That second base hit [Jason Kubel] got with a man on third, I said right away, ‘This young man is going to really, really make it interesting as we go along in spring.’ He's swinging pretty good, and he's moving good in the outfield. And let me tell you, if he's the best player out there, that's who will be playing out there."
It isn't that the words the come out of a baseball manager's mouth aren’t the truth; they're just a different language. Let's call it manager-speak. That's because it isn’t the job of a manager to tell the truth. His job is to get the most out of his employees, which sometimes means protecting them from the truth, and sometimes that means motivating them with a lie, or at least a liberal interpretation of reality. Thus, manager-speak.
In this case, the reality is that unless someone gets hurt, there just isn’t room for Jason Kubel on the Twins 25 man roster. If Kubel were to win the right field job, Michael Cuddyer would need to occupy one of the five bench spots, so one of these guys is going to have to be cut: Juan Castro, Nick Punto (backup middle infielders), Lew Ford (4th outfielder), Mike Redmond (backup catcher) or Ruben Sierra (left-handed pinch hitter). Neither Gardenhire nor the Twins are going to give up any of them, and they certainly aren’t going to just cut Cuddyer.
The only semi-realistic option is that the Twins somehow sour on Jason Bartlett. That would allow Castro or Punto to start the season at shortstop, and open up a bench spot for Cuddyer. There haven’t been any rumors that this is the case, though in Saturday’s game, the Twins trotted out their expected lineup in the first through eighth spot, and it was Punto who batted ninth. That may provide the real message behind this quote, but that’s little comfort to Twins fans, since playing Punto or Castro regularly would likely negate any offensive gains that Kubel might provide.
Things don’t necessarily get better for Kubel once the season starts, either. There aren’t a lot of injuries that could happen during the season that would provide Kubel with an opportunity. An injury to Torii Hunter or Shannon Stewart just gives more playing time to Lew Ford. Justin Morneau is the only infielder whose injury would provide him playing time. Which means that Kubel’s chances for an impact this year are limited an injury to Morneau, Cuddyer or designated hitter Rondell White.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The Twins have gone out of their way to reduce their options by limiting Cuddyer from getting any work in the infield, where he could replace Tony Batista or Luis Castillo. They’ve claimed they’re trying to build up Cuddyer’s confidence at the plate, but all they’ve done is make it more likely that we see Kubel passed over for Luis Rodriguez or Terry Tiffee in a May call-up.