The Giants just locked up Matt Cain through 2017 at the hefty price of $127.5M and the talk of the baseball world (at least in terms of contracts) turns to Ian Kinsler. The local Dallas beat writers report that the Rangers will sit down and make a 6 year contract offer to their All-Star second baseman. My question is simply why?
Let’s get the simple facts out out of the way early – Ian Kinsler is one of the best players in the game, but becomes truly elite when you factor in his play in the middle of the infield. Since breaking in as a 24 year old in 2006. Over those six years, his average season includes 21 HRs, 23 SBs and an OPS+ of 114. Beyond his production at the plate, Kinsler has also established himself as one of the premier defenders at his position – advanced defensive metrics place him in the same class as Dustin Pedroia and (a healthy) Chase Utley.
Given that background, is the contract extension a no brainer? There are a few reasons that the Rangers should think twice:
Kinsler is already under team control through the end of the 2013 season. Lest we forget, the Rangers have already signed Kinsler to a 5 year contract that pays him $7M this season, and will certainly pick up his $10M option for the 2013 season (his age 31 season). There is relatively little reason to extend Kinsler at this time, unless somehow one believes that his price will explode after another monster season and an expected monster extension for Robinson Cano from the Yankees. While the Cano contract may set an incredibly high bar, (a) for as good as Kinsler has been Cano is a truly elite hitter and (b) Kinsler has averaged 129 games over his 6 full seasons, which amounts to a missed month each year.
Historically, 2B does not age well. Ian Kinsler broke into the majors at 24, which means that this is his 30 year old season. Since the advent of divisional play, here is the list of 2B production, sorted by WAR, for players aged 30-36. Joe Morgan, the best second baseman who ever lived, posted a ridiculous 44 WAR over those 7 seasons. Distant second place comes down to soon to be Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, and should be Hall of Famer Jeff Kent (who has spent his post-playing career trying to erase the memories of him as an abrasive malcontent). That is the complete list of players that, at a comparable age, managed to post 30 WAR. Only 9 players have managed to accumulate 20 WAR over the 7 seasons (and that list additionally includes HOF’ers Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar, and the perpetually underrated Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker and Willie Randolph). For a player that has struggled with the injury bug early in his career, there is potential cause for concern.
The Rangers youth in the infield is its strength. Earlier this offseason, the Rangers locked up Elvis Andrus through 2014 at a very reasonable $14.4M – though Andrus is entering his fourth major league season, he is still only 23 and his excellence with the glove excuses somewhat slower development at the plate. Jurickson Profar is only 19, but may be ready to assume the mantle of best prospect in baseball now that Mike Trout, and Matt Moore have graduated to the majors (and Bryce Harper is expected to join them during them sometime in 2012). With Adrian Beltre locked up through 2015, when Profar is ready (potentially by mid-2013) he or Andrus may be looking at a position change.
The Rangers have some difficult decisions upcoming: Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli are both eligible for free agency following the 2012 season, as is lesser (but still quite valuable() Colby Lewis. Nelson Cruz is signed through 2013, but like Kinsler has struggled to stay on the diamond. Neftali Feliz will stand to make a bit more as he hits free agency, but clearly his transition to the starting rotation has not been seamless. Looking west from Arlington, perhaps the biggest game changer has been the LA Angels, who added Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson this offseason and now boast a starting rotation of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Wilson and Ervin Santana. While the Rangers are invested heavily in Yu Darvish and recently extended Derek Holland, keeping up with the Angels likely means adding at least one starter (or two if the Feliz experiment fails and/or Martin Perez cannot start marrying his minor league results with his major league arm).
Ultimately, the Rangers transition to a true big market, year over year contender is complete and their television contract gives Nolan Ryan means his predecessors never had. Looking at the roster as currently constructed, however, I think they need to focus on supplementing their rotation while filling 1-2 gaps in the OF as Hamilton and/or Cruz depart or decline. Of course, if Kinsler is talking about 6 years and $60-$75million, the move makes sense, but I have to believe the extension is north of $100M, and if that is the case the Rangers are likely going to regret not allocating those dollars elsewhere.