MINNEAPOLIS — Jason Kubel doesn’t often show emotion, but he started to get a bit choked up Sunday as he stood in front of his locker just a few minutes after the Twins designated him for assignment.
After eight years in Minnesota, it appears Kubel’s time here has run out.
"I just had a lot of good memories," Kubel said Sunday. "A lot of big wins. A lot of big homers. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s something I’ll never forget."
The Twins designated Kubel for assignment after signing veteran free agent Kendrys Morales to a one-year contract. Needing to make room on both the 25-man and 40-man rosters, something had to give. As it turned out, the struggling Kubel was the odd man out.
Kubel, 32, was batting just .224 with one home run and 13 RBI. Since the end of April, though, Kubel hit a mere .158 with one RBI and no extra-base hits. He was in the midst of an 0-for-31 skid before Sunday’s news.
The Twins and Kubel were waiting for something to click and for him to break out of his slump, but his struggles at the plate continued.
"I was hoping, yeah. It just didn’t come around," Kubel said. "It’s been like this for the last couple years. It’s just been rough. . . . I wish I knew what it was so I could fix it. It just never got better."
Kubel began his career with the Twins, who drafted him in the 12th round of the 2000 Major League Baseball draft. He debuted in 2004 but missed all of 2005 with a knee injury. By 2008 Kubel had his first 20-home run season and had a career year in 2009 when he hit 28 homers and drove in 103 runs.
"He was a productive player for this club for a long time," said Twins general manager Terry Ryan.
As a free agent prior to the 2012 season, Kubel left Minnesota and signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In his first year there he hit a career-high 30 home runs in 141 games. His 2013 season was plagued by injuries, however, and he batted .216 with just five homers for the Diamondbacks and Cleveland Indians.
Despite a down year last season, the Twins signed Kubel to a minor-league deal this past winter with an invitation to major league spring training.
Kubel made the club out of camp and hit .288 with 12 RBI in April. But as his slump continued through May and into June, Minnesota had little choice but to let Kubel go.
"That was a difficult meeting," Ryan said. "We talked this morning and I explained the situation, told him I’m not thrilled about how it’s come about. . . . I thanked him for his contributions over the years to this organization. We tried, and it just wasn’t working out to the point where we were just going to keep going that direction."
Kubel was in the clubhouse at the same time as Morales, which isn’t often the case when a move like this is made — and their lockers were right next to each other. After Kubel got the tough news, he was greeted by hugs and handshakes from his teammates and Twins coaches.
As he stood in front of his locker, Kubel was asked if he had a message for the Twins fans who have watched him evolve as a player since he first debuted a decade ago.
"Thanks for the support," Kubel said. "I’ve had a lot of fun here. It’s been fun coming back, too. They’ve always been great to me. Just thanks for everything."