November 1, 2010

Option decisions: Kubel exercised, Punto declined

As expected, the Twins exercised their $5.25 million team option on Jason Kubel for next year. He wasn't worth that salary this season, hitting just .249/.323/.427 in 582 plate appearances for career-lows in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, but Kubel is a strong bet to bounce back at least somewhat at age 29 and duplicating his .271/.335/.463 career line in 2011 would make him worth more or less that money.

Kubel's poor defense and inability to hit left-handed pitching severely limit his value, and while his overall production is solid it's not particularly difficult to find solid-hitting designated hitters and corner outfielders in that price range. Retaining him for only a one-year commitment, even as perhaps a slight over-pay, was probably pretty close to a no-brainer for the Twins, but his presence could complicate things a bit in terms of potentially re-signing Jim Thome.

Justin Morneau missing the final three months of the season meant Kubel and Thome were in the lineup together, but if Morneau is healthy and starting every game that would leave one of Kubel, Thome, Michael Cuddyer, or Delmon Young on the bench. A simple solution would be sitting Kubel or Thome versus lefties and Cuddyer for righties, but in the past Ron Gardenhire has been unwilling to platoon Kubel or Cuddyer and they'll combine to get $16 million in 2011.

In tandem with picking up their $5.25 million option on Kubel the Twins declined their $5 million option on Nick Punto, choosing a $500,000 buyout instead. Normally not paying $5 million for a 33-year-old utility infielder with a good glove and awful bat should be a no-brainer, but there aren't no-brainers with Punto and the Twins. They paid him $4 million in each of the past two years and have given him an average of 434 plate appearances per season since 2005.

In other words, don't be surprised if they attempt to re-sign him at a lesser price. And doing so wouldn't necessarily be a bad move. When he's making $4 million and coming to the plate 434 times having Punto around is a mistake, but for, say, $1 million and 150 plate appearances he would be a perfectly reasonable bench player. For now Matt Tolbert is penciled into the utility infielder role for about $350,000, but Punto is a comparable hitter and a better defender.

Punto came to the Twins along with Carlos Silva and Bobby Korecky in the December of 2003 trade that sent Eric Milton to the Phillies. Since that deal Punto has 2,707 plate appearances, which is fourth-most on the Twins behind only Morneau, Cuddyer, and Joe Mauer. And across baseball Punto is also one of just two players since 2004 to bat at least 2,700 times and post an OPS below .650, with the other being Cesar Izturis.

  • festivus

    Imagine the outrage if they’d picked up his $5 million option. At first glance, signing Punto cheap would seem fine. However, isn’t there a real risk of not signing a “real” replacement for O-Dawg and watching LNP sneak back into the starting lineup? I like Punto as a utility guy who comes in once in a while, but not as an everyday player.

  • http://dwetsocks.blogspot.com Derek

    Aaron where do you get stats like the last paragraph? It’s really interesting stuff, is it readily available?

  • http://jasonwinter.blogspot.com Jason w

    I would guess he uses baseball-reference.com’s Play Index. I don’t have an account with them, so I can’t see names, but I can confirm that there were two players who match the criteria he uses

  • TMW

    I still think Kubel at $5.25 million is a decent value, but after this year, but I would prefer the DH being right handed at Target Field. That scoreboard and the positioning of that limestone overhang cost Kubel a few home runs this year.

  • Large Canine

    Cuddy will find his HR stroke for next year, hit 38 HR’s, bat .268 with 118 rbi’s. Twins will resign him to some crazy contract and then we will be a horible team for 3-4 straight years. Hope I’m way wrong.

  • Mark

    Derek, if you find that last paragraph interesting you must check out baseballreference.com. You can get full access to their “Play Index” section for a small fee. It’s amazing. If you don’t want to pay up the free features and data are incredible too.

  • BR

    I have to think that resigning Punto only happens if they don’t keep Hardy. Slot Casilla into SS and resign Nicky to be an insurance policy and UT guy. Otherwise, I’d rather they save the extra $1M+ and use it to resign a BP guy or two.

    I agree with AG on Kubel. Not unreasonable $ for a 29 yo guy with some pop, but I also agree that there’s too big an overlap between him and Thome. I think this means they lowball Thome (offer a similar deal to last yr’s despite his excellent season). They’d like him back but there’s little chance that he has as healthy and productive a year next year as he did this year. A year older, with a balky back – you’re asking to catch lightening in a bottle twice. What’s that worth to the Twins?

    Plus, they could really use a RH bat instead who can DH and play OF…

  • Son of Shane Mack

    The question isn’t that Punto isn’t valuable as a utility guy. He’s always been valuable as that.

    Sadly, because of Gardy’s perennial love for light-hitting infielders with “hustle” or something – Punto usually doesn’t get used as a utility guy. He’s used like a regular player who can actually hit – kind of like a Cesar Tovar. Unfortunately, unlike Tovar, Punto doesn’t usually provide much in the way of offense.

    I think it would be worth NOT resigning Punto simply to deny Gardy the opportunity to use him as often as possible.

    Of course, I advocated trading him for a bag of used baseballs a few years ago for the same reason. It made sense then, and it makes sense now.

  • mike wants WINS

    RH backup OF next year is Hughes (until he gets hurt again), assuming they have a RH backup OF not named Cuddeyer.

  • http://twitter.com/achester99 Alex

    Aaron — When you start looking at potential free agents, doesn’t Brandon Webb jump out as a guy who would be worth an incentive-laden contract with a base of maybe $3 million? Everyone is saying the Twins need an “ace” (or another, if you think Liriano has that potential), and few pitchers were as ace-y as Webb between 2006 and 2008, when he had three nearly identical seasons in which he averaged 19-8 in 233 IP, with a 3.13 ERA (150 ERA+) and 1.17 WHIP and 7.2 K/9. Granted this was in the NL, and it was 3 years ago, but he’s still younger and cheaper than any other FA with any remote amount of “ace” potential…
    I’d love to see you discuss Webb and some other FA targets with their pros and cons and the likelihood that the Twins actually pursue them…

  • Smitty

    So, where will Punto fit into the Top 40 list, ultimately?