Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers recently confirmed why the club waited so long before signing Jason Kubel to a two-year, $15 million contract: Pitcher Hiroki Kuroda failed to respond to Arizona's offer for over 10 days and Towers simply felt weary of the tired will he-won't he game.
Dropping out of the Kuroda race to sign Kubel is a wise move on Towers' part and will ultimately prove better for the Diamondbacks in the arenas of fiscal pragmatism, veteran-yet-youthful leadership, performance potential and trade fodder or movability.
With his $15 million deal, Kubel will earn an average of $7.5 million in 2012 and 2013.
Hiroki Kuroda, on the other hand, cost the Dodgers $11.8 million in 2011 alone. With Kuroda contemplating a deal with the Dodgers or another MLB team or a return to his native Hiroshima Carp, the Diamondbacks would likely have had to up their offer substantially to prevent Kuroda from leaving the country.
Financially speaking, signing Kubel over Kuroda will save the Diamondbacks between $5 and $15 million over the next two years.
Neither Kubel nor Kuroda are exactly in their respective salad days—Kubel will turn 30 years old early in the 2012 season while Kuroda will be 37 years old on Feb. 10, 2012.
Still, Kubel is at that right age to step up and assume a leadership position with a fairly young Diamondbacks squad.
Since being called up in 2004, Kubel has spent his entire MLB career with the Minnesota Twins, which has given him valuable experience and knowledge. In remaining with the same organization for about eight years, Kubel has seen players and coaches come and go—he has seen what works for an organization during their up years and what doesn't during their downs.
Kubel is in prime position to become a mentor for some of the younger Diamondbacks, most notably Gerardo Parra, the player Kubel is most likely to share playing time with in the Arizona outfield.
Kuroda would have a more difficult time becoming a leader with a Diamondbacks pitching rotation anchored by Ian Kennedy and a bullpen featuring J.J. Putz, who is just two years Kuroda's junior.
Kuroda's attempt at mentoring and tutorship would also be made increasingly difficult by the language and cultural barriers sure to crop up. If he ultimately does not return to Japan—where he clearly feels more comfortable, as signified by his serious consideration of Hiroshima's offer—Kuroda might be a better fit with Texas and Yu Darvish than with any other team.
Kubel is a career .271 hitter and had 12 home runs and 58 RBI during an injury-shortened 2011 season. In 143 games in 2010, Kubel hit 21 HR and 92 RBI.
Meanwhile, Kuroda recorded a 13-16 record for Los Angeles in 2011 with a 3.07 ERA and 161 strikeouts. He is a career 3.45 ERA pitcher and experienced a winning season only once out of four seasons pitched because of poor run support.
Before injury prematurely marred his 2011 season, Kubel was a fairly average ballplayer who could hit for a moderate degree of power. Kubel is expected to completely recover during the offseason, meaning spring training and early April will be a vital period in which Kubel either bounces back or falters.
Alternatively, Kuroda was not injured in 2011, and, after experiencing various ups and downs, finished the year with a career-high 202.0 innings pitched in 32 starts.
However, the Diamondbacks have stacked their pitching staff this offseason any may not have really benefited from yet another arm.
Trade or Movability
Both Kubel and Kuroda were previously single-franchise players—Kubel with the Twins and Kuroda with the Dodgers.
Kubel has twice as much MLB experience as Kuroda, who has played only four years in the United States, though Kuroda has more professional experience overall, having played in either the NPB or MLB since 1997.
Kubel will likely gain a reputation around MLB as an average—yet consistent—substitute veteran outfielder, while Kuroda will be an above average—yet slightly inconsistent—veteran pitcher.
Nonetheless, Kubel would likely make a more attractive trade candidate than Kuroda because Kubel, unlike Kuroda, is liquid.
The former Dodgers starter had a no-trade clause with Los Angeles, a clause he refused to waive before the trade deadline in 2011 and a clause that might very well be a requirement for Kuroda's next team.
Kubel is a native of southern California and clearly wanted to return to the region after indicating Los Angeles was his preferred destination. Kubel still enjoys being back in the NL West, noting that the Diamondbacks were "a very, very close second."
Kubel later added, "I like how close [Arizona] is to home and I don't have to worry about going back east anymore, which is really a pain. This is a perfect situation here. And I like the way the ball comes off my bat here."
In addition to the previously mentioned issue of Kuroda's slight homesickness and serious consideration of returning to Japan, Kuroda—unlike Kubel—clearly does not like the way the ball comes off the bat in Arizona, having been hospitalized after taking a line drive to the head while playing in Arizona on Aug. 17, 2009.
Since 2009, Kuroda is 1-2 with a 4.15 ERA at Chase Field.
As a former AL Central player, Kubel hit .347 with a 1.009 OPS against the Los Angeles Angels from 2009 to 2011. The Angels are the AL team located closest to Arizona—Kubel last faced the Dodgers in 2006, receiving only seven at bats and recording just one hit.
In finally hanging up the phone on Kuroda and securing Kubel instead, GM Towers and the Diamondbacks front office made a significantly better deal by avoiding a potential pitching snafu.
In that sense, Kuroda's choice not to affirm Arizona's offer might be considered Kuroda's best possible contribution to the Diamondbacks franchise.
However, exactly what influence Kubel will have in the Arizona outfield remains to be seen. There will be an odd man out next season, and only time will tell if the added competition is a good thing.