Has Todd Frazier Shown Enough to Warrant an Extension in Cincinnati?
The Cincinnati Reds have locked-up Homer Bailey and Joey Votto to nine-figure contracts, Brandon Phillips is signed through 2017 (he’s owed $39 million from 2015-2017), and Jay Bruce is signed through 2017 (when including his 2017 team option worth $13 million). Beyond those four players, and pre-arbitration youngsters, like Devin Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton, the Reds are set to lose several players to free agency after the 2015 and 2016 season. Chief among those heading towards free agency are Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Mike Leake after the 2015 season, and Aroldis Chapman after the 2016 season.
Cincinnati have several young arms on the way up, including current bullpen arm Tony Cingrani, three starters in Double-A – Robert Stephenson, Michael Lorenzen, and Ben Lively, and recent college draftees Nick Howard (out of Virginia) and Wyatt Strahan (out of Southern California) to add to the mix. The presence of these young arms could ease the pain of losing three above-average starting pitchers and an elite closer in the next couple of seasons; however, outside of Jesse Winker and Seth Mejias-Brean, who were just promoted to Double-A, there isn’t much offensive depth in the minor league system, and certainly not enough to produce enough runs offensively to win games when and if Cueto, Latos, and Leake leave via free agency. The team will need to score more, and they need to lock-up young producers like Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier to long-term, team-friendly deals now to avoid an offensive collapse in future seasons, especially considering that the Reds are ranked 27th in MLB in runs scored with some talented players in the lineup currently.
Devin Mesoraco is breaking out in 2014, posting a .304/.385/.587 triple-slash and 10 home runs in his first 151 plate appearances. While he and Frazier are both free agents after the 2017 season, this is Mesoraco’s first experience with extensive playing time, and the club should monitor how he continues handling pitchers and his own health prior to locking up the 26-year-old backstop, though, he would make an excellent player to extend, as well.
However, this post isn’t about Mesoraco, it’s about Todd Frazier, and Todd Frazier is not only breaking out in 2014, he is taking steps towards stardom. After another multi-hit game on Thursday, his 18th of the season, Frazier has a .279/.349/.517 triple-slash to go along with his 31 extra-base hits, 41 RBI, and seven stolen bases. At 28, Frazier is in his prime and would be in his early 30’s if the Reds were able to buyout his arbitration years and gain options for the 2018 through 2020 seasons, while keeping the costs of a potential right-handed power hitter down.
You see, Frazier is overlooked quite a bit due to his struggles in his sophomore season, 2013, when he managed a .234/.314/.407 triple-slash, but some of that can be attributed to his .269 BABIP. While there were struggles, Frazier did improve his walk-rate (which has taken another step forward in 2014), while also improving his strikeout rate. His 100 wRC+ was league average, despite the ugly batting average, but his .721 OPS was in the top 15 among third basemen in MLB, and he posted a career-high 73 RBI.
In 2012, Frazier’s rookie season, he had an .829 OPS, second among NL rookies, to go along with his 19 home runs and 67 RBI, while being forgotten among the National League Rookie of the Year hype that led to Bryce Harper winning the award, while Mike Trout‘s historic run towards finishing second in the AL MVP voting to Miguel Cabrera left many other rookies that year (including Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Carpenter, and Yu Darvish) feeling like chopped liver.
Since his rookie season, Todd Frazier ranks 11th in wRC+ (115, higher than Kyle Seager, Pablo Sandoval, and Pedro Alvarez), 11th in wOBA (.344, higher than Seager, Sandoval, and Alvarez), 11th in WAR (8.6, higher than Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman, Sandoval, and Alvarez), and each of the players that Frazier ranks higher than make considerably more money, outside of Seager:
Aramis Ramirez: in the middle of a three-year, $40 million deal (2015 – $4 million buyout or $14 million option)
Ryan Zimmerman: in the middle of an 11-year, $135 million deal that runs through 2020 (including options)
Kyle Seager: earning $540,000 this year and arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2015
Pablo Sandoval: in the final year of a three-year, $17.15 million deal and likely to cash-in this winter
Pedro Alvarez: earning $4.25 million this year and arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2015
Frazier is making $600,000 this season and is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter. Just like Seager, Frazier has provided tremendous value when compared to other third basemen around baseball, and he has earned a financial reward for his contribution over the last two-and-a-half seasons, especially when you consider the bargain he has been to this point. With the numbers that he is putting up, he could get quite expensive in arbitration. In 2014, Frazier is truly pacing third basemen across MLB: 2nd in WAR (2.7), 1st in wRC+ (139), 1st in wOBA (.377), 1st in slugging percentage (.517, only player over .500), 1st in OPS (.866), 2nd in home runs (16, Josh Donaldson leads with 17), and 1st in stolen bases (7). While some may think it is a mirage, Frazier’s sophomore season seems to be the regression from the norm. His batting average (.273) is the same as it was in his rookie season, his slugging percentage is similar to what it was in his rookie season (.498 in 2012 and .517 entering play today), and his BABIP is just .304, closer to league average than being responsible for inflating his overall numbers. While the HR/FB is very high (21.1 percent), Frazier’s line-drive, ground-ball, and fly-ball rates are each in line with his career norms, the ball is just leaving the yard at a much higher rate.
While there could be some regression in home runs, which would lead to more fly-balls and lower overall production, it is atypical for balls to stay in the yard in the warmer months in Cincinnati, much less many other ballparks across MLB. At 28, Frazier is in his prime and the production seems legitimate.
With right-handed power being advantageous with both Joey Votto and Jay Bruce batting left-handed in the middle of the order, a productive Todd Frazier has tremendous value for Cincinnati. The cost of pitching on the open market makes it very unlikely that the Reds can afford to keep any one of the trio of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Mike Leake after the 2015 season, which makes the ability to create runs offensively that much more valuable going forward for Cincinnati. The Reds need Todd Frazier and they need him beyond 2017. Now is the time to invest in the Frank Sinatra loving, Toms River, New Jersey star, as the club can’t afford to go to arbitration with him as he continues to develop offensively.