Last year, Jedd Gyorko hit more home runs than all but two rookie second basemen in major league history. Though the rest of the game remains a work in progress, the Padres have rewarded the 25-year-old slugger with a six-year, $35 million extension covering the 2015-20 seasons. As with most extensions for players not yet eligible for arbitration, it's a justifiable move, though it looks to be slightly on the high side when compared to the recent six-year extensions of Starling Marte and Chris Archer.
A second-round draft pick in 2010 out of West Virginia University, Gyorko cracked the major prospect lists after a breakout performance (.333/.400/.552 with 25 homers) in a 2011 season split between High-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio, and he backed that up with another strong performance (.311/.373/.547 with 30 homers) in 2012 split between San Antonio and Triple-A Tucson. He made his major league debut as the Padres' 2013 Opening Day second baseman, and hit .249/.301/.444 with 23 homers in 525 plate appearances despite missing a month due to a groin strain. Among rookie second basemen, only Dan Uggla (27 homers in 2006) and Hall of Famer Joe Gordon (25 homers in 1938) showed more punch in their inaugural seasons.
Gyorko's rate stats may not look like much, but in the run-starved environment of Petco Park, they're good for a 113 OPS+. What's more troublesome is a low walk rate (6.1 percent unintentional) and 3.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In a 46-game stretch after returning from the disabled list, Gyorko struck out 50 times and walked just twice, though he proceeded to draw 11 walks against 19 strikeouts over his final 19 games. Particularly for a player whose physique has drawn comparisons to a fire hydrant and a garden gnome, his defense at second base was solid (-1 Defensive Runs Saved, +1.7 Ultimate Zone Rating), undone by small-sample struggles in his 13 games at third base; in all, he finished the year with 2.2 Wins Above Replacement according to the Baseball-Reference.com version of the metric.
Gyorko is under contract to make $510,900 this year; his extension replaces that, covering his remaining two pre-arbitration years (2014-2015), all three of his arbitration years (2016-2018), and his first year of eligibility for free agency (2019). The Padres hold a club option worth at least $13 million for 2020, and the deal also includes escalator clauses that could further increase its value. Via ESPN's Jayson Stark, the guaranteed portion is the third-largest for any player with one year of service time behind those of the Braves' Andrelton Simmons (seven years, $58 million) and the Brewers' Ryan Braun (eight years, $45 million).
What's more striking than that is the extent to which Gyorko outdid both Marte (six years, $31 million plus two club options) and Archer (six years, $25.5 million). The gap beyond the latter can be explained away by several factors: Archer came into the season with less than a full year of service time, his deal covers this season, he's on track to be a Super Two with four years of arbitration eligibility, and because he's a pitcher, his growth is less predictable.
The discrepancy between Gyroko and Marte makes less sense. The latter is 16 days younger, but came into the season with 70 days more service time by dint of his late 2012 callup. Both players have shown deficits with regards to plate discipline; Marte came into the year having drawn an unintentional walk just 4.1 percent of the time, with a 6.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. On the other hand, in his first full season, the Pirates' leftfielder had also shown outstanding speed (41 steals) and star-caliber defense (+22 DRS), elevating his value to an impressive 5.5 WAR. Leaving aside the escalator clauses in Marte's contract, if both of his options are exercised, his deal will become an eight-year, $52 million deal ($6.5 million average annual value) to Gyorko's seven-year, $48 million ($6.86 million AAV). The difference probably owes more to the Padres having a much higher payroll ($90.1 million as of Opening Day, compared to $78.1 million for the Pirates) and a big new television deal locked in than to an evaluation of the two players' skills. With Chase Headley likely to depart via free agency at the end of the season, Gyorko — the first Padre with a guaranteed commitment beyond the 2016 season — could wind up back at third base, where he saw more action in the minors. With no obvious solution forthcoming from within the Padres' system, such a move will depend on whether the Padres feel as though Alexi Amarista is fit for full-time duty at second and what other alternatives the free agent and trade markets offer at the two positions. For the moment, the team has its hands full in reversing the trend of three straight losing seasons and five out of the last six, and they'll need Gyorko to shake off his 7-for-43 start.