They've been talking about it happening in some form or fashion for months, and now, with a little more than 48 hours remaining until the 2012 regular season commences, it appears that it might actually happen. As of early Wednesday morning, we know that talks between the Rangers and second baseman Ian Kinsler regarding a potential contract extension have dramatically intensified, that the basic framework of the proposed deal is thought to be six years (beginning in 2013, which would likely negate the Rangers' $10 million team option for that same year), and that the apparent sticking point is now the average annual value, as FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal intimated last night that Texas was offering something in the vicinity of $13-14 million per year, while Kinsler was seeking something closer to $16 million per year.
We also know -- or believe we know, at least -- that the Rangers purportedly came calling during the last week or two of January with an offer worth $76.5 million, and that Kinsler's agent, Jay Franklin, shot it down as a result of his client seeking something more along the lines of $90 million. Kinsler, for his part, dismissed that report as inaccurate, meaning that either (a) Franklin knowingly fed false information to the Tulsa World reporter who authored the piece, (b) the reporter confused his facts or fabricated the report out of thin air, or (c) Kinsler was trying to throw up a half-hearted smokescreen. Based on these latest disclosures, the answer seems much closer to (c) than anything else.
And, of course, we know that Kinsler refuses to discuss contractual matters after the outset of the season, and has thusly imposed a Thursday deadline on contract talks, meaning that this is either going to happen within the next 40-odd hours, or will be punted some 6-7 months into the future. We know that Kinsler "want[s] to stay here," but also "wants to be treated fairly amongst his peers," and that he's not tipping his hand as far as the likelihood of a deal being reached. We know that the Rangers are downplaying the possibility of this deal going down, but we also know that the two sides are expected to meet today, and that a formal offer will "likely" be tendered at that time.
When this latest wave of speculation washed across the newswire, it occurred to me that I had already written something about this notion of extending Kinsler a few months back, and while I'm not ordinarily a huge fan of bringing old work back to the forefront of the discussion, I'm going to reproduce here what I then felt -- and still feel now -- was an especially important piece of information within the context of the Kinsler contract discussions. You can skip past this previously published and italicized section if you're so inclined, but you'd be missing out on a key bit of historical significance:
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.
"Now" appears to have arrived, and "now" is assuredly going to set the Rangers back to the tune of something in high eight-digit territory. When I wrote this quoted piece some four months back, I proposed simply tacking three years and $51 million onto Kinsler's deal past his 2013 team-option season; in retrospect, that was at least a year or two short of what Kinsler could realistically demand, and it now seems to be a foregone conclusion that any deal -- provided one is reached -- is going to make Kinsler the highest-paid second baseman in baseball history. The present benchmark is Dan Uggla's five-year, $62 million pact, and Kinsler is probably going to obliterate that.
The overriding question about this, however, seems to be whether Kinsler would finish out such a long-term contract at his native second base -- and, if not, how well his long-term value would hold up at another position. There's the issue of Kinsler averaging just 130 games per season throughout that same age 26-29 window, which could prove even more problematic down the line in light of the career-long beating he's endured at the keystone and the physically demanding nature of the position.
And, of course, there's the issue of a fast-ascending Jurickson Profar, who will start this season at Double-A Frisco as a 19-year-old and who could conceivably make a hard push for a major league starting job as early as next season (and, if not that early, almost certainly 2014), with Texas realisticallyneeding to resolve the logjam by either trading Elvis Andrus ahead of his free-agent eligibility, trading Profar, or bumping Kinsler to a corner outfield spot.
Neither of those first two options satiate the desire of the masses to see Profar, Andrus, and Kinsler penciled into the same lineup simultaneously, and so that has naturally thrown additional momentum behind the Kinsler-to-the-outfield movement, with the general idea being that his athleticism and finely honed baseball instincts would translate well to a corner spot, and that such a spot would substantially mitigate the pounding that he presently takes at second base.
But even if you momentarily set aside the matters of Kinsler's position adjustment (his value would incur a hit of roughly one win above replacement per 162 games in the move from second base to the corner outfield) and the adaptation of his defensive skill set to the outfield (no, he's never played a professional game in the outfield), you're left with a pretty significant unanswered question: How will the bat translate? I asked Dan Szymborski of ESPN.com and Baseball Think Factory fame to crunch the numbers on Kinsler's long-term offensive forecast using his now-famous ZiPS projection system, and Dan generously obliged my request:
Under this scenario, Kinsler functions as an above-average hitter deserving of a high spot in the batting order through at least his age-33 season (or the entire front half of the contract) before fading into league-average territory as he enters his mid-30s window, and then basically disappearing altogether by the 2018 season. Clearly, those age 34-36 seasons don't play very well in a corner outfield spot, but -- and I'm sure this will come as quite a shock to you all -- I won't be surprised if Kinsler's aging curve proves a bit more forgiving than what his long-term projection indicates, and I won't be at all surprised if he generates enough value during the front end of a six-year, $90-95 million deal to greatly diminish the sting of his inevitable declining years, regardless of which position he ends up playing.
The other major consideration with this Kinsler-to-the-outfield notion is that the Rangers' long-term outlook in the outfield is -- as Mike so eloquently put it back in January -- "substantially uncertain." Josh Hamilton is probably gone after the 2012 season, with Nelson Cruz possibly following him after the 2013 season, and the Rangers have a notable dearth of viable corner-outfield options in the system beyond those two. David Murphy can function as the (increasingly expensive) left-handed half of a corner-outfield platoon, but neither Leonys Martin nor Craig Gentry nor Julio Borbon figure into the Rangers' long-term plans at the two corners, and it may be that Kinsler could, at some point, alleviate some of the long-term uncertainty that's looming over the Rangers' outfield picture.
Or it could be as simple as the Rangers wanting Kinsler to stay put right where he already is on the diamond, and believing that he'll produce enough long-term value at second base to justify a total expenditure approaching the $100 million mark, and deciding that if they're going to make a commitment of this magnitude to just one of their "core" players right now, that Kinsler represents the best investment they can possibly make.