The poor man’s Beltran

Yankees win the game, but lose Colon
Game 63: Roster Moves

Yesterday I examined Nick Swisher‘s unfortunate results from the left side of the plate and argued that he’s a likely candidate to do better in the coming year. I also mentioned that Carlos Beltran was a fan favorite as a trade target. You don’t need me to explain why he’s a favorite as a trade target, but I’ll do it anyway. Beltran has always played excellent defense, he’s a switch-hitter, and he hits for power. He’s the lifetime owner of a .371 wOBA, a .282/.359/.495 batting line, and 289 home runs. This year he’s doing a touch better with a .284/.371/.512 line, a .382 wOBA. He’s showing a bit more power despite coming off a serious knee injury and hitting half his games at Citi Field. As trade targets go, you really can’t do too much better than Carlos Beltran. He’s a free agent after this season and he’s doing his best to set himself up for another nice payday. It’s not like he exactly needs another payday, having pulled in $119M from the Mets over the past seven years, but hey, I’ve lived in New York. Life ain’t cheap.

Plenty of teams will be in on Beltran this summer. Plenty of teams could use a half-season rental of a switch-hitting, power-hitting good defender. The primary deterrent to acquiring Beltran is likely his steep salary, but the Mets have indicated that they’re willing to absorb some of that salary in exchange for better prospects. Now, this could simply be posturing to get more teams involved and extract more from interested parties, but it’s hard to know for sure. The Mets may have more financial flexibility now that they partnered with David Einhorn. They may not be an East Coast version of the Los Angeles Dodgers anymore – they may be able to eat some of his contract.

This is a long way of saying that this confluence of factors – Beltran’s skillset and the Mets’ flexibility of demands – may mean that another team snatches Beltran from Queens before the Yankees can get their sticky little fingers all over him. But the Yankees could find a decent replacement in Twins outfielder Jason Kubel.

All the stars are lining up for Kubel to get traded this summer: he’s on a losing team, he has a decent in-demand skillset, and he has an expiring contract after this year. Twins’ blog The Bat Shatters makes the case for keeping Kubel, and summarizes the arc of his career nicely:

Kubel destroyed Minor League pitching for 4 years before getting a shot at the bigs in 2004. He didn’t disappoint, hitting .300/.358/.433 as a 22-year-old in 23 games with the Twins. That fall, he endured a serious knee injury which kept him out of baseball for the entire 2005 season, and while he re-emerged with the Twins in 2006, the results were nothing like before. Kubel struggled for a couple of seasons in 2006 and 2007 before putting it all together in 2008. In ’08, he hit .272/.335/.471 with 20HRs and 78RBIs while seeing part-time action in the outfield. In 2009, he had his ‘breakout’ hitting .300/.369/.539 with 28HRs and 103 RBIs. In a contract-year last season, he only managed a .249 batting-average, but did surpass the 20 homerun plateau for the 3rd straight season while driving in 92 runs…

Over the last three years, Kubel has the 11th highest OPS (.883), the 11th highest batting average and the 8th most HRs against right-handers…among all of the outfielders in baseball. You won’t find his name on the WAR leaderboards, but that’s because his defense is so atrocious. If he was strictly in a DH role, his value would increase. Without Thome next year, the Twins will likely have an opening at DH, a role Kubel is familiar with and could probably excel in.

I’m not trying to make it sound like Kubel is a superstar player. He’s not. What I am trying to say is that Kubel, as a left-handed hitter with power, possesses an offensive skill-set that is not all that common in MLB, and is not easily replaceable if they trade him or let him go.

As Krueger notes, Kubel hits right-handed pitchers well, the type against whom Nick Swisher has struggled lately. Kubel is the owner of a career .286/.345/.499 line against right-handed pitchers. By way of comparison, Beltran is a career .293/.364/.529 hitter against right-handed pitchers. Kubel is playing for a paltry $5.25M this year, a far cry from Beltran’s hefty salary, and he’ll be a free agent when the season is done. He isn’t as good against left-handed pitchers (.664 OPS against), but if he’s deployed properly he could do some damage in the Yankee lineup and bop a few fly balls over that short porch in right.

Kubel may cost less than Beltran for an acquiring team (depending on how much money the Mets eat), and this is for good reason. He’s not as good in the field as Beltran, and he’s not capable of hitting left-handed pitchers nearly as well as Beltran can. But he’s not a scrub: he has a solid bat, he’s cheap, and he’s a free agent at the end of the year. He currently profiles as a Type B free agent, so the Yankees could offer him arbitration and pocket the picks if he declines. If he accepts it’s not the end of the world – he only makes $5.25M in 2011, and the Yankees could always trade him elsewhere.

As it stands right now the Yankees have the corner outfield and DH spots manned by capable hitters, and I’m not sold that the team needs to do anything in the trade market to bolster the offense. I’d far rather see them call up that kid in Scranton that everyone won’t shut up about. But if something changes – if Posada, Gardner or Swisher get injured, or if Montero is traded – then Kubel might be a good fit. If the Yankees are looking for another outfielder-DH-bench bat type with thump and don’t want to pay the high price likely commanded by the Mets for Beltran, they could do worse than Kubel.


