Imagine, if you will, that you're the general manager of a major league baseball team that has a very bright future, but is still in rebuilding mode and has no real shot at postseason play this year. Now, let's say you have a veteran player who is outperforming his offensive career numbers by a long shot and was just selected to his first All-Star game as a 30-year-old. The trade deadline is less than two weeks away.
As GM, what do you do with this player? A smart GM would trade him and get as much young talent in return as he could, because he knows his player is almost certain to regress back to his career norms. A GM who enjoys digging his own grave and sailing a sinking ship would sign this player to an extension, believing -- and probably hoping -- his career renaissance is a thing of the future.
Terry Ryan, general manager of the Minnesota Twins, has this "dilemma" on his plate with catcher Kurt Suzuki, and doesn't quite know which way to go. According to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Twins and Suzuki have engaged in "exploratory" contract extension talks, but the two sides are far apart on a deal. Terry Ryan should hope it stays that way, because inking Suzuki to a multi-year deal would be utterly foolish.
With Joe Mauer moving to first base, the Twins signed Suzuki to fill the catching void to a one-year, $2.75 million contract with up to $500,000 in performance incentives in December. And so far, Minnesota is getting a great return on investment -- but it could be getting even more. If the organization plays its cards right, the Twins will find a team who will overpay for Suzuki and unload him with a huge grin on their faces.
The Twins are 45-54 and 11 games back in the AL Central. In other words, they will not be playing October games in 2014. With the July 31 trade deadline fast approaching, the time is now for the Twins to start trading their veteran players and continue to look forward to the promising next few years. They have the best farm system in baseball, why not make it even better? Using Suzuki as a trade chip could make that happen.
Suzuki is, far and away, having the best season of his eight-year career. Take a look at the table below, which illustrates his sudden leap in offensive categories. (Columns are sortable).
Suzuki ranks 28th in baseball in on-base percentage, a year after finishing 236th among players with a minimum of 300 plate appearances. His wRC+ is 116, meaning he's created 16% more runs than the league average. Before this season, he was never above average in this regard. Suzuki's .311 batting average (12th in MLB) is 32 points higher than his previous career high which he set back in 2008.
Terry Ryan should view Suzuki has a ticking time bomb; it's a matter of when Suzuki "implodes", not a matter of if. Suzuki's trade value is has high as it can get. But now the question becomes: who is a trade suitor for the catcher?
Ryan should already be on the phone with the St. Louis Cardinals and Baltimore Orioles. The Cardinals lost Yadier Molina to a torn ligament in his thumb earlier this month and the expected recovery timetable is 10-12 weeks. The club signed George Kottaras and thrust Tony Cruz into the lineup, but neither of them are offensive assets. The Orioles, currently atop the AL East, will need to do everything they can to hold back the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays, but their current catching situation isn't pretty. They have been without Matt Wieters, who eventually underwent Tommy John surgery, since May 11, leaving Nick Hundley and Caleb Joseph behind home plate. Needless to say adding Suzuki would be an instantaneous upgrade.
Suzuki is likely to ask for more money than he's worth. Before signing with the Twins, Suzuki's previous contract with the Oakland Athletics was for four years worth $16.25 million. Odds are, he'll probably demand somewhere around that again. Why the Twins are even engaging in extension talks is beyond me, especially since they have Josmil Pinto waiting to be tabbed for full-time duties.
Pinto has played in 43 games and has seen 158 plate appearances in the Majors this season. He has seven home runs, a .326 wOBA and a 105 wRC+. Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the 56th best prospect in Major League Baseball and FanGraphs have him 10th among Twins' prospects, which explains just how deep their minor league system is. So tell me, why would the Twins want to keep a 30-year-old catcher who is due for some major regression and will cost a good chunk of change, over a 25-year-old top prospect who doesn't hit arbitration until 2017?
I was just about to write that decisions like this separate good GMs from bad GMs, but in truth, it doesn't. Something like this is common sense. Trading an aging veteran whose trade value is through the roof to acquire one or two more prospects while making room for a young prospect is as simple as 1+1. It's the GMs who fail to realize this that are shown the door before they have a chance to decorate their office.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Justin Schultz is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @JSchu23.