Change-UpAugust 25, 2010
Aging Players - Bargains for 2011?
By Patrick Sullivan

Back in January, before the start of the season but after much of the hot stove dust had settled, Dave Cameron wrote about how aging players represented a new inefficiency in the market. Consider the deals players like Ricky Romero, Brian McCann, Ervin Santana, Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia have signed, and it’s evident that many teams are looking to sign their key players pre-arbitration. Standout players like C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Johan Santana entering their free agent years for the first time are paid lucratively too, of course. But Cameron notes that older players who may have already played out one big contract are too easily overlooked.

Teams have become cautious with the contracts they give to aging players, not wanting to get burned paying too much to a guy who may end up not having anything left in the tank, but I feel like we’re passing the point of caution and shifting towards a market failure. If a guy is a good player at 35, you should not expect him to be useless at 36. Yes, you regress his projection for aging, but players who go from good-to-terrible in a single season are the exception, not the rule.

Aubrey Huff, a 33-year old with “old guy” skills, hit .241/.310/.384 last season. This season, he’s been one of the best players in baseball, hitting .301/.394/.534 in one of the worst hitting environments in baseball. Huff had earned the entire $3 million the Giants paid him for the 2010 year with April and May’s output alone. The Twins continue to enjoy a monster season from Jim Thome, who’s earning just $1.5 million for the 2010 campaign.

Incidentally, both players will once again be free agents for the 2011 season, and so too will a number of other aging players who still likely have productivity left in them. Some will flop badly of course, but isn’t that the nature of the free agent market more generally? There may be more risk associated with older players, but it seems exceedingly “priced in” as compared to younger guys on the market.

We’ll leave the pitchers aside for the moment, and just take a look at some of the position players that will be hitting the market. We’re not talking Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford here, the guys that are likely to break the bank and project as shoo-in productive Big Leaguers for years to come. No, we’re talking guys like Thome and Huff, players who may or may not be worth a flier. And we’ll also include the likes of Adrian Beltre and Derek Jeter. They may not come cheaply, but the risk/reward still may skew in the team’s favor nonetheless. I will list their 3-year (2008-2010) B-Ref WAR totals, along with their age.

Player Age for 2011 Season 2008-2010 B-Ref WAR
Lance Berkman 35 10.8
Derek Jeter 37 10.5
Manny Ramirez 39 10.3
Johnny Damon 37 10.2
Adrian Beltre 32 9.4
Aubrey Huff 34 6.9
Paul Konerko 35 6.5
Victor Martinez 32 6.0
Jim Thome 40 5.1
Mark Ellis 34 5.1
Brandon Inge 34 4.6
David Ortiz 35 4.1
Magglio Ordonez 37 4.1
Vladimir Guerrero 36 3.9
Alex Gonzalez 34 3.9
Hideki Matsui 37 3.8
Pat Burrell 34 2.4
Adam LaRoche 31 1.5

Some of these players will make for excellent values, some will be overpaid, but it’s likely that a number of these guys will make a huge difference for their teams in the coming years. The challenge for GM’s is to figure out how to allocate resources to aging players. Do the Yankees have to go all in for Jeter? What’s Scott Boras going to get for Beltre? Can Thome do it again next year? What does Berkman have left? Manny would make for a productive DH, no?

Says here that teams brave enough to play in this market, on average, will see more ROI than elsewhere.


Cuddyer won't be hitting the market after the 2010 season.

The Twins have already exercised his option for 2011 - which is a ridiculous amount of money ($10M+) of his caliber.

Cuddyer is under contract for 2011 at $10.5 million. He had a weird clause in his contract which required the Twins to pick up or buy out his 2011 option by 5 days after the 2009 World Series.

Thanks a lot for pointing this out. I have made changes to the piece as a result.

Shouldn't you include Carlos Pena on your list? He will be 33 in 2011 and according to BB-Ref has accumulated a 6.1 WAR from 2008-2010. He is a free agent after this season.

In this economy (and it's going to get worse), older players who are willing to work on one-year contracts could be quite attractive. Many teams go way overboard on long-term, guaranteed deals. That could definitely change.