This offseason, the Rays already acquired one potential superstar outfielder, Wil Myers. They would love to acquire another, Justin Upton, at the right price. But as we discussed yesterday, a trade between the Rays and Diamondbacks involving Upton doesn’t appear to make sense for both sides. But even if Upton is not a realistic option, the Diamondbacks still have a major outfield surplus with Upton, the recently-signed Cody Ross, Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra, and prospects Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock, both of whom saw big league time and don’t have anything left to prove at Triple-A. Could the Rays have interest in acquiring one of Kubel, Parra, Eaton, and Pollock as they look to upgrade their offense for next season?
Before we even talk about a trade, how badly do the Rays need an outfielder? As it stands right now, the Rays’ lineup would look something like this.
There might be some variation against lefties and righties, with Zobrist moving around and players like Brandon Guyer receiving time, but assuming Wil Myers will start the season at Triple-A, that’s basically what the Rays have right now in terms of position players. The clear need is not an outfielder but simply a hitter- Joyce can obviously play the field and Sam Fuld (other than his unbelievable stretch at the start is 2011) is not an everyday player so that’s a situation the Rays would definitely prefer to avoid. To fill that need, the Rays could go in a lot of directions, but it seems like an outfield/DH type makes the most sense. The bottom line with any player the Rays would acquire is that while the Rays place a premium on defense, their focus in this case is to find a quality hitter.
Looking at that criteria, the Rays have no reason to pursue Parra, a player that stands out most for his defense, and their interest in Eaton and Pollock would be limited as well as they’re interesting hitters but more top-of-the-order speed types than middle-of-the-order bats like the Rays really need. The player who stands out most among the group is Kubel, who is coming off a season where he managed a .253/.327/.506 line (117 OPS+) with 30 homers and 90 RBI in 141 games and 571 plate appearances.
Kubel, who will turn 31 in May, will make 7.5 million dollars in 2013 in the final season of a 2-year, 15 million dollar contract with a 7.5 million dollar option for 2014. He’s not being paid very much by conventional baseball standards (that the Rays don’t apply to as they work under a limited budget), but he’s also not that impressive of a player. Corner outfielders fielders had a 110 tOPS+ (10% above the overall average) in the big leagues in 2012 and Kubel’s OPS+ is just 113 for his career. Kubel doesn’t have great power, managing just 19.6 homers per 500 plate appearances in 3417 career plate appearance, features sub-par plate discipline, managing a 683-307 strikeout to walk ratio for his career and just a 151-57 mark in 2012, and also struggles versus as a left-handed batter versus lefty pitching, posting just a .238/.308/.383 line in 928 career PA’s. All that being said, slightly above-average offensive corner outfield/DH types are not exactly overflowing in the Rays system and Kubel is still a player they would consider in the right deal. Kubel is also a player who has played designated hitter more than anywhere else in his career and would be comfortable playing such a role for the Rays next season.
What would the Rays be willing to give up for Kubel? Considering his salary, the Diamondbacks would likely have to be willing to chip in a couple million dollars for the Rays to be willing to give up any prospect of note for Kubel. Even if they were willing, the Rays can’t possibly see Kubel as much of an upside play and won’t be willing to give up much for him. As opposed to giving up a player with some upside like an Alex Colome or Tim Beckham, the Rays would rather be looking for a deal like they made with Arizona back in July where they acquired Ryan Roberts for Tyler Bortnick or like they made recently with the Miami Marlins, acquiring Yunel Escobar for Derek Dietrich. In both cases, they gave up a Double-A prospect with the ability to be a big league contributor in a couple years but not a potential star or anything close. Would the Diamondbacks consider for a second trading Kubel for the same type of player?
The Rays have shown that they are willing to acquire a player to help them win now for what they consider a reasonable price. They could very well offer the Diamondbacks the same type of deal, but they’re not going to be the team that gets desperate blows away the D-Backs with the exactly the type of offer they’re looking to get for Kubel. The Diamondbacks showed last season that they’re willing to work with a surplus and they’re not going to trade Kubel at minimum value like the Rays are looking for just for the sake of trading him. Jason Kubel looks like a solid fit for the Rays, but when you think more about it, a trade doesn’t seem to make much sense for either side. Jason Kubel may be the Diamondbacks outfielder most likely to be traded, but the chances of Tampa Bay being his landing spot are not very high.