The Indians had two players with team options going into this off-season and they certainly didn't wait very long to make those decisions. Just two days after the World Series ended and a day after Chris Perez was let go, the Indians declined the option of the recently acquired Jason Kubel and accepted the one for Ubaldo Jimenez. It was immediately announced that Jimenez, however, declined his side of the option and will be searching in the free agent market for a deal larger than the $8M he was owed. Kubel will have to still be paid a $1 million buyout to avoid paying him a salary of $7.5M for 2014.
Just about everything that can be said about Jimenez has already been said. If some team is willing to give him a multi-year contract based on one half a good season after three bad seasons then good for him, but that kind of risk is outside the Indians comfort zone. Very little has been said, however, about Jason Kubel.
The Kubel trade made little sense when it was made and makes even less now. In order to acquire the outfielder/DH, the Indians had to send Matt Langwell, a top AAA starter, to the Diamondbacks in a post trade deadline deal. The Indians had already released a similar hitter in Mark Reynolds and had another on the roster in Jason Giambi, but still found it necessary to pick up Kubel for the stretch run. Kubel then started six games during his first eleven days with the team, was used as a pinch hitter the following day, then was never heard of again. Instead, the Indians used Yan Gomes as a starter with Matt Carson and Jose Ramirez coming off the bench. All three of those players were available all year without having to trade Langwell.
In the end, Kubel played in eight games and batted .167 with a double and ten strike outs (Giambi was allowed to play 71 games despite not beating .170 until May 29th and ending with an average of .183). There is no way to take a real evaluation after just 18 at bats and he wasn't performing much differently than he did with Arizona prior to that point, so it is not understandable why he was eliminated from thought for the rest of the season.
The past season saw a string of six seasons with at least 10 home runs (including four of the last five with at least 20) and 58 RBI end for Kubel, knocking out just five and knocking in just 32. This wasn't really due to missed time as he played in almost 100 games and just less than his worst previous season, 2011, when he hit 12 home runs and knocked in 58. He only missed two long stretches of games, first in April, then from September 13th through the end of the season. It is hard to say whether this is mechanical or bad luck. Last season was one of his best, setting a three year high with 30 home runs while slugging .506. His .317 slugging percent in 2013 was by far the worst in his career.
Obviously, Kubel does not deserve $7.5M for next season based off his recent performance, but the Indians knew that this time would come and that they would have to pay him one million just to get him to leave. The only way the trade, and losing Langwell, would have made any sense is if they had wanted to retain him for next year. When the trade was made, outsiders could have thought that the Indians had some amazing inside information to make them think that Kubel would be able to return to form and would be worth the six million dollar difference it would take to retain him, but something must have changed between September first and now. For now, the secret will remain in the Indians front office and Kubel will become a free agent.