It is a weird time of the year to be working on contracts but the Athletics have rarely been a team to do things normally. Details emerged today that Oakland has signed Kurt Suzuki to a four-year contract worth at least $16 million. Even more curious is that this latest deal is not an extension but rather also tears up a contract already in place for 2010. Let us step through the deal as presented by Susan Slusser.
Suzuki had been making $420,000 this season. That figure is now $600,000 with an additional $150,000 signing bonus. Suzuki’s salaries then increase to $3.4 million next year, $5 million in 2012 and finally $6.45 million in 2013, what was to be Suzuki’s final year of arbitration. There is a club option for $8.5 million in 2014 that costs Oakland $650K to buy out and is Suzuki plays in at least 118 games in 2013, he is rewarded with a vested option for 2014 at $9.25 million.
With all the nitty gritty out of the way, how does this look on paper? For starters, Suzuki has been extraordinarily consistent of an offensive force while in the Majors. His wRC+s since 2007 have been 96, 97, 97 and stands at 99 this year. I am tempted to give Suzuki credit for the improving trend and make the math easier by calling him exactly league average offense going forward, but his position behind the plate gives me pause. Attrition is high for catchers and 3.5 guaranteed years is a long time. I will proceed with league average offense for the sake of a WAR projection for now however.
I do not feel confident in assigning value on projecting catcher’s defense yet so I will also leave that as average and so the question comes down to playing time. How often Suzuki plays is indirectly tied with my concern on his hitting ability mentioned above, the fear of injuries and general depreciation that comes from the physical strain of catching. For now, Suzuki looks rather robust, averaging 600 trips to the plate the past two seasons and on his way to around 520 this year. Totaled up and Suzuki looks like he might fall a bit short of his 2.6 WAR last year; more in the 2.3 to 2.4 WAR range in 2010.
Based on the payouts above and the rough 40/60/80 scale for arbitration payouts, it is clear that the Athletics are valuing and paying Suzuki at a rate equal to a player producing right around $9.5 million per season in value after factoring in the expected discount for long term security. That is within a fudge factor of where I would peg Suzuki’s performance projections going forward so at least on the guaranteed parts of this deal, it’s a perfectly fair contract. The club and vesting option are both slightly lower than that $9.5 million arbitration valuation, but Suzuki would also be 30 that season and so a discount is warranted. I cannot find fault with this from either side.