldn't relax too much thinking about what might happen. It's been on my mind the whole year. I knew the team couldn't keep three guys out there in right.

As he returns from what was a potentially career-threatening injury, the Twins could have let Kubel experience some success in the minors before calling him up. Instead, they handed him a major-league job that was almost immediately taken away, and in the process demoted him back to Triple-A feeling like a failure. The St. Paul Pioneer Press described Kubel as "teary-eyed" as he headed to Rochester.

When Kubel does return to the Twins he'll almost certainly be feeling added pressure because of how he was treated this time, which is the exact opposite of how you want a young player to feel. Of course, it's wonderful to know that he won't be alone in that feeling. Cuddyer and Bartlett will know exactly what he's going through.


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