If they can't agree on affordable extension, Twins should deal Suzuki
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MINNEAPOLIS - If the Twins don't feel they can come to terms on a contract extension for Kurt Suzuki at a reasonable price, they should trade him before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
If Suzuki is moved, perhaps some combination of Eric Fryer and Chris Herrmann can be replacement-level. Or perhaps Josmil Pinto can hit enough to mitigate the negative impact from his glove. Each move the Twins make the rest of the way should be an attempt to improve the 2015 team and beyond.
Which contender needs a catcher? The St. Louis Cardinals believe, according to a report from Ken Rosenthal, that Yadier Molina will return from a torn thumb ligament this season. The Baltimore Orioles lost Matt Wieters for the season to Tommy John surgery, so that could be a good landing spot.
Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press reported Monday that talks about a potential extension between the Twins and Suzuki's agent "didn't go very far."
Here's part of the report:
The Minnesota Twins recently broached the subject of a contract extension with all-star catcher Kurt Suzuki, but the talks didn't go very far.
According to two people with direct knowledge, the Twins and Dan Lozano, Suzuki's agent, had exploratory talks about extending the catcher's expiring contract. Establishing fair contract parameters, however, appears to be a challenge
Suzuki would not comment on the report, but he knows as a veteran with an expiring contract that his name will be brought up in discussion. He acknowledged in an interview that it's part of signing a short-term deal.
"It comes with the territory when you sign a one-year deal, there's the possibility [a trade] could happen. But my main focus is coming out here every day and playing," Suzuki said. "I'm excited to be here with these guys, a good group of guys, and whatever happens happens."
"It just makes it a little tougher when you have family bouncing all over place but it's part of the business. You just kind of embrace it. Luckily my wife and kids really embrace it and support [me]."
What is he worth going forward? What is he worth right now?
Suzuki signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract in December. He'll be a free agent this offseason. He's been a pillar for the Twins lineup, and has been impressive behind the plate, especially when compared to rookie catcher Josmil Pinto.
Still, it's fair to expect Suzuki, 30, to regress at the plate after the All-Star break. To sign him to a long-term deal commensurate with his current level of production could prove unwise.
Playing over his head
Suzuki is hitting an impressive .312/.370/.397 through 328 plate appearances. He entered the week having driven in 38 of the 194 runners on base in front of him, an RBI percentage of 18.56, second on the Twins. His strike zone control has always been fairly good in his career, and he's improved that this year; he cut his strikeout rate to 8.5 percent, and raised his walk rate to 7.6 percent. He's been worth 1.6 Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs.
All of that is great value for a contract worth less than $3 million base value. Those who price the market based on WAR estimate a marginal win is worth somewhere between $5 and $6 million. His production has already more than justified his salary.
That's the good news.
Here's the bad.
Suzuki's career batting line is .257/.314/.376 in more than 3,500 plate appearances. That should serve as a more accurate gauge for predicting how he'll perform going forward. And at 30 years old, it's unlikely Suzuki acquired new skills that have allowed him to raise his career average and on-base percentage by more than 50 points apiece.
For his career, Suzuki has hit .274 when he puts the ball in play, and never higher than .310 in any year. This season, he's hitting .327 when he puts the ball in play, which studies suggest will regress closer to his career average. The league average this year for batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .302, and that sample comprises more than 100,000 plate appearances.
What should teams expect?
Here are Suzuki's offensive numbers for each of his past six seasons:
Teams should look at his extended track record when trying to find a fair value. They should consider, but not focus on his career year in 2014. Suzuki has posted a weight runs created-plus of 117 this season, which, ignoring defense, puts him in line with starts like Buster Posey and Yadier Molina. Those guys are paid likes stars and are not good comparisons for what Suzuki could land for his next contract.
Let's ignore catchers still under team control because they can be owned for a discounted rate from what the open market would provide. The next tier of catchers comprises guys like Miguel Montero, who signed a five-year, $60 million deal in the middle of 2012. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (102 wRC+) is not known for his glove and signed a three-year, $21 million deal this offseason.
This column focuses more on offense because catcher's defense is difficult to quantify. Readily available numbers like pitch framing metrics, I believe, underrate Suzuki's contribution to preventing runs. Offensively, though, Suzuki profiles more like Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro, who signed a two-year, $8 million deal in December.
The Twins have gotten much more than they bargained for so far with Suzuki. That doesn't mean they shouldn't cash in and turn that small investment into a great first half of production plus a prospect.
That would be a great way to spend resources.