MLB Free Agents 2012: Is Jason Kubel the Most Underrated Hitter on Market?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 20, 2011

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 17:  Outfielder Jason Kubel #16 of the Minnesota Twins rounds the bases after his fourth inning home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on April 17, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

This year's MLB free-agent market will be light on pitching, but there are plenty of heavy hitters to keep an eye on. No doubt you've heard all about Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes.

If a team has the money, it can go for one of these guys. Only trouble is that only a small handful of teams actually have the money to sign one of the heavy hitters, and even fewer will actually be in the market for one of them.

These teams will look to find much cheaper bats, and the good news is that there are plenty of those to be had, as well.

From where I’m sitting, one of the most intriguing hitters of the bunch is Jason Kubel, who has filled a number of roles for the Minnesota Twins since 2004.

Unfortunately for him, Kubel is hitting free agency after the wrong year. He would have made off with a much sweeter contract had he been a free agent after 2009, a year in which he hit. 300 with 28 homers and 103 RBI. Instead, he's coming off a year in which he hit just .273 with 12 homers and 58 RBI. He also missed all of June with an injury.

Kubel made just over $5 million in 2011, but you have to think he's not going to get much more of a raise. My best guess is that he could probably be had for $7 or $8 million per year on a relatively short three or four-year deal. He certainly won't get Pujols/Fielder/Reyes money, anyway.

However, there are a couple of reasons to believe that Kubel could end up being a great value signing for whoever picks him up. He may be coming off a couple of down seasons, but he's a classic case of a player whose numbers don't really tell the whole story.

One of Kubel's biggest problems these last two years is that he played half of his games at Target Field, which is not a park that is friendly to power hitters like himself. Take a look at Kubel's numbers, and you'll see that his slugging percentage was higher away from Target Field in both 2010 and 2011. There was a huge difference this past season, as Kubel slugged .377 at home and .476 on the road.

The other thing you have to keep in mind is that Kubel was hitting in a Twins lineup that really wasn't very strong in 2010 or 2011. Both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau missed time, and that made life tougher for Kubel.

So I think if you take Kubel out of Minnesota and put him in a good hitter's park and in a solid lineup, you're going to see his production increase. In a perfect world (i.e. a perfect situation), he may even return to the form that he demonstrated in 2009.

Not a bad gamble to make seeing as how Kubel will likely be had on the cheap.

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