Is Kyle Seager overpaid?

 The Seattle Mariners have been on a nice run ever since slugger Dae-ho Lee hit a walk-off home run against the Texas Rangers on April 13. From that point forward, the Mariners have won nine and lost just three, while their hitters have averaged just over five runs-per-game. Overall, the offense is clicking with one glaring exception — Kyle Seager.

During the Seattle’s short 12-game winning surge, the club’s star third baseman has a posted a paltry .106/.125/.298 slash, while sporadically contributing with a home run. Many fans are preaching patience with the popular star. After all, he rarely misses a game, hustles on every play, and has been a model of consistency since he became a starter in 2012.

Conversely, there’s a more impulsive contingent that seemingly lives on social media and isn’t happy with Seager’s performance to date. They’d prefer that manager Scott Servais have the six-year veteran ride the bench until he gets back on track.

To compound matters, many of Seager’s critics don’t believe he’s worth the seven-year/$100 million commitment that the Mariners made to him in December 2014. That presents an interesting question. Is Seager worth the money?

A top-five Mariner
Right now, Seager is being paid $8 million for the 2016 season, which ties him with Adam Lind for fifth-highest paid Mariner behind Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Hisashi Iwakuma. Isn’t that where Seager fits in? In the top-five discussion? Relatively speaking, he’s not overpaid by Mariners standards.

Okay, so he’s a top-five ball player for Seattle. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he deserves to be paid $8 million. That’s true. Being in the upper-tier on a bad team wouldn’t necessarily justify being paid top dollar. But, the Mariners aren’t a bad ball club. They may only be on the fringe of contention. But, they’re not bad and neither is Seager. Please let me show you what I mean.

A top performer
Let’s start by looking at the top-10 third basemen in the majors since 2012 — based on wins above replacement (WAR). This will give us an indication on where the Mariners’ third baseman stacks up against his peers.

I’ve included the 2016 salaries for each player in order to highlight Seager’s standing among his peers from both a performance and monetary aspect. Make sure to take notice of how many players provided less value, in terms of WAR, but are being compensated considerably more than Seager.

Top-10 Third Baseman Since 2012 (Based on WAR)
Rk Player WAR Age G HR BA OBP SLG OPS Team(s) 2016 Salary
1 Josh Donaldson 23.9 27-29 474 94 .284 .366 .508 .874 OAK-TOR $11,650,000
2 Adrian Beltre 18.4 34-36 452 67 .309 .365 .485 .850 TEX $18,000,000
3 Manny Machado 16.1 20-22 400 61 .283 .334 .459 .793 BAL $5,000,000
4 Kyle Seager 13.9 25-27 480 73 .265 .333 .444 .777 SEA $8,000,000
5 Nolan Arenado 13.6 22-24 401 70 .281 .318 .500 .818 COL $5,000,000
6 Evan Longoria 12.7 27-29 482 75 .264 .331 .446 .776 TBR $12,100,000
7 Todd Frazier 12.3 27-29 464 83 .255 .320 .457 .777 CIN $8,250,000
8 Juan Uribe 9.8 34-36 354 35 .281 .329 .432 .761 LAD-NYM-ATL $4,000,000
9 David Wright 9.1 30-32 284 31 .286 .358 .436 .794 NYM $20,000,000
10 Martin Prado 8.9 29-31 427 35 .284 .331 .409 .739 ARI-NYY-MIA $11,000,000
12 Chase Headley 8.0 29-31 432 37 .251 .333 .380 .713 SDP-NYY $13,000,000
16 Pablo Sandoval 4.9 26-28 424 40 .268 .320 .401 .722 SFG-BOS $17,600,000
Salaries courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/25/2016.

I’m sure that you’ve noticed that I also included Chase Headley and Pablo Sandoval on the preceding table. Both players signed deals during the same offseason as Seager and are currently getting paid more even though they’ve delivered far less value than the Mariners third baseman.

Despite delivering the fourth-highest WAR value since 2012, Seager is currently the tenth-highest paid third baseman this year. Based on the current market and historical production, his salary looks like a good deal for the Mariners in 2016.

Some Seager detractors are likely more concerned about his escalating salary. which jumps to $11 million next year and reaches the $19 million threshold by 2018. Having his pay increase over 115-percent in just two years does seem a bit steep. But, does that mean the 28-year-old’s contract will be overvalued in the future third base market?  Let’s find out together.

Fair market value
Depending on the career status of the top stars at any given position in any given year, it can be difficult to make direct across-the-board comparisons of players’ pay versus performance at a specific position.

For example, fellow third baseman Nolan Arenado has created similar value as Seager has since 2012. Yet, he’s making $3 million less than Seager this year, as is Manny Machado, who ranks ahead of both players on the preceding table. Service time is the limiting factor for both Arenado and Machado. Otherwise, they’d both be positioned to surpass Seager’s annual income.

At the other end of the spectrum, veterans like David Wright, Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, Headley, and Sandoval have either inked a long-term deal with a new club or the one that originally signed them.

A consequence of these multi-year commitments is the likelihood that each player’s production won’t be on par with their paycheck by the end of their respective deals. That’s the risk of inking a player to a long-term deal. How does this all of this relate to Seager when he’s earning $19 million in 2018?

After next season, Seager’s salary currently projects to rank number-two behind Wright’s annual pay. In a vacuum, that would seem like over-payment for the North Carolina native. But, that shouldn’t be a concern to anyone.

Seager won’t remain at number-two for very long thanks to the arrival of new talent into the free agent market. Take a look at the following table, which illustrates when several top third basemen will have the opportunity to sign with other teams.

