Mariners Pay Kyle Seager Like The Player He Is

Heading into the 2009 draft, Baseball America wrote the following about Kyle Seager’s future while rating him as the 97th best prospect in the draft.

A three-year starter for North Carolina, Seager is an area scout favorite, not to mention a player opposing coaches respect immensely. National evaluators have a harder time pegging him because he doesn’t fit a neat profile. His best tool is his bat. He has a smooth, balanced swing and makes consistent contact with gap power. He ranked third in the nation in 2008 with 30 doubles and was on a similar pace in 2009. He has a patient approach but doesn’t project to hit for much home run power because of his modest bat speed and flat swing plane. While he’s a fringy runner, he’s a fine baserunner.

Seager played second base for his first two seasons and moved to third this year, where he has played good defense. Featuring an average arm and impressive agility, he’s an average defender at third, if not a tick above. Scouts who like him see a Bill Mueller type who doesn’t fit the profile but grinds out at-bats and outs in the field. His detractors see him as a safe pick with low upside and a future reserve or utility player.

Major League teams agreed with the assessment, and Seager went 82nd overall, sandwiched between Trevor Holder and Jerry Sullivan. He was a classic low upside guy, taken because he looked like he could provide some value with minimal risk, but no one expected Seager to turn into a star.

After three seasons (and some change) in the big leagues, though, it’s probably time to throw that profile out the window. In 2,200 big league plate appearances, Seager has now launched 70 home runs, or an average of 19 longballs per 600 plate appearances. For comparison, Pablo Sandoval has averaged 20 home runs per 600 plate appearances through his career, and has been the focus of a pretty significant bidding war for his services. The market recognizes Sandoval as a significant offensive force, and is paying him as such; given that, we probably have to recognize Seager as a legitimate asset at the plate as well.

For reference, here are their numbers over the last three years:

Name PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Kyle Seager 2,000 8% 18% 0.172 0.291 0.262 0.329 0.434 0.335 116
Pablo Sandoval 1,664 8% 13% 0.144 0.301 0.280 0.335 0.424 0.330 115

And what that has translated into.

Name PA Off Def WAR
Kyle Seager 2,000 34.8 18.6 12.8
Pablo Sandoval 1,664 18.7 4.9 7.9

It’s almost impossible to form an argument that Sandoval is currently a better player than Seager. He makes more contact, but has actually hit for less power, and his size makes him a vastly inferior baserunner. Even if you think the defensive metrics are overstating the difference, at the least, it’s pretty close to a push, with maybe a slight edge to Seager for being a year younger and having the superior recent performance.

Overall, Steamer sees a +0.4 WAR difference per 600 plate appearances in Seager’s favor, though Sandoval’s injury history and size probably makes him less likely to reach that mark. We’re not talking huge differences here, but if the market thinks Sandoval is an impact player, it basically has to think that of Seager too.

Which is why the Mariners weren’t interested in letting Seager hit the free agent market, and have reportedly signed him to a $100 million extension that covers the next seven years. Because he was headed for his first crack at arbitration, this essentially covers four free agent years, in addition to guaranteeing the three arbitration years the team already controlled. Matt Swartz had projected Seager to make about $5 million in arbitration this winter, so if we project reasonable raises of $4 million each trip through, he was looking at about $27 million in arbitration money, so a 7/$100M guarantee buys out four free agent years at around $73 million, or about $18 million per season.

Relative to his current market value, that’s a discount. Sandoval just got ~$20 million per year, and in three more years, the market value for this kind of player is probably going to be closer to $22-$24 million per year. On the other hand, the Mariners are taking on some pretty significant risk, given that they’re guaranteeing money well ahead of when they needed to, so getting a discount on the free agent years is necessary to make the deal work for the team. Especially because Seager is something of an overachiever, and a down year or two could make him look more like a Chase Headley type than a Pablo Sandoval type.

But realistically, even in that scenario, this deal probably doesn’t become a significant albatross. The crowd projects Headley to sign for 4/$60M this winter, and given that Sandoval just got 5/$100M, I wouldn’t rule out $75 million for Headley. In other words, Headley is probably going to sign for something not too different from what Seager just signed away his free agent years for. And Headley is not a bad example of Seager’s downside if the power regresses back towards what scouts originally expected. And with three more years of inflation, $73 million wouldn’t look like the same amount that it does today.

Seager’s been underrated for essentially his entire career. He was underestimated as a draft prospect, and as a minor leaguer, and now as a very productive big leaguer. He’s headed into the prime of his career as a guy who has already averaged +3.7 WAR per 600 plate appearances. He might not look like a top tier player, but Kyle Seager has developed into an excellent baseball player.

I didn’t expect Kyle Seager to get $100 million this winter. Then again, I didn’t expect Kyle Seager to ever be this good. This contract pays him for what he’s actually done, not what everyone else expected him to do. And it’s probably about time that he got recognition for making our expectations look silly.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Colonel Obvious
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Colonel Obvious

So happy!!!!!! Seaboss in an M’s uniform for seven more years at a discount rate!

Sleight of Hand Pro
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Sleight of Hand Pro

YAY

james
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james

I do not think it is a discount rate, but he is locked up at a reasonable amount.

Balthazar
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Kyle is definitely an overachiever which is why the scouting report on him as an amateur wasn’t exactly wrong. He doesn’t have great bat speed, and was an up-the-middle doubles hitter when he came up. But he’s turned himself into a dead pull hitter to add power while still having the hand-eye to protect the plate and have good ABs. Not particularly one to walk in the minors, Kyle has adjusted to the fact that pitchers are working him more carefully and more away as he’s shown more power, and actually increased his walk rate. Kyle’s been known to lay down a push bunt against the left shift too.

Seager is a very heady guy, as we see. Unlike many prospects, he adjusted very quickly to major league pitching to implement significant changes in his batting profile and swing plane. Seager is very aware of action on the field. He has worked very hard on his positioning and footwork to improve at 3b. I don’t get the knock on his arm, he puts plenty of zip on the ball; not the strongest arm in the majors but definitely not below average. Seager doesn’t have fantastic lateral range, which is why the move to 3b was smart, but has good hands and makes few errors.

Seager is an example, rare, of a guy who has absolutely maximized his potentials as a player. For that alone, I’ve always respected him. I think the Mariners need to rest him a bit more rather than wear him into the ground, but that’s a discussion for another day. They did indeed get an All-Star out of his draft class, just it was Kyle in the 3rd round not the pick in the 1st. This is where kudos is really owed to Tom McNamara and his best scouts, for their mid-round pricks.

Balthazar
Guest

Mid-round *picks*. I rather liked it the other way, but spell auto-correct is a demon a-lurking.

Colonel Obvious
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Colonel Obvious

He’s referring to Ackley, folks.