Extending Kurt Suzuki Would Be a Mistake

Tom Pennington

The All Star's comeback might net him a big contract extension that's likely to disappoint the Twins in the long run.

I can already hear the ink on Kurt Suzuki's contract extension drying, and we're still a couple of weeks before it's going to happen. Nevertheless, as the Twins climb closer and closer to respectability, the all star catcher continues to play well, and Josmil Pinto keeps disappointing the club with his lack of defensive development, it's now inevitable that Terry Ryan will lock him up.

On the one hand, I understand. Suzuki has solved a crisis in Minnesota caused by the decline of Joe Mauer and Pinto's poor defense. What was originally billed as a job-sharing arrangement has morphed into Suzuki starting 80 percent of the games behind the plate and batting .309/.365/.396. He has, beyond a doubt, been an excellent pickup for a club desperate for a catcher. For as much flak as Terry Ryan and the front office take, they absolutely struck gold with Suzuki.

There also really isn't a backup plan if Suzuki is either traded or leaves at the end of the year. Ron Gardenhire and the Twins pitchers simply don't trust Josmil Pinto and Chris Herrmann and Eric Fryer have combined to get ten hits in 67 plate appearances, all of them singles. If Pinto simply can't be a major league catcher, the Twins don't have anywhere else to turn at the moment.

It's this combination of pleasure and desperation that's going to lead them right back to Suzuki, probably on a two or three year extension. That, dear friends, is likely to be a mistake and a missed opportunity.

For one thing, catchers are dropping like flies at the moment. The Cardinals and Orioles are desperate for help after Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters went down with long-term injuries. The Dodgers could use an upgrade over AJ Ellis and Drew Butera. Suzuki still being Suzuki, the Twins aren't likely to get a huge package of prospects for him, but despite their record the Twins should still be an organization in the business of adding young talent whenever and wherever they can. The Twins have an opportunity to deal when their leverage over other clubs will be high, and they can extract as much value out of Suzuki as possible. This also doesn't prevent them from going after Suzuki this offseason, when he will presumably be back on the open market along with other catchers who could potentially fit.

It's also clear that this is the apex of what Suzuki can provide offensively. Already 30, he's not going to be better physically than where he is at the moment. He also has never been this good before, even during his early days in Oakland, when he was catching 140 games a year and hitting 15 homers. His career high in on base percentage coming into 2014 was .346, and his highest OPS+ was 98. To believe he's suddenly found a new gear at 30 would be insanely optimistic.

And speaking of all those starts, it's likely that Suzuki's offensive struggles from 2010-2013 were at least partially related to his insane workload with the Oakland, and that the reduced playing time over the last two years have allowed him to recover some of that lost promise. Given that Suzuki is on pace to start in excess of 120 games again this year (if he keeps up his post-Pinto-demotion pace), a cautious organization would understandably be worried about another dip in production going forward.

But the Twins are only cautious regarding other teams' players and their own prospects. Any time, however, they have a chance to bet on one of their own players continuing to outperform expectations, they take it. That's how Minnesota wound up with extra disappointing years of Carl Pavano, Mike Pelfrey, Josh Willingham, and Shannon Stewart. And it's also, as good as he's been in 2014, how we're likely to end up with extra, probably disappointing, years of Kurt Suzuki too.

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