Like Mike

Michael Young is not worth his contract. In fact you can even make a compelling case that he is the least valuable player on the team, if you look at a contract/production ratio. I understand many of you are under the ‘brain-washing’ of some old-school baseball writers that Young is worth every penny because of his ‘leadership’. True, ‘leadership’ is not a quantifiable stat, but what is quantifiable is, ‘trade-demands’, which Young has two of. Young is the team ‘leader’ in this category (see what I did there).

Michael Young’s contract is a burden. This is a fact proven, through another fact that the Rangers were one fractured-tibia (Eric Young Jr.) away, from trading him and eating a large sum of his contract for him to go away. Riddle me this, how does a guy go from nearly being traded for a utility infielder to getting a first place MVP vote?

Basically, the Michael Young contract is an ugly ordeal, which seems to get uglier every year. The Rangers would never re-do that contract if they had the opportunity. Or would they?

Michael Young signed his extension on March 2, 2007. He was coming off a career high in games played (162), doubles (52), and he crossed the century mark, for the first time in the ever-important RBI category (103). This culminated in the highest WAR Young has ever recorded (4.6).

Young was coming into his prime, having received MVP votes for three consecutive seasons, and finishing his forth consecutive 200+ hit seasons. Essentially, he was the “Face of the Franchise”, so the Rangers paid him accordingly- five years, $80 million.

Worth noting, was that the timing of Young’s extension was peculiar. He was age 29 and was under contract for the upcoming season (2007) and had a team option for the 2008 season.

To further hammer this point down, here’s Keith Law’s initial reaction to Michael Young’s extension:

( … the Rangers had no reason to commit to Young this early. He already was under contract for 2007, with a team option for 2008. If the Rangers believe this winter’s sudden escalation in player salaries is a harbinger of a bull market to come, that risk is more than outweighed by the risk that Young will start to decline in the next two years, information that could have pushed his salary demands down or given the Rangers enough pause that they’d choose not to sign him. If waiting until next winter to sign Young meant he’d cost them a bit more because he was more inclined to test the market, that slight premium was just the cost of the insurance that he didn’t go backward as a player during the season.)

I bring up all this Michael Young info, because it’s incredibly telling in a current contract situation with the Rangers.

Ian Michael Kinsler.

Everyone knows Michael and Ian are besties, and Ian follows Michael around like a puppy, but it seems even their careers have similar progressions.

Ian is coming off a career high in games played (155), walks (89) and home-runs (32). This culminated in the highest WAR Kinsler has ever recorded (5.4).

Kinsler is coming into his prime, having received MVP votes in three of the last four seasons, and finishing his second 30-30 season. Essentially, Ian Kinsler is becoming the “Face of the Franchise”, so the Rangers should pay him accordingly. Does another five years, $80 million still sound good?

Just because Michael has fallen off doesn’t mean Ian Michael has to fall off as well. I understand that, it’s the same as saying Yu Darvish will flame out, because Daisuke Matsusaka flamed out. People are different, understood.

One last look at the Young extension, though, the Rangers might have felt pressure to extend Young because, four months later they were going to deal franchise cornerstone, Mark Teixeira, and Hank Blalock was already beginning his decline, demise and overall lack of want. The Rangers needed to give the fans a reason to come to the park, and extending Young gave fans the illusion they were “In It, To Win It” (That wasn’t the Rangers slogan at the time, I completely made that up).

That hypothesis may not be true, but the Rangers are not in a similar state as they were in 2007. They are a winning ball-club and will likely set a franchise record in attendance, thanks to the addition of Yu Darvish. In 2007 the Rangers didn’t have to decide which players to extend, it was just Michael, unfortunately.

Fast-forward to 2012, and the Rangers have about six to seven players with contracts that are nearing their expiration. Every extension must be made with due diligence, because it could extend the Rangers’ championship window or close it altogether.

As explained in the Keith Law excerpt, it would be a risk for the Rangers to extend Kinsler, like Michael, two years before necessary, when it’s possible Kinsler could decline within those years, age 30 and 31, also like Michael.

Kinsler however has much more power, speed and defensive ability than Michael ever had. This is a catch-22, Kinsler theoretically has more power and speed to lose as he ages, but the fact that his value is tied to his power and speed, further elicits the risk in extending him.

Oh yeah, did I mention Kinsler has a possible replacement in waiting- Jurickson Profar, a consensus top 10 prospect in baseball, at age 18. No prospect is a guarantee, but having a prospect at Profar’s level, should warrant some reservation in extending someone who he could likely replace.

Profar should be ready before Elvis Andrus’ contract expires, so he will likely play 2B, which could move Kinlser to a corner outfield position. This is another factor that should be considered.

Second base is probably the second most physically demanding position on the field, behind catcher. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume the shelf-life is lower than other positions. Second base chews up players, due to the constant movement to hold runners, and getting spiked on double plays, and slid into on stolen bases.

Also worth noting, Kinsler isn’t very durable. Even after his career high of 155 games played, his yearly average is just 129 games. When it comes to choosing who not to extend, immediately everyone says,”Nelson Cruz, because he’s fragile”. However, Cruz has averaged 120 games a year, over the last three seasons. If we can take our blinders off, I think we would see that Kinsler isn’t the perfect picture of health either.

Here are Baseball References’ comparable players to Kinsler: Marcus Giles, Brandon Phillips, Jeff Kent, Alfonso Soriano, and Chase Utley.

Giles- didn’t play after age 29. Barring a catastrophic event, Kinsler will play in his age 30 season, next year.

Phillips- just completed his age 30 season, and is now in a contract year. He had a wonderful 2010 (career high 4.1 WAR), with the expectation he would get an extension. Much to his chagrin, the Reds are unwilling.

Kent- wasn’t known for speed or defense, mainly just power. He hit 351 of his 377 home runs as a 2B, and played second base regularly until age 40 when he retired.

Soriano- didn’t play 2B after age 29. He went 30-30 four times, never after age 30 though. He has fallen off a cliff, not posting a WAR above 2 since age 32. His agent suckered the poor Cubs into one of the worst contracts in baseball.

Utley- Mainly known for his bat, Utley’s OPS has fallen from .976 at age 28 to .769, last year at age 32. His contract of 7 years $85 million, is something Kinsler’s agent will likely gauge from. Although, Utley’s contract ran from ages 28-34, eating up some arbitration years.

So in summary, comparable players to Kinsler: had an overall great career, or never played again, can’t get an extension, moved positions and lost value, and have just have been far less productive.

The worst scenario, is if they extend Kinsler at a top five 2B rate (around $15 million AAV), then completely devalue him by moving him to LF, for Profar. Kinsler’s value is tied to his position, having a 30-30 guy play up the middle is extremely valuable. But, I doubt he’ll be able to register another 30-30 season after 2014, when that move could happen.

He won’t be as good in two years, and then you exasperate the situation, by moving him to LF, where his bat would play up as average. The worst case-scenario is paying $15 million for average play at a position. Hmm, that sounds like Michael Young.

It seems that Jon Daniels made the worst decision of three options he had in March, 2007 with Michael Young. He could’ve let him play out his deal and collect some picks and some fan backlash. He could’ve traded him, collected some prospects and some fan backlash, or extend him and make the fans happy.

JD has three options with Kinlser this off-season; he could let him play out his deal, collect some picks and some fan backlash. He could trade Kinlser, collect some prospects and some fan backlash, or he could just extend him and keep the fans happy.

Send your angry tweets to @SDIdan.

Dan Allsup

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