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Kubel, Doumit and Designating a DH

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The more I think about the swap that the Twins have made at the designated hitter position, the more I like it. By signing Jason Kubel to a non-guaranteed, incentive-laden contract and trading away Ryan Doumit's guaranteed $3.5 million salary, they have made a sound financial decision that could pay dividends on the field.

But in doing so, they're also committing to a plan at the DH position that is shaky at best. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

While Kubel has never been able to replicate the offensive dominance he displayed in 2009, his career year, he has generally been a decent hitter since, with numbers that closely mirror Doumit's:

Doumit (32), last four seasons: .264/.326/.429, 53 HR
Kubel (31), last four seasons: .250/.322/.435, 68 HR

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ID:	6211Ostensibly Doumit gains an advantage because he is a switch-hitter and can serve as a backup catcher, but Kubel is younger and has shown the greater power potential. Besides, Doumit's ability to competently serve as a part-time catcher was in doubt even before this year's concussion issues further clouded matters.

Both players are coming off down seasons at the plate, but Kubel's was unequivocally much worse. Therein lies the greatest concern. He batted .216/.293/.317 in stints with the Diamondbacks and Indians, and looked especially bad late in the year. His ability to make contact has rapidly deteriorated as he's aged:

Year | K %
-----------------------------
2009 | 18%
2010 | 20%
2011 | 21%
2012 | 26%
2013 | 32%

Kubel has proven to be a very good hitter at times, but he's an iffy gamble at this point, which is why the Twins have hedged their bets in his contract. He'll earn a guaranteed $2 million by joining the club out of spring training, and can add an addition $1 million through very reachable incentives. That means he stands to make $3 million -- virtually identical to Doumit's 2014 salary.

This substitution wasn't about saving money. It was about mitigating risk and adding some intriguing upside to the DH mix.

Clearly the Twins have given Kubel a strong indication that he'll make the team -- he reportedly may have passed up a major-league deal to sign here -- but his contract is non-guaranteed for a reason. With his awful recent play and his ascending K-rates, it's difficult to have faith in a major turnaround.

So what happens then? Well, even if Kubel is on the roster, he'll be sharing time at DH with a group of questionable fielders that could include Josh Willingham, Trevor Plouffe, Oswaldo Arcia, Chris Parmelee, Chris Colabello and others. If Kubel doesn't shake out, those guys would be in line for more starts at DH, potentially improving the defense by keeping them off the field.

Of course, in that scenario, the Twins need to have backups who can not only provide a defensive upgrade but also hit enough to warrant semi-regular playing time.

Unless they're sold on the likes of Darin Mastroianni, Alex Presley, Eduardo Escobar and Danny Santana as players who could hold their own in somewhat prominent roles, the Twins should be scouring for backups and utility types that can offer some offensive value.

But to even consider surrendering the money (and draft pick) that would be required to land a high-caliber bat like Kendrys Morales or Nelson Cruz would be silly. There's a sensible plan in place to start the season, and if it doesn't work out, players who can hit but have no defensive position are easy enough to find on the trade market or even the waiver wire.
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