Was Extending Wil Myers the Right Move for the San Diego Padres?
The former Rookie of the Year winner will be a foundational piece for the rebuilding Padres, and at the age of 26, Myers will be spending his prime seasons in San Diego.
While it was a prudent idea for the Padres to get this deal done, there are some legitimate cons to go along with the serious pros that extending Myers long-term provides, and they deserve to be discussed.
Before anything else, discussing the contract itself is an important aspect.The contract eats up three of his arbitration years, and then, at least three of his free agent years.
Wil Myers gets a $15 million signing bonus. $2M salary in 2017-18, $3M in 2019, $20M in 2020-22. $20M team option for 2023, $1M buyout.
— Dennis Lin (@sdutdennislin) January 17, 2017
The signing bonus is quite a chunk of change, but the rest of the contract is rather unusual. The contract is heavily backloaded, with $80 million of the $83 million extension being earned after 2020. The strange structure of the contract allows for the Padres to be able to keep the financial flexibility they already have -- Myers is their highest-paid player this season, even with the low salary total in 2017 -- while allowing them to get Myers for likely below market value in 2020 and beyond, when he would have been a free agent. Also, if they so choose, they can keep him around for a seventh season, or let him go for a $1 million buyout.
All in all, this is a really nice contract for both parties; while Myers may be able to get more than $20 million a year on the market when he was due to hit free agency -- especially if baseball contracts continue to get more and more expensive -- he still gets a nice payday and some stability. For the Padres, they get a player to build around for a good chunk of his career.
A Breakout Season
Last year was a revelation for Myers, who had a relatively frustrating career before the 2016 season.
Myers was highly-touted coming into his 2013 rookie season, and he delivered on that hype, hitting .293/.354/.478 with an .831 OPS, 13 home runs and a 129 wRC+ for the Tampa Bay Rays. Despite being called up rather late that season and playing in just 88 games, he still took home Rookie of the Year honors.
However, his success did not continue in 2014, when he struggled mightily after returning from a fractured right wrist.
After the rough season, he was traded to his current team in a three-team deal which also included Trea Turner moving to the Washington Nationals. Myers could not shake the injury woes, though, as tendinitis in his left wrist led to him playing only 60 games in 2015, his first season with the Padres.
Myers turned it around in 2016, staying healthy and making the switch to playing first base on a full-time basis. He played in 157 games, hitting .259/.336/.461 with a .797 OPS, 28 home runs, 28 stolen bases, a 115 wRC+ and a 3.2 WAR, per Baseball Reference.
For perspective, Myers' wRC+ was 12th-highest among all first basemen in 2016, as were his 28 home runs -- pretty solid, especially considering how stacked the position is with big bats. He drove in 94 runs, which was good for 10th among all first basemen last season despite the fact that the Padres were 20th in the MLB with 4.23 runs per game. Also, as one would expect, he ranked near the top of all first basemen in steals, only trailing Paul Goldschmidt (32 swipes).
The move to first base really panned out, both in terms of health and in terms of defense. In 207 career games in the outfield, he posted a minus-17 Defensive Runs Saved, per Baseball Reference's model, with 0 being the average. At 173 games at first base, he tallied plus-8 Defensive Runs Saved. It's nearly the same sample size, and it is a huge swing in terms of defense. He is a good defensive first baseman, and a bad outfielder.
One of the chief concerns with this extension is how Myers has only put up good year-end numbers once since his rookie year. However, there are very positive signs that suggest he can continue his offensive output.
His rookie season remains his best one, a whole 14 wRC+ better, but that will be tough for him to repeat, as evidenced by his BABIP. As the chart above shows, 2014 was Myers' only truly bad season, and it can be viewed as an outlier in most cases -- his ISO and BABIP were way down, and it could have been the result of lingering issues with his right wrist. He was actually productive in limited action in 2015, and it is an important season in projecting his future.
Myers' 2015 and 2016 campaigns are pretty similar, although his power numbers spiked in 2016. Wrist injuries are notorious for taking away power from hitters, so it's possible that the uptick in pop came from finally being at full strength. The fact that the BABIP's are nearly the same is comforting, as well -- he is probably hitting around his true talent level these past two seasons. As long as he's on the field, Myers should be able to put up good numbers.
Injuries, Injuries, Injuries
The biggest concern for Myers going forward is clearly health. He hurt both of his wrists in consecutive seasons -- a pretty devastating blow for a hitter -- and while there are underlying numbers which show he can repeat his 2016 showing, he still has yet to prove he can stay on the field for an extended period of time.
Signing someone to a long-term extension always comes with risks, even if the player has had a healthy career prior to the signing, so extending someone who has an extensive injury history comes with even more worry.
While there is some risk, the Padres probably made a smart move by extending Myers. He proved to be an above-average first baseman offensively while playing solid defense. On top of that, his numbers appear repeatable, and Myers should be a centerpiece for the Padres over the long haul. While there is an injury risk with Myers, sometimes taking a risk with a very affordable contract is worth it.