The internet is abuzz with talk of a possible Ian Kinsler contract extension. The Rangers have been talking with Kinsler in the days leading up to the start of the season, and Ken Rosenthal has a piece up saying that the Rangers are willing to go six years with Kinsler for more than Dan Uggla's record $12.4 million AAV for a second baseman, but that Kinsler's side is looking at the potential bonanza that Robinson Cano could get, and may want to wait and see if he sets the bar higher.
Rosenthal suggests that the Rangers are offering Kinsler $14 million per year, while he is looking for $16 million per season.
The S-T Ranger blog quotes Kinsler as saying he will not negotiate during the season, and says Kinsler's response to a question about whether he thought there could be an agreement in place by Opening Day was, "It could." T.R. Sullivan quotes Jon Daniels as saying that he's "not expecting anything" between now and Opening Day, but that a deal could happen.
There's a lot of issues involved here. As The Dude would say, there's, you know, a lotta ins, lotts outs, lotta what-have-yous, and a lotta strands to keep in my head. After the jump, we dwell on the ins and outs.
First of all, let's look at Kinsler's stats as a major leaguer:
|162 Game Avg.||162||722||629||117||173||37||3||26||83||29||5||74||88||.275||.355||.469||.824||114|
Kinsler's bWAR by season: 1.7, 3.8, 5.3, 5.0, 3.7, 5.4
Kinsler's fWAR by season: 1.3, 2.6, 5.0, 4.7, 3.4, 7.7
In capsule form, Kinsler has been a very valuable player who has had a hard time staying on the field. And you know...I'm a Kinsler fan, but still, seeing these numbers, it surprises me how good he's been. In 2008, in 121 games, he still had at least 5 WAR in both methods...over 162 games he would have been almost a 7 WAR player. In 2009, in a year when he was a whipping boy for fans who ripped him for popping up too much, he was basically a 5 WAR player. In 2010, in 103 games, he still had about 3.5 WAR, and pro-rated over a full season, he would have had another 5 WAR season.
Kinsler, over the past four years, has averaged 6 fWAR per 150 games. Using FanGraphs' valuation methodology, even with the time he's missed, he's been worth $91.8 million over the last four seasons.
Kinsler is currently under contract for 2012 for $7 million, with a 2013 team option at $10 million that will almost certainly be exercised. A six year extension, kicking in for the 2014 season, would mean he'd be a Ranger through 2019, his age 37 season.
Of course, Kinsler, from age 32-37, is going to be past his peak years. You can't sign him for that period of time and expect he's going to be as good from 2014-19 as he's been from 2008-11. And of course, you've got the injury history...and if I'm leery of signing Josh Hamilton long-term because of his injuries, aren't I just as justified in being leery of signing Kinsler long-term because of his injury history.
Short answer is yes, it is a concern. That being said, I do think Kinsler should cost less to lock up long-term than Hamilton, and I feel that Kinsler's skill set makes him a better bet to retain value in his mid-30s than Hamilton. I also suspect that the organization feels that Kinsler is better suited than Hamilton to take on the sort of leadership role in the clubhouse that Michael Young (who is a free agent after 2013) has filled.
Another issue with Kinsler, though, that makes it difficult to determine his value going forward also ties in with his ability to stay healthy going forward: the likelihood that the organization will be moving him to the outfield, probably left field, potentially as soon as 2013 (if Jurickson Profar excels in Frisco and shows he's ready for a major league job that quickly).
The Jurickson Situation, combined with Josh Hamilton's likely departure, complicates matters with Kinsler, although Kinsler's athleticism and versatility gives the Rangers some flexibility they might not otherwise have had. If Profar is, in fact, ready in 2013 (as some believe he will be), then for him to have a spot on the major league team, he's going to have to displace either Kinsler or Elvis Andrus. Yes, technically, you could put Profar at third base, but Adrian Beltre is already there, and Mike Olt is going to be at Frisco and may be ready in 2013 as well, and Christian Villanueva is behind him, so third base isn't really a realistic possibility.
While the Rangers could, theoretically, trade Elvis in the coming offseason (something that it distresses me even to type), that seems unlikely. Elvis is seen as a better defender than Profar, so you're not likely to move Elvis to another position for Profar. Kinsler is, of course, also an excellent defender, but as a 31 year old in 2013, he'd be at an age where his defense would be expected to be slipping. And second base is a position that puts a lot of wear and tear on the body...years ago, Bill James wrote about how second basemen tended to get afflicted with nagging injuries more often than other players, and theorized that it was due to the battering that their bodies take while being the pivot man on double plays, having other players slide into them and knock them down over and over.
In any case, moving Kinsler to left field could conceivably accomplish two things -- one, keep Kinsler healthier by saving him from the beating he takes as a second baseman, and two, make room in the lineup for a young player seen as a key piece of the future. Conceptually, if Andrus were to leave after the 2014 season, when his contract is up, you could move Profar back to shortstop and Kinsler to second base, if you felt both were physically capable of contributing quality defense at the position...that's an unlikely scenario, but again, it is something within the realm of possibility given the athleticism of Profar and Andrus.
Now, there's no question that, all other things (particularly playing time) being equal, Kinsler moving from second base to left field is going to decrease his value. If we use Tom Tango's positional adjustments, if Kinsler is as good defensively in left field as he is at second base, he's still 10 runs (or 1 win) less valuable by virtue of the position switch. One would hope he would make some of that up by being able to stay on the field more often, but it is still an issue.
That being said...$14 (or $16) million doesn't buy what it once did. If we assume that one win is currently worth $5 million on the free agent market, and that inflation on this value will be 6% per year, then we from 2014-19, a player would have to be worth 13 wins total to give you $14 million per year in value, and 14.8 wins total to give you $16 million per year in value. If we put inflation at 4% per year, which seems very low to me, but hey, let's just assume that, then you'd need 14.1 and 16.1 wins, respectively to break even in your ROI.
Even given a position change, even given the inevitable decline in performance for a player in his 30s, even given the injury risks, I've got a hard time seeing Kinsler not being worth, on average, 2.5 wins per year between 2014 and 2019. And given that, if it takes 6 years, $96 million -- what the Rangers gave Adrian Beltre* -- to get a deal done with Kinsler, then I think they should do it.
* The Rangers gave Michael Young $16 million per year on his extension, and gave Beltre $16 million per year, although Young's deal was 5 years, $80 million, and Beltre's includes a vesting option for the sixth year. It leads me to think that this may, in fact, be the number that Kinsler is stuck on, with his agent asking the Rangers -- not unreasonably -- if you think Beltre and Young are worth $16 million, why do you think Kinsler is worth less?
So that's where I see things. I think that the Rangers are motivated to get a deal done, especially with the likelihood of Josh Hamilton leaving after the season. I think the Rangers are leaking the possibility that a deal might not get done through Ken Rosenthal, who is tight with Jon Daniels, and T.R. Sullivan, who writes for a website owned by an arm of MLB (and thus can be said to be working for the Rangers), in an effort to exert some pressure on Kinsler to lower his asking price.
But when it comes to nut-cutting time, I expect -- or maybe I hope -- that a deal will get done this week, and that the deal will look very similar to the deal Adrian Beltre signed as a free agent with the Rangers.