Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

It’s no secret that Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager has been on an absolute tear at the plate since he broke out of a slump April 23. He entered 2014 after two solid seasons and a strong showing the second half of 2011. He’s had somewhat similar streaks with the bat prior to the one as he’s enjoying at present, but this one is begging a different question.

In previous seasons, the question was centered on what Seager could ultimately develop into as a player, particularly at the plate. While the city of Seattle and the rest of the baseball world watch that unfold in front of their eyes, the attention has turned to Seager’s future — more specifically, his contract.

The 26-year-old will be first-year arbitration eligible after this season. Such a process could net Seager upwards of $4 million, presuming he continues at a similar pace of production during this season’s second half. Another strong showing in 2015 and his arbitration number likely jumps toward the $8 million range, perhaps beyond beyond. His final arbitration year projects above the $10 million mark, and likely $11-12 million. That’s fairly pricey over a three-year period — $23-26 million or so — and leads Seager right into free agency. Sure, if he keeps playing the way he has this season, that number ends up a bargain in the grand scheme of things, but one thing the Mariners cannot afford to do is allow Seager to reach free agency. That means some semblance of a contract extension, and that means dollars committed.

Regardless of the club’s financial position, they have no choice but to get something done with Seager for the long haul or suffer insurmountable consequences. He’s made the decision a no-brainer, even though he’s also made it an expensive one. Entering play Tuesday Seager was the 14th most valuable position player in all of baseball. Any division, either league. No. 14.

Seager is represented by Jet Sports, who can take a number of approaches to this situation. They could decline to discuss a multi-year solution and go year-to-year, hit the open market and go from there, or choose one of the following:

Arb Years Only
If Seager offered the Mariners a chance to save a few million bucks, avoiding arbitration and getting his name on the dotted line for three more seasons, he’d still hit free agency on time and get the early security some young players seek. The only advantage is the security element, however, strongly suggesting this scenario is far fetched. It’s not all that beneficial to the team, either, since it doesn’t buy them any of Seager’s free agent years and puts them on the hook if he regresses or suffers a serious injury.

One or Two Free Agent Years
If three years of arbitration are going to be valued at $23-26 million with the final year worth $11 million or more, buying out 1-2 years of free agency is going to cost $12-16 million each, based on industry trends. That puts a four-year deal at $34-41 million and a five-year deal in the $46-56 million neighborhood. The club is certain to prefer this kind of deal, likely the five-year option. Camp Seager, however, is in the driver’s seat, considering all factors, and could request and hold out for the ultimate…

Command Market Value On Long-term Deal
What Seager’s agent is going to do without a doubt is bring up recent long-term deals for similarly-experienced and talented players such as the one the Atlanta Braves handed Freddie Freeman this past winter. Freeman’s eight-year deal is worth $135 million guaranteed. Sure, he’s a bigger, stronger hitter with more raw power and has a 4.7 fWAR season under his belt. He’s also been a name on prospect lists for years and always was expected to hit, on the surface suggesting he’s simply better and worth more than is Seager. Perhaps that is true, but probably not to the extent one might initially expect.

First of all, he’s a first baseman and Seager plays the hot corner. Second, his 4.7 fWAR season followed two seasons of sub-2.0 fWAR — including one season of sub-1.0. Seager is currently on pace for a 6.2 fWAR campaign, dwarfing Freeman’s signature selling point when his deal was negotiated. That likely evens out a good portion of the upside advantage Freeman possesses due to age at the time of signing his contract (24) and his advantage in physical projection. It does suggest, however, that Freeman is worth more years than is Seager.

FreemanSeagerAlso part of the equation when evaluating the two players’ value to their respective clubs is the current and future markets to replace such players. The trade and free agent markets impact a player’s value, especially to his current team, which is the only one that can extend his contract.

The future free agent markets are extremely shallow. Recent tendencies in Major League Baseball are all about locking up young talent and hording young players from the trade route. Finding hitters, especially those that play a position well such as Seager at third base, is even more difficult. For the Mariners, Seager is most invaluable since he’s solved Safeco Field in a big way and appears to still have room to get even better.

In other words, Seager has the Mariners by the checkbook.

SeagerfwarIt matters not that Seager was a third-round draft pick and never a top prospect. It matters not that he’s just 6-feet tall, which is generous anyway, and it’s also absolutely meaningless that he’s been stuck on a losing team — until 2014 — and his exposure nationally has been limited. This is not an open-market contract negotiation. This is between Seager, his reps and the Seattle Mariners. There are no secrets about the player’s value or what he brings to the clubhouse and the community. Seager, as shown at right, has been the No. 7 most valuable position player in the American League this season.

The Mariners need to keep Seager in Seattle, that’s as clear as a Felix Hernandez changeup is impossible to hit. They don’t have to extend him now, but the longer they wait the more it’s going to cost them because it’s pretty clear Seager is just going to keep performing. They get a discount the earlier they commit for risking their money. If Seager doesn’t have a multi-year deal in hand by this time next season, the price goes up. Why? Because then the club will buying out another year of free agency rather than a year of arbitration and will already have committed the ’15 arbitration salary, and Seager will have a third strong year on his resume.

There are reasons why the club may not be willing to move on discussions right now, and the same reasons may explain why such talks haven’t reached serious levels already. One of those reasons is the status of GM Jack Zduriencik. New team president Kevin Mather and the ownership group may prefer to learn the long-term status of Zduriencik before engaging in meaningful negotiations on a long-term contract with Seager and his representatives — or any other player for that matter.

The presumption is that Zduriencik’s fate will be decided by the team’s success on the field, suggesting that situation could be resolved soon after the season. That may not entirely be the case, as some of the behind-the-scenes occurrences may play a role in the decision. The club’s second order of business, however, should be all about Seager. So what gets it done?

Let’s call it five years guaranteed at about $14 million per season with a club option for year six at about $18 million, bringing the total guaranteed money to $70 million with a ceiling of about $88 million. Such a deal buys out all three arbitration years — which we determined above is likely to be worth as much as $26 million via the year-to-year process — and adds an additional three free agent years at $62 million, or $21 million per season. This projection considers inflation, the market trends in terms of dollars and depth and the fact that Seager’s reps and the Seattle contingent know very well how difficult it is for them to add offense on the open market. The worst part is, it’s tough for the 29 other clubs, too, because the free agent pools are barren.

Losing Seager to free agency in three years would be a significant setback for the M’s and while six years and $88 million is quite a costly investment, the franchise can’t afford to not to take care of Seager. There’s little doubt Seager would command more than $88 million on the open market in three years as a 4-6 win player at 29 years of age.

Considering the organization’s financial position, the going rate for offense in Major League Baseball, options in terms of player personnel and those difficulties surrounding the Mariners’ attempts to attract any part of a shallow free agent market to choose Seattle and Safeco Field, their best bet is to keep it simple, stay out of their own way, get a deal done sooner than later and avoid painting themselves into a corner.

Besides, Seager is doing a good enough job of that all by himself.

Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

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