Outside of the mega-names like Pujols, Fielder, Reyes and Wilson, the 2011-12 offseason featured a mix bag of free agents of varying abilities. In particular, it was incredibly difficult to rank the top free-agent outfielders. Based upon free agent rankings by Hardballtalk.com the top free agent outfielders in order were Carlos Beltran, Michael Cuddyer, Josh Willingham and Jason Kubel.
As we all know, Kubel signed a 2 year $15 million deal with the D-Backs. Beltran went to the Cards for 2 years $26 million, Cuddyer to the Rockies for 3 years $31.5 million and Willingham to the Twins for 3 years $21 million. Of the four deals, Cuddyer’s is the most ridiculous. I hate this move for the Rockies. Once a good–never great–player, Cuddyer’s numbers have been plunging the last few seasons as the Twins superstars–Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau–have been hit with the injury bug. He might enjoy a brief career resurgence in the thin air of Denver and hitting with Troy Tulowitzki in his lineup, but he’s near the end of his career. Over $10 million a year is too much for a player with his diminishing skill set. Beltran’s deal makes sense in that the Cards were desperate to try to replace Pujols. The Cards are banking on a return to form for a guy who’s proven he can hit 30 HRs and 100 RBI. The question is can he still produce like it. With only a two year deal it is a calculated risk that didn’t come at a bargain price–unless you’re comparing his deal to the Cuddyer deal–but is understandable.
I’ve got no problem with Josh Willingham to the Twins. Willingham has the lowest per year salary of the four and might have the most power of them. He’s not great in the field, and his average is lower than you’d like, but at a minimum he’ll be an excellent replacement for Cuddyer.
Of the four player, Jason Kubel is the best value in my opinion. At $7.5 million Kubel is the youngest of the four players by 3 years and an improved defender. The D-Backs likely saved a lot of money based upon Kubel’s 2011 foot injury that dampened his overall numbers. Kubel was peaking and heading toward the prime of his career before the injury. He was coming off two seasons of 20+ home runs and 90+ RBI before his injury plagued 2011.
I know the ability of Jason Kubel all too well as a Tiger fan. When healthy, he can get hot and stay hot in a series and seemed to always come up with the big hit to break the Tigers back. I’ve always viewed him as a superior player to Cuddyer, so the fact that his deal is dwarfed by Cuddyer’s is perplexing to me. Kubel’s gritty play and clutch hitting will catch on quickly with D-Back fans, but with a crowed outfield and Gerardo Parra not ready to give up left field without a fight, it remains to be seen if Kubel will even start for the Diamondbacks to begin 2012. Regardless, he’s too talented of a player to sit on the bench for long and he’ll find a regular spot with the D-Backs eventually.
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