Insider: Considering Kurt Suzuki For Rays

Struggling to secure a stadium in the West Coast’s bay area, the Oakland Athletics have spent the winter trading useful pieces in an effort to reduce payroll costs. Having already moved Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey, the A’s would likely part ways with catcher Kurt Suzuki if a suitor came calling. Although, the Tampa Bay Rays have already added veteran catcher Jose Molina this winter, it would not surprise anyone if the thought of Suzuki floated around Tampa Bay’s front office.

While Suzuki, 28, may seem like a fit for the Rays at first glance, his talent level and salary may not match up as well. In the middle of the 2010 season, he signed a four-year extension worth $16.25 million as a pre-arbitration eligible player. At the time, the deal looked like a steal for the Athletics.

In the three seasons prior to 2010, the Hawaii native hit .272/.329/.398 with an average 35 extra-base hits a season. That is roughly the production of an average major leaguer; however, coming from the catcher position, it made Suzuki one of the better performers at his position.

Over the past two seasons, Suzuki’s production at the plate declined. He has posted an OPS of .667 since the 2010 season, and reached base just 30% of the time. Although he shows considerable power for a catcher, he does not walk much and has not had much success on balls in play.

Defensively, Suzuki is not terrible, but also far from a weapon behind the plate. For his career, he has caught 27% of attempted base stealers. In 2011, he allowed 98 steals in 136 attempts (72% success rate). Successful stolen base attempts are not completely the fault of the catcher. That said, his rate of kills has remained steady in over 5,000 innings of catching. According to Mike Fast’s study on catchers, he is largely average at framing called strikes.

The contract that looked club-friendly before is now closer to market value than a bargain. Suzuki is guaranteed to make more than $12 million over the next two seasons. The option for 2014 becomes a $9.25 million guarantee if Suzuki starts 113 games in 2013. He has started at least 120 games in each of the last four seasons.

The remainder of Suzuki’s contract is far from a bad deal, but it is also not the value that Andrew Friedman usually looks for. Also factoring into the cost is the value of talent sent to Oakland in a potential trade. Perhaps on a team with a larger payroll, Suzuki would be more of a bargain; however, for the Rays, he would be more breaking even than positive arbitrage.

*Contract details from Cot’s baseball contracts