Not that the expected move to decline Lance Berkman‘s $12 million club option should overly concern Texas Rangers fans going into 2014, but it does a fair share in driving home the point that Jon Daniels and co. are going to have their work cut out for them to fill key roles this offseason, yes?
The most urgent of these is likely an outfielder/DH, as the team is now only Nelson Cruz and David Murphy departure away from finding themselves in an … undesirable situation.
As it so happens though, the baseball gods have seemingly taken it upon themselves by playing Cupid, as a former 30-homer lefty slugger who can play both the corner outfield role and DH has recently hit the open market: Jason Kubel. And unlike Berkman, he is still in his prime at 31-years old. In fact, if you were to ignore his 2013 season entirely, you might almost say that he’s practically ready-made to fit into the 2014 Rangers lineup.
Unfortunately, those kinds of mulligans are’t easily handed out to veterans, and throwing a wrench into this whole Kubel-Rangers thing is that he had a disastrous season in 2013 … if you were being nice.
With both sub-par defense as usual (10.8 fielding runs below average) and total ineffectiveness at the plate (.216/.293/.317 triple-slash) in an injury-riddled season (only 290 PA total), the slugger’s -1.7 fWAR season would rank him second last among DHs, and tied for dead last among all outfielders in the bigs with Mark Kotsay.
It’s not to say that the guy was ever a perennial All-Star, but for all of his defensive shortcomings, he’d been a solid offensive contributor for most of his career, owning a .785 career OPS and reaching at least 20 homers in four out of the last six seasons. Should Rangers (or any other team) take a chance on him, that power — and little else — is what they’ll be looking to bank on.
And they shouldn’t have the break the bank to do so either. His precipitous drop in production in 2013 combined with his $7.5 million 2014 option being declined sets him up for a major pay cut on a make-good contract — perhaps one incentive-laden year at $3-4 million, or a two-year deal at under $10 million?
That’s significantly less than what the team was paying Berkman in 2013, and if Kubel’s rough year had anything to do at all with his multitude of quad and back injuries, any sort of bounce back in 2014 should yield them above-replacement value overall, which is more than what you could say about Berkman. The power upside is there, and he isn’t so old that a steady decline should necessarily be expected.
Then again, this is someone whose K/9 was been rising at an alarming rate over the last seven seasons (from 17 percent in 2007 all the way to 31.7 in 2013), and who somehow managed to .216 BA despite a .311 BABIP and career-high 26.6 percent line drive rate, which should tell you how many outs he made by whiffing. As well, he’s best utilized as a DH only at this point, and he likely requires some sort of a platoon partner due to his lefty-righty splits (.642 OPS vs. RHP, .414 OPS vs. LHP in 2013).
So … I suppose you could see why he’s currently in the MLB job searching market. Still, it’s not at though there aren’t positive signs (his LD rate, for one, and that he was effective in 2012), and for a team like the Rangers who took a chance on Berkman, you might even say that this is a safer play due to the price that Kubel could be signed for.
Given the relative little risk (they should still have money so go after a big-name OF even if Kubel is signed), Texas seems to have little to lose in this scenario, with the minimum upside of at least giving themselves a plan B.