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Carlos Gomez Extended — Will The Power Come With?

Carlos Gomez will be a Brewer for another four years, it looks like.

There aren’t many players that fit his contract situation perfectly — Gomez is being extended for three years with one year of arbitration left, and not at a superstar rate — but we can talk about him as a player and whether or not the Brewers will remember this deal fondly anyway.

If you reach back a little, you’ll find that Michael Cuddyer signed a three-year, $24 million contract with an extra $10.5 million option on it when he still had a year of arbitration with the Twins. That was in 2008, and there wasn’t a ton of inflation since then, but it’s still a strange contract to use as a comparison. Cuddyer had a better bat and nowhere near the same glove, and the deal was for more money. Erick Aybar signed for four years and $35 million while he was still under team control, but those years were free agent years. That’s a better comp because much of Aybar’s value has come from defense and baserunning — but his career wRC+ is 93, though, and that’s better than the 79 Gomez has shown. That’s the same problem that we have comparing Howie Kendrick and his four-year, $33.5 million contract to the one the Brewer just signed — Kendrick owns a 104 wRC+. So let’s not even discuss the extensions by Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp then.

There aren’t a lot of players at important defensive positions that have signed three- or four-year extensions with a year of team control left. At least not defense-first players with iffy bats.

Can Gomez be worth it?

Most of the projection systems say yes, at least in the short term. Take a look at the projections by Bill James. Even with a step back in power (from a career-high .202 isolated slugging percentage back to .157) and defense (+3.6 in fielding and positional value would be the second-worst season his ledger), Gomez is projected for 1.9 wins by James’ system. At 27 years old, it seems early to start aging that total a half win every season. If he can manage even two seasons of average production, he could return to being a platoon-first defensive outfielder for the last two seasons of the deal and the deal would still be fine.

For the deal to have any upside, some of the gains Gomez showed last season have to stick. Specifically when it comes to his platoon splits and his power.

If you look at the career platoon split the right-handed Gomez has shown — 85 wRC+ against lefties, and 76 wRC+ against righties — you might think that the platoon label was hung on him too early. But some of that is skewed by the last season, where Gomez showed offense that was better than league average against righties for the first time in his career. Then again, he’s only been above average against lefties twice in his career. Lo and behold, these two years are also the best power years in his career.

There are things to like about the power surge Gomez has shown. It’s been gradual. It seems organic, since he’s added to his isolated slugging percentages every year. And he’s done it by hitting more fly balls every year. He’s an aggressive hitter, not known for patience, and he’s seeing fewer and fewer pitches per plate appearances. This all seems to add together to paint the picture of a player that is finally finding himself.

There are things to not like about the power surge Gomez has shown. He’s only shown above-average power for a season and a half now. He never really showed this kind of power in the minor leagues, despite some scouts believing he could add power as he aged. The average distance of his fly balls and home runs — 288.29 feet in 2011, 288.40 in 2012 — is not upper echelon. In fact, that number ranked 81st among regular batters in 2012.

Gomez did make some progress from 2009, when he hit those balls 274.42 feet on average, and research by Chad Young and Mike Podhorzer on batted ball distance suggests that a 15 foot surge in that number can be foretell a sustainable change in power. And the fact that the Brewer center fielder has continued to hit more fly balls with each season seems to suggest he’s made a change in approach that could stick. Defense may peak early, but Gomez has been the third-best defensive center fielder over the past three years. He can fall from his peak and still add defensive value over the next four years.

This deal isn’t likely to be a stinker for the Brewers. If it turns out to be a steal, it will be because Gomez can continue to hit more fly balls (more powerfully) and hit right-handed pitchers better than he did in his early career.