By locking up Kyle Seager to a seven-year, $100 million contract extension, the Seattle Mariners have confirmed the importance of the 27-year-old to their organization and helped shed some light on his stature among fellow major league third baseman.
Becoming an established star
After helping propel the Mariners to their first winning record since 2009 and earning his first All Star game selection in 2014, Seager is now firmly entrenched as one of the top third baseman in the majors and he has the numbers to prove it. He has progressively improved with each passing season since taking over Seattle’s “hot corner” in 2012. His fWAR was 5th best of all major league third baseman who have manned the position between 2012 and 2014. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera was not included on the list since he moved first base in 2014.
Primarily a second baseman during his minor league career, Seager has worked hard to become a well-rounded player; improving his defensive skills with each passing year as evidenced by his improved Defensive Runs Scored (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in 2014. His perseverance ultimately earned him his first Gold Glove in 2014.
A durable performer
Better availability is another aspect of Seager’s game that is history better than Sandoval’s. Since his arrival in 2011, the 27 year-old has been a rock steady presence in the Mariners’ lineup, only missing three games due to illness/injury; one game in 2012 with a lower leg contusion and two games this past May with flu-like symptoms. Since becoming a starter in 2012, Seager has averaged 158 games and 600 plate appearances. Having this durable performer at his disposal certainly makes manager Lloyd McClendon’s job easier.
Safeco Field is notorious for hurting the power numbers of sluggers, although that’s not necessarily the case with Seattle’s third baseman. Finishing third among major league third baseman in home runs, and 21st overall in the majors, Seager has demonstrated that he can hit for power at his home field. With each passing season, his batting average, OPS and home runs have incrementally increased demonstrating that he can hit anywhere.
Compensation commensurate with peers
At first blush, committing so much money to the former third-round draft pick could appear to be poor resource management considering he is under club control until 2018. That’s until a review of third baseman salaries is performed. Based on average dollars/year, Seager’s new contract makes him the fourth highest paid third baseman in the game and that’s appropriate when performance, length of contract and relative age are taken into account.
The Mariners are securing their slugging third baseman for his best years without having to commit to the down years of his career at an overvalued rate, like New York has with David Wright and Tampa with Evan Longoria. At age 35-36, Seattle can either choose to offer Seager a deal at an appropriate rate based on his performance at the end of the current contract or let him walk. It’s important to note that the 27 year-old Mariners slugger is the youngest player among the five highest paid third baseman in baseball.
Arbitration years can be costly
What if Seattle and Seager had opted to put off committing to each other and go the arbitration route for the next three seasons? More than likely, both sides would agree to three one-year contracts in 2015-2017 in order to avoid an arbitration hearing. How much could that have cost Seattle? Take a look at Chase Headley’s arbitration eligibility years (2011-2012) to get an idea on what waiting to commit to would cost.
During all three years of Headley’s arbitration eligibility, he and the San Diego Padres agreed to a one-year contract avoiding arbitration. During that span, the Headley had an fWAR of 13.1 —Seager’s was 12.8 over the past three seasons — and the Padres’ third baseman collected $22.745 million. Based on Seager’s consistent play and steady improvement, it’s reasonable to expect that the Mariners’ third baseman would exceed that number.
By accepting a long term contract from Seattle, Seager forsakes four years of free agent eligibility and the opportunity to enter the 2018 free agent market, while still in his prime at age 30. Assuming Seager continued to improve –or just maintained current level of excellence — Seattle would either be forced to let him walk or pay far more than they are paying him now.
The closest comparison to the challenge that Seattle could face in signing a 2018 version of Kyle Seager would be Pablo Sandoval. The 28 year-old former San Francisco Giant, known as the “Panda”, recently signed a five year/$95 million contract to man the hot corner for the Boston Red Sox through 2019 with a club option for 2020. Despite his inconsistent play over the past three years with an fWAR of 7.9 —only 16th best among major league third baseman – and challenges he’s faced with maintaining his playing weight, Sandoval was awarded the most dollars/year for any third baseman in major league history.
A comparison between their 2012-2014 totals demonstrates that Seager compares favorably to the Panda and that Seager actually outperformed the new Red Sox third baseman. Although Sandoval enjoyed a higher batting average over the past three years, Seager’s On-base plus slugging (OPS) is the same and he delivered more home run power better value.
Ripple effect in organization
Making a long term obligation to a position player, as the Mariners did last year with second baseman Robinson Cano and now with Seager, will lead to some upheaval within any organization. By committing to their current third baseman for at least the next seven years, several prospects will either have to change positions or change teams reach the majors as a starter. One of the organization’s top prospects, D.J. Peterson, was already projected to move to first base before the Seager signing. Corner infielder Patrick Kivlehan — considered a late bloomer after playing just one season of collegiate baseball during his senior year and rated as the #22 prospect by Jason Churchill in the 2014 Prospect Insider Handbook — spent time playing first base in the Arizona Fall League. Seager’s signing only solidifies the fact that neither prospect will be regularly patrolling third base for the Mariners.
If the Mariners had waited any longer to lock up their all-star third baseman, it’s highly probable that he would have walked and opted to test the free agent market. Most likely, he would have left the Emerald City for a team desperate enough to overpay –as was the case with Sandoval. If Seattle was able to convince him to return in 2018, it would be at a much higher cost than they are obligating to in 2014.
Having Seager locked up for his prime years at a competitive rate helps stabilize the Mariners’ payroll and signals that ownership desires to put together a competitive team that can enjoy sustainable success. The addition of Seager by Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik to the team’s long term plans, along with staff ace Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, is money well spent.