The 2011 Options: No-Brainers?

29 Oct

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

As Twins fans know, there are two players who have options for the 2011 season. Nick Punto’s option is for $5 million with a $500,000 buyout. Jason Kubel has an option for $5.25 million with a $325,000 buyout.

Upon first glance, both appear to be no-brainer decisions. Punto, who turns 33 years old next in November, was hurt a lot in 2010, and he struggled when healthy. It would seem a no-brainer to give Punto $500K and let him become a free agent. Kubel has become a veteran who can hit for power, drive in runs and although realistically and primarily a DH, he can play the two corner outfield positions. Still just 28, it would seem a no-brainer to pick up his very reasonable option. Are we certain that they really are both no-brainer decisions? Should they be? Let’s look:

NICK PUNTO

Let’s start with the one that I am more certain is a no-brainer. In the last two years, he has played in 125 and 88 games. He has hit .228 and .238. His OPS has been .621 and .615. Each of those numbers says that it is a no-brainer to decline the option. But with Punto, there is the defense, and that excellent defense is worth something in terms of dollars. If he could post a .725 OPS as he did in 2006, or a .726 OPS as he did in 2008, while playing 125 or more games and playing that kind of defense, he is worth $5 million or more. If Orlando Hudson is not brought back (which we assume he won’t), the second base job is open. They could give it to Alexi Casilla and hope he can handle the starting gig. They could open up a competition between Casilla, Luke Hughes, Trevor Plouffe and Steve Singleton for the second base job. Or, they could pick up Nick Punto’s option and let him play 2B again where he is a great glove, and let him bat ninth where his lack of offense will not hurt the team.

Would I pick up his option? No. I would decline the option.

Would I consider bringing him back at a lesser cost? Maybe. The going rate for a good utility infielder is $1.5 to $2 million. Would you consider bringing him back in 2011 at $1.25 million base, plus incentives based on plate appearances that would max out at about $4 million if he gets 500+ at bats? If he plays that much, it would most likely be because he has earned it, most likely defensively. There is this perception that if he’s on the roster, Gardy will play him as a starter. However, Punto has regularly been a utility player for the team and only started when someone else did not come through. So unlike in previous years, I don’t think they need to let Punto go “to protect Gardy from himself” as they maybe had to in the past.

What do I think the Twins will do?  I really think they will try to negotiate a lesser deal with him, as much as protected in case Casilla does not run with the starting opportunity the way we may hope. This team does value defense, and there are not many better than Punto with a glove. Some say that Matt Tolbert can fill the role, and maybe he can. But Tolbert isn’t as good defensively at any of the three infield positions, not even close. And really, he’s not better than Punto offensively either.

So, maybe it isn’t a complete no-brainer after all. But it should be.

JASON KUBEL

Kubel broke out in 2009, hitting .300 with a .907 OPS, 35 doubles, 28 homers and 103 RBI. In 2010, those numbers dropped. He hit just .249 with a .750 OPS. He had 23 doubles and 21 homers, but he still came through with 92 RBI. The season was disappointing and yet still he was a run producer. $5.25 million is a very fair salary for what he has done. In 2010, he had to play much more in RF than he has had to, and although he has little range, he makes the plays he gets to and has a strong arm. His inability to hit left-handers was certainly exposed (and maybe exaggerated?) in the playoffs the last two years when he has had to face CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. The Twins still have four outfielders for the three outfield positions and the DH spot, however, the best position for three of them is probably DH. Will the Twins look to improve their OF defense and team speed in the offseason? Will Jim Thome be back, or will the team consider more veteran bats, including more right-handers? These questions all will have to be considered when deciding whether to pick up Kubel’s option. But one other factor needs to be addressed. If the Twins were to non-tender Kubel, he qualifies as a Type A free agent, and likely someone would give him a multi-year deal at an annual salary of over the $5.25 million. The Twins could offer him arbitration and receive two draft picks for him.

Would I pick up his option? Absolutely. It’s a very fair (meaning low!) price for a player who has produced offensively as Kubel has the last three years. There is a reason that he is a Type A!

What do I think the Twins will do? They will pick it up. That said, by picking up the option, it doesn’t guarantee he’ll be back with the Twins in 2011. He could still be traded.

This one definitely feels like it is a no-brainer, but there could be a small chance (thanks to the Type A status) that they could decline the option to clear an OF position and gain some draft picks. There is also a small chance that the Twins will sign me as their next DH… I think the odds of the Twins signing me are only percentage points smaller than the odds that they don’t pick up Kubel’s option.

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So yes, in summary, I do think that both are, and should be, at least near-no brainers… what do you think? Comment here.

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16 Responses to “The 2011 Options: No-Brainers?”

  1. roger October 29, 2010 at 7:50 am #

    Seth, if you decline to pick up an option year can you still offer arbitration. I am not certain of that rule and was of the opinion that if you declined an option the player was a free agent and arbitration & potential draft picks were not available.

    • TT October 29, 2010 at 10:15 am #

      I think Roger is right. If they don’t pick up Kubel’s option they don’t get free agent compensation.

  2. mike wants wins October 29, 2010 at 9:16 am #

    No way I pick up Punto for that money. I might stop paying attention to this team if they do. It would be utterly insane.