Free Agent Dates for Top Third Baseman
Age Name Free Agent After
26 Mike Moustakas 2017
29 Todd Frazier 2017
22 Manny Machado 2018
29 Josh Donaldson 2018
24 Nolan Arenado 2019
24 Matt Duffy 2020
23 Kris Bryant 2021

I’ve already mentioned that Arenado and Machado will make more than Seager once they’re eligible for free agency. However, they’re not the first ones on my list who get to choose where they play. Mike Moustakas and Todd Frazier reach open market after the 2017 season and both could potentially earn more per-year than the Mariners third baseman.

Granted, Moustakas is more of a certainty than Frazier, who will be completing his age-31 season and won’t be able to command the same contract length of a 28-year-old Moustakas. But, based on his current level of performance, Frazier’s annual salary should surpass Seager’s deal.

The following year, reigning American League Most Valuable Player Josh Donaldson and Machado will be eligible for free agency. As with Frazier, the older Donaldson may have to take fewer years in his deal. However, both he and Machado are set to earn more than Seager annually.

Once Arenado gets his long-term deal a year after Donaldson and Machado, Seager will be the sixth best-compensated third baseman in the game by the start of the 2020 season. That feels just about right to me. He’ll be age-32 with one more year left on his deal, plus a team option for the 2022 season.

Sure, it’s possible that Seager will start to show signs of skill erosion. It’s a natural occurrence for every player on the wrong side of 30-years-old. Based on his skill set though, it’s realistic to expect that he’ll continue to perform at a high level throughout the life of his contract with Seattle.

What about 2016?
Seager’s slow start during the first three weeks of the season is of no concern to me. But, it’s clear that his sluggish beginning is the leading cause of the “Seager angst” being expressed across the Twitter-verse.

Yes, Seager has been unproductive since the start of the very young season. But, he’s not exactly the first player to deliver uncharacteristically “really good” or “really bad” production during the first month of a season. Here are a few examples from the 2015 season.

   April 2015   2015 Season Totals
Name Team G
PA Hr AVG OBP
SLG   HR AVG OBP SLG
Freddy Galvis  PHI 21 82 1 .355 .395 .434   7 .263 .302 .343
Adam Lind  MIL 22 88 4 .333 .398 .577   20 .277 .360 .460
Joe Mauer  MIN 22 97 0 .318 .392 .412   10 .265 .338 .380
Ike Davis  OAK 22 79 1 .314 .380 .443   3 .229 .301 .350
Pablo Sandoval BOS 20 88 4 .312 .398 .442   10 .245 .292 .366
Edwin Encarnacion  TOR 23 97 1 .205 .258 .352   39 .277 .372 .557
Carlos Gonzalez  COL 20 81 2 .200 .247 .347   40 .271 .325 .540
Andrew McCutchen  PIT 21 86 2 .194 .302 .333   23 .292 .401 .488
Jose Bautista  TOR 18 77 5 .164 .325 .443   40 .250 .377 .536
Carlos Beltran NYY 18 74 0 .162 .216 .265   19 .276 .337 .471

This list illustrates a fact that sophisticated baseball fans already knew. A major league baseball season is a marathon that doesn’t lend itself to small sample size evaluation.

But, he’s a slow starter
For some reason, there’s a belief that Seager’s bat never gets into gear during the first month of the season. Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill recently referred to that notion as a “misnomer” and I agree wholeheartedly.

With that said, Seager has experienced some peaks and valleys during each of his four full seasons in the big leagues. Take a look at his monthly on-base, plus slugging percentage (OPS) since the start of the 2012 season to see what I mean.

Kyle Seager’s 2012-15 OPS (by month)
Year Mar/Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep/Oct Total OPS MLB AVG
2012 .704 .839 .686 .662 .671 .832 .738 .724
2013 .850 .743 .734 1.100 .642 .527 .764 .714
2014 .791 .794 .887 .853 .700 .690 .788 .700
2015 .727 .867 .639 .804 .730 .872 .779 .721

Seager cynics will likely focus on his seemingly inconsistent production during each season. Yes, it would be nice if his numbers were even-keeled throughout the season. However, it’s not uncommon for players to encounter ups and downs during an arduous 162-game season.

Steady as she goes
Certainly, Seager isn’t a flashy player. But, that’s a quality that endears him to Mariners faithful. More importantly, he’s been a steadfast performer in the middle of the Mariners lineup from one season to the next. Look for yourself.

Kyle Seager Seasonal Stats (2012-15)
Year Age G PA H 2B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2012 24 155 651 154 35 20 46 110 .259 .316 .423 .738
2013 25 160 695 160 32 22 68 122 .260 .338 .426 .764
2014
26 159 654 158 27 25 52 118 .268 .334 .454 .788
2015 27 161 686 166 37 26 54 98 .266 .328 .451 .779
162 Game Avg. 162 681 159 34 23 55 114 .260 .325 .432 .757
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/26/2016.

Not only is Seager a consistent performer, he’s dependable. In other words, he’s rarely off the field. Since 2013, no major league player has logged more time on the field than his 4248 innings.

Finally
There’s no denying that the Mariners’ all-star third baseman has struggled through the first 20 games of the season. But, his career history indicates that he’s very likely to produce another solid season. At the very least, he certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt. That brings me back to the title question that I posed, is Kyle Seager is overpaid?

Based on current and projected market conditions, plus his durable and consistent top-level performance, Seager is definitely worth the money that the Mariners have invested in him. I’m not sure why anyone would feel otherwise.

 

 

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Jason A. Churchill

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