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