    As for Kubel, they can’t afford this level of defense, and there is no evidence he’ll produce any offense that you can’t get for less money. You are stuck with Cuddeyer, and you have to hope that Revere/Benson are ready in two years, so there is no reason to keep Kubes. He should be packaged with a pitcher for something else.

    You can’t look at Kube’s deal in isolation, it has to be looked at in the whole portfolio of what they’ll spend other places. We know they’ll be keeping Capps and Nathan and 5 other bullpen arms. That’s $25-30MM just on your bullpen, plus $23MM for Mauer and over $20MM for Cuddy and MOrneau. Kubes’ salary doesn’t fit in the overall puzzle.

    Me, I’d deal Kubes and one of their overpaid #3 starters for a legit 2B prospect (or player), find a way to deal Span’s salary, and use that money to sign Dunn for 2 years, but no way that happens. Dunn is DH/1B insurance for this team, and he wouldn’t be whining about the ball not carrying…..

    • gobbledy October 29, 2010 at 10:10 am #

      what 20+ hr and 90+ rbi with better defense guy are you talking about that would replace kubel for less money? i agree with deal span, maybe seattle would swap center fielders, we get better d which would help our corner guys they get better o which they really need. however, span is only getting 1m next yr not hardly enough to sign dunn at probably over 10m a yr.
      you could trade young and replace him with a jeff francouer or andrew jones type they will probably be around 1m guys save some money there. we have to face the fact there won’t be much money for free agents until next yr when the cuddy, kubel and nathan contracts are up that will free up over 25m.

  3. Bill in Sarasota October 29, 2010 at 10:17 am #

    No brainers.
    Punto – not picked up
    Kubel – picked up

    If Punto was willing to come back for $1 mil then I would do it, anything I would pass.

    I would keep Kubel unless Thome resigns and the Twins could trade him for a similar RH OF.

  4. mike wants wins October 29, 2010 at 10:29 am #

    Francouer is terrible. No idea why you’d want him.

    You have to deal Kubel, one of their starters (blackie or Baker), and Span to get (close to) the $10MM…..I have no confidence Kubel will hit 20HRs next year, and his D is atrocious.

    I agree, this team will be hamstrung in fixing the roster next year (that’s what happens when you overpay for a closer and a catcher).

    • gobbledy October 29, 2010 at 10:54 am #

      i didn’t say i wanted francouer i said he is the type of guy we could get on the cheap if we’re trying to save money. unless they go 110-120m payroll there really isn’t much of any money for help, sorry to say.

  5. TT October 29, 2010 at 10:38 am #

    My first take is to agree on Punto. But I think people underestimate him. There are NOT a lot of players out there that play all three infield positions well enough to start. And the Twins aren’t going to find one to replace Punto.

    Tolbert is fine as a temporary backup, but you really don’t want him filling in for a long time. Punto’s glove adds value even when he doesn’t hit. Tolbert is a classic utility guy whose glove is good enough for short stretches.

    The Twins may be counting on three young infielders in Casilla, Plouffe and Valentine. Having Punto available would make that gamble a lot less risky. I think this is going to be an interesting business decision to watch. If they can sign Punto for less than his option, they may let Hardy go either in trade or by declining to offer arbitration.

    If they can’t make a deal with Punto, they will need to decide whether to pay Punto or pay Hardy. I’m not sure the answer to that is a no-brainer. If you think Casilla, Plouffe and Valentine are the infield of the future its time to find out if that will work. I think Plouffe and Casilla are both out of options.

    • Seth October 29, 2010 at 10:43 am #

      100% agree with you TT… and that was my point… bringing him back and about $1.5-2 million the next year or two makes a ton of sense. Valencia, Plouffe, Casilla need backups/insurance… even if Hardy’s back, could need some insurance.

    • mike wants wins October 29, 2010 at 10:51 am #

      To be clear, I’d also sign Punto for $1-2MM, just not for $4-5MM.

      • gobbledy October 29, 2010 at 10:56 am #

        what would we bitch about all season without punto? he’s worth 1-2m just for blog fodder!

  6. DH in Philly October 29, 2010 at 11:50 am #

    If you try to trade Kubel, you probably would be limited to trading him to a team not in contention for the playoffs, since he can’t play in September or October.

  7. mike wants wins October 29, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

    La Velle reports Kubel picked up, Punto not. No surprise there at all. Now you can trade Kubel…..

  8. USAFChief October 29, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

    “There are NOT a lot of players out there that play all three infield positions well enough to start”

    Correction: there are not a lot of players out there that hit well enough to start at all three infield positions.

    Finding a utility guy that can handle the job defensively is child’s play. There are literally dozens of guys bumping around the upper minor leagues who could handle the job defensively. They can’t hit enough to stick around. This description fits Punto. It will fit Tolbert as well.

    There’s an old saying: “You can shake a dozen glove men out of a tree, but the bat separates the men from the boys.”

  9. TT October 31, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    “here are literally dozens of guys bumping around the upper minor leagues who could handle the job defensively.”

    No, there aren’t. Not even with Tolbert’s glove. But thanks for reinforcing my point that people underestimate Punto.

    • TT October 31, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

      BTW, that “old saying” is actually a quote from Dale Long, a first baseman for several teams in the 1950′s. You don’t suppose …

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