Thinking Aloud About a Kurt Suzuki Trade to the Rays

By Robbie Knopf

It’s simple: the Oakland Athletics are trading their entire team away as they go into rebuilding mode and the Rays desperately need a catcher. The A’s acquired a nice young catcher, Derek Norris, as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade. So could they trade their current starting catcher, Kurt Suzuki, to the Rays in exchange for a few more prospects?

Before we even think about trade scenarios for a Suzuki trade to the Rays, we have to think about whether the Rays would actually consider trading for Suzuki. As Devon talked about on Friday, the Rays are really in trouble at the catcher position. But is Suzuki the guy they want?

Suzuki is certainly an upgrade over whatever the heck the Rays have now. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that I needed to do a 10 part series on catching prospects that the Rays have or could get in the future (so many I can’t easily link to all of them- search “catching” in the site’s upper right corner for a bunch of them if you missed them). But Suzuki is nothing like the type of player the Rays would like to acquire. His career line is .258/.318/.388 while the league has hit .262/.322/.407 while he has been playing. He doesn’t hit for a good average, he doesn’t get on base at a good rate, and his power is below-average as well. You could make the argument the Suzuki has been victimized by the hitter’s wasteland currently known as Coliseum, and using’s Neutralized Batting Tool, his career slash line does go up to .262/.322/.395 if you put him in a neural park. But if you use the same tool to have him play his entire career on a team with the stadium and tendencies of the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays, his career line actually goes down to .253/.312/.382. But take a look at this chart of the starting catchers the Rays have had in their history.

As you can see, Suzuki’s .706 career OPS would be the highest of any catcher on this list, as would his slugging percentage, and his batting average and OBP would both rank second. Suzuki would be the best offensive catcher in Rays history, and we haven’t even gotten to his defense.

Defensively, Suzuki is not a Gold Glove contender, but he’s certainly at least average. He posted a .993 Fld% and a 28% caught-stealing percentage in 2011, allowing 5 passed balls, and his averages per season are just about the same (.993, 27%, 5.4 PB’s per season). Suzuki calls a good game and can handle everything he needs to do defensively, so his defense isn’t a problem. Trading for Suzuki is certainly not the ideal for the Rays, but it would provide a major upgrade over the catchers they have now and all the catchers they have had in their history.

Now we’ve established that trading for Kurt Suzuki is a good idea for the Rays based on his performance. But there’s another factor: money. Suzuki isn’t making chump-change over the next couple of seasons as he makes 5 million dollars in 2012, 6.45 million dollars in 2013, and they he has an 8.5 million dollar team option for 2014. Suzuki basically makes nearly 40% over the league average salary (which was just under  3.1 million dollars in 2011) to be a league average player. That’s not what you want at all. We’ll have to factor in that the Rays would want the Athletics to pay at least 1.5 to 2.5 million dollars of Suzuki’s salary the next two years and if they pick up the 2014 option. That will affect this trade scenario significantly because the Rays will have to sweeten the deal. Let’s look at a possible trade.

Oakland Athletics trade Kurt Suzuki and cash to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for LHP Enny Romero, OF Cody Rogers, and RHP Scott Shuman

In this trade, the Athletics get a couple of promising players with significant upside, although all of them are pretty far from the big leagues. Lefty Enny Romero, who will turn 21 on January 24th, misses bats and forces weak contact with his mid-90’s fastball and nice 12-to-6 curveball. But his changeup still needs quite a bit of development as his third pitch, and his problems are quite a bit more than that. His curveball also showed inconsistency, leading Romero to rely on his fastball. Even at Low-A Bowling Green in 2011, hitters were able to identify Romero’s pitches well according to Minor League Central, leading to them swing on 90.1% of the pitches Romero threw for strikes compared to the league average of 88.3% and swing on 26.3% of pitches out of the zone compared to the league average of 26.1%. They still had tons of problems making consistent contact and hitting line drives as Romero posted an outstanding 11.1 K/9 and a nice 51.2% GB%, but he walked 5.4 batters per 9 innings. His 3.66 FIP in 2011 was just above the Midwest League average of 3.59. If Romero was really that dominant of a pitcher, he would have blown away Low-A hitters better than that.His control isn’t too much of a problem overall, but if hitters can differentiate between your fastball and curveball out of the hand, they can have a decent idea whether the pitch will be a ball or a strike. Romero has to find some way to fix that. Romero has a lot of talent, especially as a lefty, but he needs a lot of work to harness it. Nevertheless, he has the type of upside everybody likes and he’s a nice trade chip for the Rays.

I dubbed Cody Rogers “Bowling Green’s B.J. Upton” this past season (I would link you to a post, but my previous website was kind enough to delete every post I did for them). Rogers turned 23 in September, so he certainly isn’t the prospect Upton was, but he has very good power, significantly above-average and  solid plate discipline, although he strikes out more than you would like. He had a very good season in 2011 for the Hot Rods, posting a .244/.321/.404 line but with 18 doubles, 11 triples, 12 homers, 51 RBI, and 28 stolen bases in 35 attempts. He hit a very good amount of line drives, posting an 18.4% LD% according to MLC compared to the league average of 14.7% and he also hit for so much power, but his strikeouts limited his average. He struck out 111 times in 536 plate appearances, which amount to 20.7% of his plate appearances, exactly the league average to one decimal place, not what you would want from a player too old for a level (the league’s average age was 21.8), and neither was his 8.0% walk rate compared to the league average of 8.6%. But defensively, Rogers is a good centerfielder, although he did get experience in the corner outfield spots with Kevin Kiermaier handing center. Rogers has the talent to be an excellent all-around major league player someday, having excellent power and speed tools while being at least average defensively and hitting a nice amount of line drives. He has the kind of tools that you gamble on.

Imagine a hitter hitting just .160 yet posting a .380 OBP. What would we say about him? We’d probably say that his hit tool is sub-par, but his plate discipline is simply a cut above and he still has the ability to be a productive major league player, provided he’s a good defender. Well, if one player was batting against Rays relief prospect Scott Shuman all season, that’s what we would be saying. Hitters posted a bizarre .159/.380/.223 against him at High-A Charlotte as he posted an outstanding 15.0 K/9 and a great 0.5 HR/9, but a 10.3 BB/9 that was horrific at best. Shuman, who turns 24 in late March, features a nice mid-90’s fastball that touches 98 along with a very good slider. Hitters can’t figure out how to hit Shuman’s pitches, but he can’t figure out how to control them. The reason for Shuman’s ridiculously high walk rate was that hitters swung at just 12.3% of his pitches outside the zone compared to the league average of 25.0%. He suffered through control lapses way too often. If Shuman can ever get his control right, he has closer upside. You can’t teach someone how to throw in the mid-90’s, and Shuman can do that and more. His upside isn’t the highest in the world, but if he can get his control to be anywhere near average, he can be a productive major league player and perhaps a valuable one.

The Rays basically give up three very talented players who are nowhere near sure things for a catcher in Suzuki who’s a very good bet to be a solid big league catcher for the Rays. In an ideal world, the Rays would never do this trade, but with no catching prospects on the cusp, it’s either trade for Suzuki or acquire a catching prospect in a trade for Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann. Kurt Suzuki isn’t the best option for the Rays, but he’s a good option, and if the Athletics would provide the necessary salary relief and negotiate a fair trade, the Rays have to consider trading for him, even if it’s not the type of trade they would normally do.