Aging Players - Bargains for 2011?
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.
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.