Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Gomez deal with Brewers a win-win
By Christina Kahrl
Carlos Gomez's $28.3 million extension with the Brewers is the latest example of a win-win agreement. It's a nice, midrange-stakes deal for which the player gets something around his market value and the club exploits its direct relationship with him before he gets to test those waters. Remember, Gomez had already agreed to an arbitration-avoiding $4.3 million deal for 2013 in January, so this wasn't a case of the Brewers exerting any leverage -- that could have been Gomez's last contract in Milwaukee, but apparently he's happy to be there, now through 2016.
So that's interesting right there: that Gomez cashed in now, a year out from free agency, when you might think that -- as a guy with a premium rep for his glove in center and armed with power (last year's .203 isolated power was almost 50 points higher than average for the position) and speed after swiping 37 bases in 43 attempts -- he could command even more money on the open market. On the other hand, you might also suggest he cashed in on the best year of his career, since prior to a .768 in a 2012 he'd never posted an OPS higher than .679 in his previous four-plus seasons of big-league playing time.
That risk/reward proposition didn't have an easy answer, but the Brewers' faith in him is consistent with the faith scouts had in him going back to when he was the best bit the Twins got from the Mets in the Johan Santana deal. And to be fair to Gomez, since getting his shot at everyday play in 2008 as a 22-year-old rookie in Minnesota, he'd hit some of the stumbling blocks that can stunt any prospect's development: starting only part-time for the Twins in 2009 and the Brewers in 2010 and 2011, and then losing about a month's worth of playing time to injury in each of the latter seasons. Going from playing regularly at every level coming up through the minors to adapting to irregular playing time is no easy adjustment for a young player -- indeed, being prepared for that sort of playing-time pattern is what helps sustain the career of many a 30-something utilityman -- so Gomez deserved some benefit of the doubt.
In that sense, 2012 looks like a long-delayed prospect reputation finally coming to fruition. There are interesting nits to pick if such is your inclination: Baseball Info Solutions saw Gomez's value on defense coming mostly from his arm, while Total Zone (also on Baseball-Reference.com) didn't see anything positive. On other hand, both metrics scored his play in center very highly, dovetailing with the glowing scouting reports that have followed Gomez for a decade. It's also a reminder that you shouldn't get too wrapped up in one season's worth of defensive data -- it's informative, but it isn't a final answer on a player's value afield.
The more tangible issue is whether or not Gomez's 2012 gains at the plate are going to last. It was his age-26 season and his first real shot at everyday play in years, both good reasons to expect as much. The power isn't just a product of the Brewers' power-boosting ballpark, as he still had a .172 ISO on the road last year. Besides which, he's a fly ball hitter, and not every player has the ability to exploit the advantages the ballpark offers -- consider it a feature that simply enhances his value to the Brewers. His strikeout rate is only slightly above average, and given more regular playing time, it came down last year; it wouldn't surprise me to see it come down even further as he settles in. He's never going to be much of a walking man (last year's 4.4 percent walk rate was only a little below his career average), but with the power and speed at the position he plays, that isn't such a big deal -- not everybody grows up to be Ken Griffey Jr., OK?
If you accept Gomez for what he can do and treat the money as an investment in the Brewers' getting more of the same going forward, you won't be disappointed. I certainly wouldn't expect them to be.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.