During this past offseason, it was announced that Joe Mauer would make the switch to becoming a full-time first baseman. This created a huge void at catcher, and Terry Ryan was tasked with finding a way to fill that hole.
Several scenarios were floated and they all centered around the opinion of whether Josmil Pinto could be a starting catcher. It wasn't his bat that was the issue, but rather his defense. If he could provide passable defense and game-calling skills behind the plate, then the Twins could either look for a backup catcher on the free agent market, or they could entrust the job to the pre-arbitration eligible Eric Fryer and/or Chris Herrmann. The alternative option was that Pinto would merely split time behind the plate, and the Twins would look for a catcher that could take about half to 70% of the starts.
The main names tossed around were A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, along with J.P. Arencibia to a lesser extent. Saltalamacchia and Pierzynski ended up spurning the Twins in order to take a bigger offer and join a team closer to playoff contention, respectively, while the Twins wisely avoided signing the low-average, strikeout-prone Arencibia. They instead signed Kurt Suzuki, a one-time top catcher that had been run into the ground during his Oakland days. His past two seasons had been career worsts, which helped drive his asking price down, and also meant that there was no real reason for him to be taking away a significant amount of playing time from Pinto.
However, in spite of his recent struggles, Suzuki was quickly named the starting catcher, and it was made clear that Pinto would make occasional starts at catcher every week while also being a designated hitter. But, that plan was thrown out the door almost immediately. With no third catcher on the roster, Pinto was relegated to the bench most days as Ron Gardenhire feared losing his DH.
Then Chris Herrmann joined the active roster on April 7th and suddenly Pinto was freed. From the 7th to May 9th, Pinto played in virtually every game, mainly as a DH but with a few starts at catcher every week. However, May 9th was when Herrmann was sent back to Triple-A Rochester, and that combined with interleague play and some ineffectiveness from Pinto to place him back on the bench. Eventually, the Twins realized that Pinto needed to play, and they swapped him out to Rochester and replaced him with Eric Fryer.
You might be wondering why there's all this talk from me about Josmil Pinto when the article's headline clearly suggests that we should be talking about Kurt Suzuki. Well, I pointed out that most of Pinto's time in the majors was spent at DH or on the bench. That's because Suzuki simply wouldn't allow Pinto to play catcher. Despite his struggles over the past two years, the Hawaiian put a stranglehold on the catching position thanks to his surprising resurgence at the plate.
Actually, calling it a resurgence is probably being a little too modest. Suzuki has been having his career best season with the bat this year, and he hasn't been this good since 2009. In fact, regardless if you prefer OPS, wOBA, or wRC+, this is the first year ever that Suzuki has been an above-average hitter.
Even though he has struggled with throwing out runners and his pitch-framing is rated among the worst, Suzuki has done a great job with blocking pitches in the dirt and this has led to Suzuki being one of the more valuable position players on the roster this season. That would mean that if he could keep this up for all of July, he would likely be a good trade chip for when the July 31st trade deadline comes around.
That is, unless the Twins decide to hand him a contract extension. I wish I could take the credit for floating that idea, but really it's been going around for roughly a month now and even MLB Trade Rumors creator Tim Dierkes thinks it's a possibility.
I usually am all for trading away players in a lost season, but the Twins have an unusual circumstance here. I want the Twins to give up their assets if there is a logical replacement waiting in the wings. While Josmil Pinto is available, his defense is still up in the air. His bat should definitely play in the majors, but it's no good if he's giving up value with his lack of a glove at the same time. Chris Herrmann and Eric Fryer should not be considered options, so if the Twins were willing to part with Suzuki, they'd need to have quite a bit of confidence in Pinto.
Another alternative would be to sign a different free agent next season. Russell Martin and Geovany Soto are the most attractive free agents for 2015, but we have to figure that there will be high demand for both catchers. The Twins are not ones to get into bidding wars, and so this may not work out either.
That brings us back to the contract extension, which can happen but the Twins must be wise about it. They have to remember that Suzuki is putting up career numbers after being mediocre with the bat for 4 consecutive years. His BABIP is currently at .316, a career high and also significantly higher than his career .272 mark. Also, in spite of the good batting average, the OPS, the wOBA, etc., Suzuki is showing an absolute lack of power for the third year in a row.
So, for lack of better, reasonably-priced options, giving Suzuki an extension is just fine with me. But, don't try to oversell him. We can't assume he'll be this good in future years, because there's plenty of evidence that he's due for some regression. He signed a $2.8 million contract for 2014 with the Twins, and I'd argue that the most I'd do for him is two years and probably $5 million per year. Actually, I'd think that the Ryan Doumit extension (2 years, $7 million total) that was signed in 2012 would be a good template to start with Suzuki, as Doumit's offense was more power-driven whereas Suzuki's has been from getting on base. As long as the negotiations remain reasonable, I'm all for keeping Suzuki. But, if the Twins think that he can maintain the same level of production after this season, then they are severely misguided and I just pray that the years and/or dollar amount isn't too absurd.
What do you think? Should Kurt Suzuki be given a contract extension at some point this season?