Yankees win the game, but lose Colon
Game 63: Roster Moves
  • Charles

    The problem with Kubel is that hes a defensive liability (putting it nicely), I’d prefer Beltran because he actually can play defense and he can be had for fairly cheap if the Yanks pickup most of his salary. While Kubel will probably cost a bit more since the Twins are likely going to be rebuilding at the deadline.

    Also if you look at his career splits:
    Against right handers hes .336/.379/.522
    Against left handers hes .258/.306/.348

    I’d prefer a guy like Beltran who has remotely equal stats against both so it would give the team a bit more versatility.

    • Zack D

      I think everyone would prefer Beltran. But if the Wilpons make a stink about sending Beltran to across town, or they’re demanding Yanks eat all the salary and try to get a real prospect in return – then there’s has to be a Plan B.

    • Doug

      Agree. Kubel really can’t play the OF with any reliability. And when Chavez comes back (crossing fingers), we have our lefty bat off the bench.

      Definitely need some with a little more versatility.

  • zs190

    My problem with Kubel is that he’s really bad defensively and is not a whole lot more than a DH. If we are going for DH types, Jim Thome is a way better bet to mash RHP and probably even cheaper; If we care about defense, I’m not sure Kubel is better than Dickerson. Dickerson has a .348 career wOBA vs RHP (Kubel is .361 vs RHP) and is a legit CF who can play all OF spots.

    • Stephen Rhoads

      Ive thought a lot about Thome. My only concern would be w/ him is that he’s only a DH type and he’s currently injured. Just not sure, at this point in his career, how much he can be counted on to get and stay healthy, and to continue to produce at a high level.

      • zs190

        is Jason Kubel more than only a DH type? The sample size for UZR is fairly small for him because they used him as DH a lot but he’s basically a -15 to -20 UZR/150 kind of guy, that’s horrific and I really don’t want to have him play defense if at all possible, ala Marcus Thames.

        It’s a good point that Thome is actually hurt right now with a sore quad, it didn’t sound serious before but they gave him an epidural on Friday and we’ll see how it goes. I feel pretty good about his chance to mash RHP but obviously with mid-season pickups, it’s hard to predict. We traded for Lance Berkman last year hoping he would mash but he just didn’t hit all that well even though he’s putting up MVP numbers this year and most of his career.

  • CMP

    I can’t see too many teams not asking the Mets to eat some of Beltran’s contract so the Yankees should be able to make the best offer from a monetary stand point. By taking on his whole salary, the cost in prospects should be lower as well.

    Beltran’s probably gonna be a type B free agent too I would imagine, so if Cashman ever gets over his phobia of offering players arbitration, they could get a pick too.

    • zs190

      arbitration is for 20+ million a year though, i’m not offering him arbitration for a chance at sandwich pick unless I get a guarantee from him and Boras that he’s not taking it

      • CMP

        Beltran makes $18.5 million this year so if it came to that, I think the Yankees and Beltran could come to an agreement around $16-17 million.

        At his age with his injury history though, you would think he’d be crazy to take a one year deal. This is probably his last chance at a multi-year deal.

        Besides on the off chance he accepted, they could always pick up Swisher’s option and trade him while making Betran the RFer. You’ll pay more but the position would be upgraded. Swisher on a one year $10.5 million deal should have at least decent trade value.

        • zs190

          He’s 34 and coming off serious knee injuries. He can’t run anymore and he’s most likely a corner OF now after playing just 140 games combined the last two seasons. I don’t think anyone’s banging on the door to sign him to a 2 yr/30 million deal right now nevermind more years. When was the last time someone could have gotten 20 million in arbitration and settled for a 16-17 million deal with the team instead?

          Don’t think any team will offer Beltran arbitration regardless of which team he goes to, there is just way too much risk involved.

    • Zack

      Beltran can’t be offered arbitration, it’s in his contract.

  • nycsportzfan

    Kubel Makes a ton of sense, because we need a “HITTER” not just a masher, and Kubels batting over 300right now.. Maybe we can pull a Kubel/Matt Capps deal off, and kill 2 birds with one stone… I think u gotta look at teams where u can get 2 players, a hitter and starter, or a starter and reliever, or reliever and hitter… Matt Capps would look good in pinstripes… Maybe a Austin Romine , Adam Warren, jairo heredia type deal works or something…

    • Red “The Strawman” Herring

      What are Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte doing nowadays?

      • Rainbow Connection

        Wearing championship rings.

    • JMK

      Nova for Kirby Bucket. DO IT CASHMEN OR UR THE WORST

  • Russelling

    Kubel is a better addition IMOP than Beltran. Beltran is a fraction of what he was. Kubel is a gamer.

  • Kosmo

    Melky Cabrera

  • EndlessMikeJr

    Beltran would be great.In a smaller ballpark he’ll hit better for power. Beltran can hit in the clutch as good as Jeter and isn’t a streaking hitter like Granderson or Swisher.