Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, hitting .242/.305/.463 but providing tremendous value to the A's thanks to his power and outstanding right-field defense. Reddick played in 156 games with the A's, hitting 32 home runs with 85 runs and RBI and 11 steals. His 2012 UZR/150 of 19.3 is so high it looks like an outlier, but it's entirely consistent with his performances prior to the 2012 season, when he was with the Red Sox. Reddick's 2012 performance also won him a Gold Glove award.
Reddick currently has two years and 50 days of service time, meaning he should be eligible for arbitration after the 2013 season and for free agency after 2016. He will turn 30 shortly before his first season of free agent eligibility, in 2017.
Cameron Maybin's five-year, $25MM contract with the Padres, signed before the 2012 season, might provide a basic framework for a Reddick extension. (Maybin's contract also contains a $9MM team option with a $1MM buyout.) Like Reddick, Maybin was coming off a defense-fueled breakout year, posting 4.6 wins above replacement in 2011 (compared to 4.8 for Reddick last year), playing 147 games, and posting a line of .264/.323/.393 with 40 stolen bases while playing in tough PETCO Park. Much of Maybin's offensive value comes his baserunning, whereas Reddick's comes from his power, and Maybin plays center field, rather than right. But like Reddick now, Maybin was a young outfielder who had between two and three years of service time at the time of his contract. If Reddick were to receive a five-year deal, he might make a hair more than Maybin did.
A glance at roughly-similar players who have gone to arbitration reveals that the first four years of a $25-28MM contract would be consistent with what the A's might pay Reddick if they took him year to year. The Tigers' Austin Jackson settled for $3.5MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility this offseason. Mets first baseman Ike Davis, whose offensive numbers (although certainly not his defensive ones) were similar to Reddick's in 2012, will make $3.1MM in his first arbitration year. Reddick appears likely to make more as a first-year arbitration player than Davis did, although much would depend on how Reddick plays next season. If we stipulate that Reddick would make $3.5MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility, that would put him very much in line with the long-term contracts of Maybin and Curtis Granderson, who both signed with one year before hitting arbitration and received $3MM (Maybin) to $3.5MM (Granderson) in the second years of their deals. As with the both contracts, the A's could add a team option to the end as a way of compensating for their large financial commitment.
Would such a move make sense for the A's, though? Reddick's profile -- lots of defensive value, lots of power, and inconsistent contact-making ability -- worked brilliantly for him in 2012. But three projection systems (ZiPS, Steamer and Oliver) all see Reddick providing substantially less value in 2013, in part because it's unlikely he'll continue to post such amazing defensive numbers. And while Reddick's 151 strikeouts in 2012 don't prove anything about the value he provided in 2012, they might not bode well going forward, especially when coupled with a .242 batting average. The career of Drew Stubbs, another gifted defensive outfielder with a penchant for strikeouts, may be instructive here. Stubbs himself batted .243 in 2011, then saw his numbers fall to .213/.277/.333 in 2012. Reddick's strikeout numbers are less severe than Stubbs', but some caution is still in order.
There will be plenty of space in Oakland for Reddick, whether or not he and the A's consider an extension. The Oakland outfield is a little crowded now, with Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Chris Young all vying for time, but Reddick should be a higher priority than any of them, except perhaps Cespedes. (Reddick faded badly down the stretch in 2012, and the A's hope the addition of Young will help keep Reddick fresh.) The only top outfield prospect on the horizon is Michael Choice, who played for Double-A Midland in 2012.
The best path for the A's may be to take Reddick year-to-year for now. Because of his defensive value, a long-term deal would be unlikely to become a major mistake, and that's an important consideration for a financially-conscious team like the Athletics. And the A's would have more leverage to complete a deal now than they will next offseason, when Reddick will already be eligible for arbitration. But Reddick's contact ability is enough of a red flag that waiting a year, or at least a few months, to see how Reddick performs might be the better gamble, even if it ultimately costs them the ability to control his 2017 or 2018 seasons.