The Diamondbacks' signing of Jason Kubel to a two-year contract was met with surprise and even some confusion from pundits. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs described the move as "weird," arguing that Kubel was potentially only a minor upgrade over incumbent left fielder Gerardo Parra at the plate, and a major downgrade in terms of defense and baserunning. Moreoever, it minimized Parra, whose Gold Glove-winning defense and steady bat played a key role in Arizona's 2011 NL West title.
So with Kubel, Chris Young and Justin Upton locked in as the D'Backs' starting outfield, does this mean Parra could be expendable? Not at all; there's still reason to believe Parra will be a valuable player for Arizona both in 2012 and potentially for years to come.
Through three seasons in the Majors, Parra has provided both excellent defense (a career +9.5 UZR/150) all over the outfield and a solid bat against right-handed pitching (a .289/.337/.420 career line against righties). In both 2010 and 2011, the left-handed hitting Parra posted a higher OPS against lefties than he did against righties, albeit in roughly a quarter of the plate appearances.
This progress against southpaws notwithstanding, the vast majority of Parra's 2012 at-bats will come against right-handers. D'Backs GM Kevin Towers has already stated that Parra see action against certain tough right-handers spelling Upton and Young. I'd say Parra is far more likely to spell the latter than the former, since Upton may be the cusp of superstardom and Young has more significant flaws in his game.
After delivering stable splits (an .826 OPS vs. lefties, .781 vs. righties) in 2010 as part of a career-best .793 OPS season across the board, it seemed as if Young was finally finding some consistency to match his big power, speed and increasingly impressive glove. Unfortunately for Young, he reverted to his old tricks in 2011 — he hit just .222/.312/.382 against right-handers, as compared to a mammoth .285/.392/.546 against lefties. Arizona doesn't lose anything defensively or speed-wise by playing Parra over Young in what could develop into a regular center field platoon.
Parra doesn't turn 25 until May 6 and is under team control through 2015, which means he could be coming into his prime just as Young and Kubel's contracts are expiring. Young is set to earn $15.5MM over the next two seasons, with a club option worth $11MM for 2014 (with a $1.5MM buyout), while Kubel's deal pays him $16MM over the next two seasons with a $7.5MM mutual option for 2014 ($1MM buyout). Of the two, Young is the likelier to remain a D'Back since quality defensive center fielders with 30-homer power are a much rarer commodity than what Kubel brings to the table, but the presence of Parra and prospect A.J. Pollock gives the team lots of outfield flexibility in two years' time.
The Diamondbacks' surprising playoff berth last season turned what was seemingly a rebuilding team into a win-now operation, as evidenced by Kubel's signing and the trade for Trevor Cahill. While the club doesn't have the resources to just eat a $16MM contract if Kubel struggles, the D'Backs at least have a quality backup (or more) in Parra who provides too much value to trade.