Times like these tend to call for some kind -- any kind -- of good news, and it appears that there may be a flicker of good news on the horizon for a team that just watched its 2012 division-winning chances slip dramatically and a disquieted fan base anxious for its team to make some kind of move that doesn't involve an aging closer or Triple-A depth. The bad news about that potential good news: if the good news actualizes, it likely won't impact what happens to the Rangers in 2012.
We've been hearing quite a bit lately about the Rangers touching base with the agents of their "core players" -- C.J. Wilson apparently not counted among them -- for the purpose of trying to hammer out some long-term contract extensions, but now we're actually gaining a few additional details on the process, as Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram confirms that the Rangers are talking with Ian Kinsler's agent about a long-term extension that would lock him up beyond the expiration date of his existing deal. Thanks to a fabulous bet by the Rangers back in 2008 that Kinsler -- who was then in the midst of his pre-arbitration window --would evolve into a top-flight second baseman, Texas owes him just $7 million in 2012, and also holds a no-brainer $10 million team option for 2013.
Said Kinsler of his situation: "I want to stay here. I was drafted by the Rangers, and I want to be a Ranger. You never know how long it's going to take. I think the sooner the better for them, and the sooner the better for me."
For all of the misled -- though slowly disappearing -- carping about Kinsler popping up too often and being a terrible baserunner and exhibiting bad body language and (my personal favorite) "not being a team player," he's quietly developed into one of the better second basemen of our generation, and could very easily be argued to be one of the three best second basemen in the game at the moment. Only two other second basemen -- Chase Utley (25.9 fWAR) and Dustin Pedroia (23.0 fWAR) -- have produced more wins above replacement by FanGraphs' calculations from 2008-present than Kinsler's 20.8 fWAR ... and by Baseball Reference's reckoning, Kinsler has produced one of the best age 26-29 windows of any second baseman in baseball history:
Four of the players in this table predate integration. A fifth, Gil McDougald, predates expansion. Listed immediately behind Kinsler are the likes of Billy Herman (19.5 bWAR), Dick McAuliffe (19.2 bWAR), Nellie Fox (19.2 bWAR), Joe Gordon (19.2 bWAR), and Craig Biggio (18.9 bWAR). Three are Hall of Famers, and a fourth (Biggio) is going to have a pretty legitimate shot at entry come the onset of his eligibility window. I could keep rattling off names, but what should be abundantly clear to you by this point is that Kinsler is an elite talent at his position with the results to match and a salary which ... well, which doesn't match, though that really hasn't been the Rangers' concern up until now.
I imagine we could see something develop where the Rangers leave Kinsler's projected 2012-13 salaries intact (ala the Michael Young extension, where Texas automatically picked up his $5 million team option for 2008 as part of the deal), and then tack on anywhere from 2-3 more years at market-level prices from 2014 onward. I would suggest that "market-level prices" in this context could verge into $16-18 million territory, but it's entirely unclear whether the Rangers would consider that to be a worthwhile investment, considering that said extension would cover his age-32-and-beyond seasons.
There are two other "problems" -- one of which isn't so much of a problem as it is a blessing -- that merit mentioning here as well, I think:
(a) Kinsler averaged just 130 games per season during that age 26-29 window, with that deficit in playing time stemming from injuries that seemed more a function of his balls-out style of play than an inherent proneness towards injury. That may very well be something that gives the Rangers reason to pause and think even harder about this, especially given the physically demanding nature of playing up the middle and the essence of Kinsler's speed and quickness to his overall value. Certainly, he can't afford to be hurt and go down for extended periods of time ... but he also can't afford to lose much more than a step over the duration of any contract extension, lest his value incur a severe hit.
(b) To complicate matters even further, there's reigning Sally League MVP Jurickson Profar tearing though the minor league pipeline, and his gradually nearing big league debut -- which could arrive as early as 2014 -- is going to rock the status quo at some point. Texas could conceivably lock both Kinsler and Elvis Andrus up while still keeping (read: not trading) Profar, and then push Kinsler to a corner outfield spot once Profar appears ML-ready, but that's just about the only scenario I can conjure up off the top of my head where the Rangers are able to keep all three beyond the 2014 season. Otherwise, one of Kinsler or Andrus is likely going to be lost to free agency (or trade, though that's a bit of a reach), or Profar is ultimately going to constitute the headline piece in a blockbuster trade.
If you pointed a gun to my head right now and demanded that I tell you what I thought a reasonable deal might look like, I'd probably suggest tacking three years onto Kinsler's existing deal at an average annual value of $17 million, which would handsomely compensate Kinsler while concurrently giving Texas a solid chance of earning some surplus value and, in effect, coming out "ahead" on the deal. Over the last 72 hours, though, I've found that my own definition of "reasonable" has been very much at odds with the Rangers' definition, so perhaps I'm just barking up the wrong tree.
Or the puppy dog is. Long live the puppy dog.