It’s been a long road for Kurt Suzuki. From leaving his home state of Hawaii to walk-on at Cal State Fullerton behind two catchers on scholarship, to taking over the starting job, to winning the Johnny Bench Award, to being drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics, to making the big leagues and taking over the starting catcher spot from Jason Kendall, to developing into one of the best all-around catchers in the MLB, to this past Friday.
Last Friday, the A’s signed Suzuki to a four-year extension that runs through 2013 and guarantees him $16.25 million with the potential to earn him as much as $26 million. Under the contract, he receives a $150,000 signing bonus and $600,000 this year. His salary increases to $3.4 million next year, when he would have been eligible for arbitration for the first time. He then gets $5 million in 2012 and $6.45 million in 2013.
Oakland has an $8.5 million team option for 2014 with a $650,000 buyout, and the option would become guaranteed at $9.25 million if Suzuki has 118 games started as a catcher in 2013.
“If you look $16 million in the face and turn it down, to me, you’re crazy,” Suzuki told MLB.com. “It’s like a weight lifted off your shoulders… It’s hard not to think about the money. At the same time, I know what my job is: to perform. Two years ago (his first full season) or now, my job is to go out and play hard and do the best I can. I still do that. Nothing’s going to change.”
Since inking the deal, Suzuki has celebrated with his bat, going 6-12 with six RBI and a homerun in his last three games.
He’s the unquestioned captain in the clubhouse leading by his willingness to help others as well as work harder than everybody. He’s the A’s best all-around player leading the team in homeruns while also holding down the fort defensively.
Despite having one of the youngest pitching staffs in the American League, the A’s are tied for first in shutouts, second in ERA, and third in quality starts and BAA (batting average against). And a big chunk of credit goes to the man behind the plate calling the games.
A quick look around the league at other catchers and how much they get paid and how they have produced, and it’s pretty obvious—I personally think the A’s got a steal.
Suzuki isn’t anywhere as good offensively as Joe Mauer who will be making $23 million per season for the next eight years. After all, Mauer is a franchise player, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime player. But, he’ll be making more in one year than Suzuki’s entire deal, and the difference between the two defensively is miniscule at best.
On the other side of the plate, Suzuki isn’t as good defensively as Yadier Molina who was inked to a similar contract two years ago. But, Molina has never hit more than eight homeruns in any one season and has a career .263 average and a .683 OPS and at 28, is two years older. Suzuki, a career .270 hitter with a .729 OPS is a much more complete offensive player who has the potential to hit .280 with 20-plus homers to add to gold glove caliber defense.
In fact, I think Suzuki is one of the three best catchers in the game. Not offensively or defensively, but total package. Oakland’s GM Billy Beane agrees calling Suzuki “one of the top two or three catchers in the league.” Sure, he’s the A’s GM, but there’s a lot of people around the league who think Suzuki’s at the very worst top 10.
To lock someone like that up for basically $4 million a season is phenomenal value.
“Since the day Kurt got here, beyond being an outstanding player, he’s been an outstanding leader and a quality guy off the field, as well,” Beane said when the deal was announced. “He’s the type of player you’d like to invest in.”
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Jordan Ikeda is the Rafu Sports Editor. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Rafu Shimpo.