Future free agent?
Posted: March 5, 2011 8:00 a.m. CT
By KELSIE SMITH
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Jason Kubel's loudest statement of spring came Monday at City of Palms Park, with the quiet outfielder uttering nary a word.
Kubel got his first hit and first homer of the spring out of the way at the same time, smashing a solo home run off Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka in a Grapefruit League game.
The ball sailed high and deep to center field, bouncing off the batter's eye and back onto the field. When the ball left his bat, Kubel observed briefly before dropping his bat to make his way around the bases as he always does - his head down, his pace just purposeful enough, his expression almost ever unchanging.
The homer was convincing to say the least, though when asked about it the next day, Kubel only chuckled sheepishly. For five seasons now, he's been the quietest member of the Twins, the player most often seated alone at his locker while others engage in card games and general banter.
But Kubel's silence in the clubhouse never has been important to the Twins. What has become alarming is his silence in the postseason.
In the American League Division Series last season, Kubel went 0 for 8 with three walks and two strikeouts, bringing his career results in three postseasons to a disheartening 2 for 29 with 13 strikeouts and three walks.
The Twins picked up Kubel's option over the winter but never spoke with him about anything more. That means as of now, the 28-year-old will be a free agent at season's end. And though Kubel contends his postseason results don't weigh on him, his first response when asked about the possibility of hitting free agency this winter betrayed that contention.
"That's another thing that could also play into it if my time was done here," Kubel said. "Teams could look at that and say, 'Well, he doesn't perform in the postseason,' but I don't know. It's just one of those things that hopefully will turn around. I keep saying that, but I didn't feel bad this last postseason, just hit it right at guys."
Another element could come into play if Kubel reaches free agency. He long has said he wants to be an outfielder primarily, that he is too young to be considered a designated hitter alone. Justin Morneau's concussion last season shifted Michael Cuddyer from right field to first base and opened up a spot for Kubel, who turns 29 in May, in right. As a result, he played 98 games in the outfield and 42 as the DH in 2010 compared with 80 games at DH and 58 in the outfield in 2009.
A teammate's injury isn't how Kubel wants to get a chance to play defense, but that might be the only way he'll play in the outfield. The Twins expect Morneau to be ready to reclaim first base by Opening Day, and that would move Cuddyer back to his place in right field. Delmon Young remains the everyday left fielder, leaving Kubel the everyday DH.
Looking beyond the 2011 season doesn't afford much more hope. Some of the Twins' best prospects - Ben Revere, Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson - are outfielders.
If Kubel does reach free agency, might an offer to play defense regularly be a deciding factor in where he ends up?
"It does make it a little hard," he said of the outfield logjam. "We've got a couple (possible) replacements for Cuddy, myself and Delmon. There are plenty of options."
Still, those young options can't offer what Kubel can - a track record (in the regular season, at least).
For each of the past three seasons, he has hit at least 20 home runs (20 in 2008, a career-high 28 in 2009 and 21 last year).
Kubel, though, is trying not to focus on the past, with its troubling postseason results, or the future. He's trying to enjoy the now -- something he's done wonderfully so far this spring. In four Grapefruit League games, Kubel is 6 for 11 with three doubles, one homer and four runs batted in.
"I've thought about it, but I try not to think about it too much," he said of his uncertainty with the Twins beyond 2011. "Right now, I'm just happy with the way things are going so far this spring, just with the way I've started off, the way I'm swinging, the way I feel."