Kurt Suzuki is out producing the expectations of even the most optimistic Twins fan. He’s 30 years old and coming in to 2014 had a career line of .253/.309/.375, and even that is rosy considering what he’s done the past two seasons, .234/.282/.332 (for reference, Talk to Contact favorite, Drew “Boat Anchor” Butera, is hitting .231/.300/.385 in 2014). So the Twins bought low on a guy and brought him in with the hopes that he could help out Josmil Pinto, and because Suzuki is seen as a good “clubhouse guy.”
Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki (8) hits a two-run single against the Chicago White Sox in the third inning of an opening day baseball game at U.S Cellular Field in Chicago on March 31, 2014. (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)
Through his first 34 games of the year, Suzuki is hitting .332/.388/.430. He has an OBP north of .380 against both left and right handed pitchers. The Twins like what he’s doing with the bat so much they have stuck him in the lineup four times as the starting designated hitter.
Maybe just a hot start, right? He’s actually been better in May than he was in March and April. He started hot, and now he is getting hotter. Over his entire career, Suzuki has played better in the first month of the year than any other month, exactly what you might expect from a catcher that the Oakland Athletics ran out as their everyday catcher at least 117 times for five straight years (he caught his fewest games since his rookie season last year, 93).
Kurt Suzuki is doing all of this on a one-year, $2.75 million dollar contract. the Twins bought low and now they are in a great position to turn Suzuki into some surplus value via trade. Or, because he is only 30 years old, the Twins might consider signing him to a modest contract extension, just as they did with Ryan Doumit.*
*Ryan Doumit hit .275/.320/.461 in 2012 in his first year (age 31 season) with the Twins. The Twins extended him for two additional years with an extra $7 million dollars in late June 2012, making his total deal with the Twins three years/$10 million. With Doumit, the Twins were basically getting output from Doumit in line with his career numbers, so there was a little less risk, but in two of the three seasons prior to coming to Minnesota, Doumit either hit poorly or was injured (or both), so they were able to sign (what looks like now) such a team friendly deal. The Twins ultimately flipped Doumit to Atlanta** following a poor 2013 season which saw Doumit struggle at the plate and with concussion issues. He’s hitting .200/.217/.222 for the Braves.
**The Twins received LHP Sean Gilmartin in return for Doumit, a former first round draft pick (2011), who is currently performing well at AA New Britain (3-2, 3.63 ERA 39.2 IP, 12 BB, 37K) and if the Twins raid the AAA roster for pitching prospects Trevor May and Alex Meyer this summer, Gilmartin should be one of the logical selections to move up to AAA, where he pitched for parts of 2012 and 2013 in the Braves Org.
I would guess that the Twins do not expect Kurt Suzuki to continue avoiding outs in almost 40% of his plate appearances, but ZiPS projects the 30 year old catcher to produce as a MLB regular the rest of the way. Combined with with he’s already done in 2014, he’ll end up with a nice 2014 line. If Suzuki keeps up his current pace into the All-Star break, or even just keeps his line to something like .300/.350/.400, which would represent some fairly significant regression over the next month plus, there will be a handful of teams calling Terry Ryan/Rob Antony looking to acquire the veteran catcher for a post season run. Because the Twins have Josmil Pinto (even with his raw defensive skills), and because they are not in a win-now situation, the Twins could feel relatively comfortable flipping Suzuki.
In a trade scenario, the Twins would probably hope to fetch an intriguing Minor League player, as well as some MLB outfield depth, maybe a fourth outfielder capabale of playing center field and aleviating some of the Twins’ current outfield issues (especially if Sam Fuld experiences setbacks returning from the concussion disabled list). Of course, what the Twins ultimately receive for Suzuki will depend on who their trading partner is, and where the Twins think they can add the most value.
If the Twins look to extend Suzuki, I think that something similar to the Ryan Doumit deal is realistic, but with a slightly higher annual value. I would not be surprised if he received two additional years for $10 million dollars, bringing his total package in Minnesota to three years and just under $13 million. He’s younger than Doumit, and he is a much more complete player, providing value on both sides of the ball.
If I am the Twins, I would attempt to extend Suzuki. The extension would not keep the Twins from trading Suzuki in a year or two, and if Josmil Pinto cannot live up to the hype from his 2013 call up when he hit .342/.398/.566, then the Twins have some hope of a bridge to the arrival of their next young catcher (who might be 2013 third-rounder Stuart Turner). If the Twins can make the extension team friendly then there is not a lot of risk in a deal like that, but if Suzuki and his agent (MVP Sports Group) are looking for a larger deal coming off of a big 2014, then the Twins should feel comfortable walking away.
What would you do?