No one at the beginning of the season expected Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki to be the hottest commodity at his position by the non-waiver trade deadline — but then, no one expected him to be an All-Star, either, let alone one of the top five catchers in the American League in 2014.
It’s unclear whether or not Suzuki will get dealt by July 31 — he’s no stranger to being dealt midseason, but his previous two changes of team in 2012 and 2013 (from the Oakland Athletics to the Washington Nationals and then back again) were both August trades made after he cleared waivers. Given that Suzuki is making only $2.75 million this season and is on a one-year deal, and given the season he’s having, it’s safe to say he won’t clear those waivers a third year in a row. The major impediment to a deal at the moment is the fact that the Twins and Suzuki are in the midst of extension talks — though the two sides are reportedly rather far apart.
Suzuki wants the same kind of annual value that guys like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and AJ Pierzynski got in free agency in last winter’s go-round, which almost seems like a discount if one considers just this season in a vacuum. While Suzuki is not an amazing defender and hasn’t been particularly good at throwing out runners, he’s far superior in receiving and general defense to either Saltalamacchia or Pierzynski and has a bat that compares favorably to either man — and he’s only 30 years old. But expanding scope beyond a half-season of plate appearances, one notes that coming into 2014, Kurt Suzuki was a lifetime .685 OPS hitter. It seems that some of the high praise he receives for his defense is of the same variety that light-hitting shortstops get for their fielding: It’s far easier to massage solid defense into the spectacular than it is to sell a singles hitter with a career .253 average as anything special at the plate. So Suzuki’s had a good year, but it’s hard to sell that Suzuki’s game has completely changed over 3000 PA into his MLB career.
That said, a catcher who can OPS .680 with solid defense is a worthy backup or first base option for just about any team in the league, and that’s basically what Suzuki’s absolute floor is at the moment. If the Twins can extend him for a couple years at somewhere around $5 million a season, that’s a deal they should make. It’s probably a deal Suzuki should accept, too, but it would be hard to blame him if he decided to test free agency after a career year.
So that leads us back to the big question: Should the Twins trade him? I think they should. The two major suitors for Suzuki’s services at the moment are Baltimore and St. Louis, both of whom are looking for a starting caliber catcher after in-season injuries to their respective starters, Matt Wieters and Yadier Molina. Were the Twins to deal Suzuki to either team, it’s likely that he’d still be available to them in the offseason (Russell Martin is almost guaranteed to be the top catcher on the free agent market, not Suzuki). The Twins could possibly deal their catcher for a few prospects and then sign him right back over the winter, even if it might be at a higher price.
If Suzuki were a stronger asset with a longer track record of success, then sure, lock him up with an extension now. But given who he is and who he’s been, the Twins should thank him for his services and send him on his way — and hopefully get some pitching back in the process.
Prediction: St. Louis, with Baltimore a close second.