I am writing right now without a traditional sense of objectivity, which is any time one reacts immediately to a deal, there is a tendency to display immense polarity. This is, in many ways, a disclaimer before I lavish much praise upon the Indians’ front office.
As spring training began to wind down and the inability of the Indians to extend both staff ace Justin Masterson and all-star second baseman Jason Kipnis began to weigh on Indians’ fans, Tribe GM Chris Antonetti found a way to blindside the fan base with a move on the eve of opening day. Blindside seems to be fairly appropriate, as there was no hint or foreshadowing any interest of the Indians in extending Gomes this off-season.
This is not to say that Gomes is not deserving of such an extension, but even for myself, a vociferous supporter of buying out arbitration years and tacking on club options, I had not considered such an offer for Gomes prior to this season.
For Gomes, who came out of relative obscurity to make an incredible impact on the Indians 2013 wild card run, and in just 131 big league games, an extension is fairly audacious, but lets take a quick look at the potential of the contract.
In his first season with substantial playing time at the big league level, Gomes was an impact player, posting 3.7 fWAR in 88 big league games. What is perhaps humorous is that prior to the Gomes promotion to the big leagues, the largest question was whether he was ready defensively at any position at the big league level, especially behind the plate. At least that is what the Cleveland sports media lead many to believe.
In reality, Gomes great value lies in two areas: a plus defender and a powerful stick behind the plate. Gomes’ defense is exemplary. He flashes impressive throwing ability, which was showcased when he caught 20-of-49 runners stealing. Further, he made over 50% of plays that were in the 10-40% make range. Lastly, is the great new frontier of defensive evaluation for the catcher position, which is pitch framing.
Thanks to Pitch f/x data, we now have an ability to evaluate a catcher’s ability to frame, which has a distinct impact on run prevention. Gomes was among the league’s best, and though he is not one of the catching Molina brothers, his pitch framing ability had a distinguishable impact on the pitching staff.
The Indians pitching staff was 4th in fWAR and 2nd in FIP in the second half of 2013. Yan Gomes caught 47 of the Indians 67 games during that stretch of baseball. Of course there exist mitigating factors which could explain that more than this cursory glance, but his impact behind the plate is certain regardless.
Offensively, Gomes is no slouch, though we can expect regression in terms of BABIP, based on xBABIP as well as a tangible batting average regression, and in a connected manner OBP. However, even with this decrease, Gomes is a valuable offensive commodity because of his power production. Gomes projects to be a 15 homer, plus 30 double guy over the course of a full season, with room to stretch that production, especially considering the still unknown aspects of his game after a short sample-size.
Oliver projects four, four-plus WAR seasons over the next 5 seasons. This is relatively bold, filled with optimism, but Gomes will remain a three-plus WAR purely based on defensive value and power production.
What makes this deal an absolute steal are the two option years at the tail end, which are icing on the cake. As the escalators work, the deal projects to be around where Gomes would gross in arbitration anyways. The option years are an absolute gift to the Indians, as it takes him to free agency, and one year beyond. The two option years give the Indians control over the deal, and could be a bargain if Gomes meets the upside of his projections.
Over the next 24-48 hours Jim Pete and I will be discussing this move as well as what it means about the Indian methodology going forward.
As for this deal, because of the talent coupled with the option years, the Indians receive an A+.