Last night, Ian Kinsler and the Rangers announced they’d be an important part of each other’s lives for at least the next 5 years, as Texas gave Kinsler at least $75 million to stick around (plus a team option at $15 mil, with a $5 mil buyout). This extension, coupled with the discussions surrounding Brandon Phillips’ new extension (which came through as TCM was finishing this post up), and the steep decline of Chase Utley, has The Common Man wondering whether long-term extensions for second basemen are really that great of an idea, especially when those extensions start with the player on the wrong side of 30.
Kinsler made his Major League debut at 24, and a year later was one of the better second basemen in the American League. He spent the next five seasons averaging around 4.6 WAR, and he’s off to another hot start in 2012. Let’s be generous and assume that Kinsler is going to be worth around 5.0 WAR this year. That will make him just behind Chuck Knoblauch for 9th in WAR by a second baseman between 25-30.
That’s a remarkable stretch of excellent play, but second basemen tend to age quickly due to the pounding their bodies take. So let’s look at how, say, the top 20 second basemen in WAR from age 25-30 fared in their next six seasons:
*Compiled as a first baseman
**Utley is still active, but is out until at least mid-season with knee issues.
***Partially compiled as a leftfielder.
****Gordon missed two seasons for World War II at age 29 and 30
Now, we’d expect to see some drop off in production from players in their 30s. And, indeed, that is what we see. Of these 20 second basemen, 17 performed worse in the six seasons after turning 30, 13 of whom saw their production fall off by at least 20% (that’s including Chase Utley, who isn’t done yet, at least literally speaking). Overall, the group saw their production fall by 37%. You could argue that, by virtue of starting later than most of the other players on the list (only Utley and Stirnweiss began their Major League careers at 24), but Stirnweiss was done at 32 and Utley has struggled to stay both healthy and effective over the last three seasons. Meanwhile, Charlie Gehringer and Lou Whitaker held up remarkably well (Gehringer actually was almost 50% better from ages 31-36), despite starting their careers at 22 and 20 respectively.
Still, even a 37% drop in production would still leave Kinsler worth around 3.0 wins per season over the next several years, which would be a fairly realistic representation of his value, assuming that the marginal cost for a win on the free agent market continues to hover around $5 million. And given the revenue Texas has been able to generate through their massive television deal, and their increased sponsorship from Japan, they will likely be able to afford it if Kinsler falls even a little further.
Brandon Phillips, on the other hand, is a completely different story. The Reds just signed him for five years and $72.5 million, according to Jim Bowden. But Phillips is already 31, and has a vastly different track record from Kinsler. He started earlier and got off to a much slower start than Kinsler did. And his value has probably been around 2.0 WAR(P) per season from ages 25-30 (although Fangraphs pegs it at 4.0). So whereas Kinsler has been one of the best second basemen during this 25-30 age window, Phillips was actually 85th according to rWAR, right in between Bobby Knoop and Jerry Lumpe. Looking at the top 100 second basemen from 25-30 (taking out those who are still active, we find that production drops off even more as they age, by almost 44%. So even if Phillips’ career year in 2011 turns out to be the new norm for the second baseman, the Reds (especially the Reds, with their relative lack of revenue) seem destined to regret this deal immensely. And probably soon.