Monday, April 14, 2014

Gyorko Gets Extension

Gyorko's elite power compensates for his deficiencies in other areas of the game (RantSports)
Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko received a six-year, $35 million contract extension today that will take effect immediately. The deal, which makes Gyorko a cornerstone of San Diego's lineup through the rest of the decade, is the third-largest for a player with just one year of service time after Andrelton Simmons and Ryan Braun. It buys out his first year of free agency and also includes a club option for the seventh year/his second free agent year (2020--his age 31 season) priced at $13 million.

The Padres were quick to extend Gyorko, who made his big league debut last Opening Day. Though he's off to a slow start this year with a .531 OPS through his first 12 games, the 25 year-old appears to have a bright future after his strong 2013 campaign. His 23 home runs led the team and ranked second among MLB second baseman (behind Robinson Cano's 27) and was the third-most in big league history by a rookie second baseman, trailing Dan Uggla's 27 with the Marlins in 2006 and Joe Gordon's 25 for the Yankees in 1938.

That power outburst (he also socked 26 doubles), made even more impressive by the facct that Gyorko plays half his games at the power-sapping Petco Park, helped him finish sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, ahead of Nolan Arenado and Evan Gattis but behind the quintet of Jose Fernandez, Yasiel Puig, Shelby Miller, Hyun-jin Ryu and Julio Teheran. Had he not missed 30 games to a groin injury, he may have reached 30 home runs and finished higher in the voting. As it is, he still managed to lead all rookies in home runs, OBP, and SLG. He also became the first rookie second baseman in baseball history to lead his team in RBI (with 63).

Gyorko's power is obvious but he is far from a finished product, or a complete ballplayer, for that matter. For starters, he doesn't contribute much defensively or on the basepaths (just one steal). His .249/.301/.444 batting line was not particularly impressive, though it still produced an OPS that was 13 percent better than average when adjusted for league and park. His plate discipline is also an issue as he whiffed 123 times while drawing just 32 unintentional walks last year, a nearly 4:1 ratio that has carried over into this season (16/4 K/BB) and is reminiscent of the figures Will Middlebrooks posted in his rookie season (which was followed by a brutal sophomore slump). Gyorko proved to be a streaky hitter last year, with 15 of his home runs coming after August 1st, and will likely remain one if he doesn't adopt a more patient plate approach. But seeing as how Gyorko's already in his prime at 25, he doesn't figure to get much better, but it's reasonable to expect he might become more disciplined as he gains more experience.

Regardless, 30-homer potential at the keystone position is almost unheard of and makes Gyorko pretty valuable. FanGraphs estimates he was worth 2.5 fWAR last year in approximately three-quarters of a season (125 games), so it's certainly possible that he'll be a 3-4 win player if he manages to play a whole season. Even if he holds steady at around two wins per season, that's still more than enough to justify his $6 million AAV. Gyorko will provide great value and offense for the Padres, an organization that craves both.

Perhaps more importantly, Gyorko also acts as an insurance policy for Chase Headley, who's in his walk year and may leave as a free agent following this season. Gyorko manned the hot corner in the minors and would have no problem shifting over to third should Headley leave (I have a feeling he will).

In the meantime, Gyorko will continue to provide big-time pop from a premium position, and that's plenty valuable enough.

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