Sep 28, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier (21) hits a ground ball off Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (not pictured) in the first inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
On Friday, the Cincinnati Reds traded arbitration figures with third baseman Todd Frazier, their breakout star from a mostly forgettable 2014 season. The inability of the two sides to reach an agreement for 2015 underlines the fact that Frazier is one of he few “young” Reds not under consideration for a contract extension. For the future good of the franchise, the Reds would be best served to let the full arbitration process play out over the next few years rather than committing big money to their main offensive threat from a year ago.
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The main factor working against Frazier in his climb up the salary mountain is that he took a long time to get to the Major Leagues, and then built slowly to last year’s peak. Selected by the Reds in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft, Frazier did not make his debut on the riverfront until May of 2011, when he was already 25 years old. The next year, he finished third in Rookie of the Year balloting and then slide backwards a bit at the plate in 2013, dropping from an OPS+ of 118 to 98.
Even last year was a mixed bag, as he slammed 19 home runs, picked up 53 RBI, and hit .290 before the All-Star break but slipped to 10/27/.247 in the second half. Frazier’s nosedive was a huge contributing factor to the team’s stumbling out of contention. To be fair, injuries and performance issues throughout the lineup doomed the Reds, but Frazier did his part.
Now, at age 29, Frazier is asking for $5.7 million in 2015, as compared to the Reds’ arbitration figure of $3.9 million. If he can revert to his first-half production from a year ago, Frazier will be a bargain at nearly $6 million. If not, neither figure is a terrible overpay.
Regardless of what kind of player Frazier is in 2015, he is nearing the end of what are typically a player’s peak years. That may seem impossible to believe since he just started to gain national attention a year ago, but it’s the truth.
What’s more, Frazier cannot be a free agent for another three seasons. That would put him on the brink of his age-32 season and making maybe $10 million per year through arbitration raises. He will clearly be heading toward the downside of his career and might already be in a decline, so there is little chance he will be poised for an uptick in production at that point.
With that background, what good could come for the Reds from extending Frazier now? Many have drawn parallels between Frazier and Kyle Seager, who recently signed a seven-year $100-million extension with the Seattle Mariners, but the Reds should not use the Seager deal as justification to overpay Frazier.
For one thing, Seager is nearly two years younger than Frazier, and Seager has seen his offensive output increase for each of the past three seasons. While Frazier is a top-five third baseman in the field, Seager made a major leap forward in that regard in 2014, when his 10.7 UZR was the third best among all 3Bs and puts him clearly ahead of Frazier.
Beyond Seager himself, the Mariners are serious about contending now, while the Reds are spinning their wheels. Seattle can afford to overpay a bit on the back end of a contract in exchange for cost certainty now, when they’re winning. The Reds, on the other hand, need to brace for the coming rebuild.
There is very little chance that Frazier will be a top-flight producer by 2018 when the Reds may be coming out of the funk that’s about to hit them, so it doesn’t make any sense to tie up large sums to keep him beyond that point. If the team is going to extend him, it should be for three years, just to clear the yearly hassle of the arbitration process.
Even then, it may be hard for the Reds to recoup their investment.