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March 08, 2007

On Young

Note: I was in Las Vegas when Texas signed Young, so here's a belated review.

Texas signed shortstop MICHAEL YOUNG to a five-year extension beginning in 2009. Young will earn $80 million, $15 million is deferred. Details are lacking.

A huge roll of the dice on the part of Texas. Young will be only two weeks shy of his 37th birthday by the time this contact ends (or actually be 37 if Texas makes the ALCS). Some thoughts:


Young will turn 32 before his new contract commences. Here’s a list of starting shortstops in 2006 who were Age 32 or older:

Omar Vizquel (39)
Royce Clayton (36)
Craig Counsell (35)
Derek Jeter (32)

That’s it. Two others were 31, another five were 30, and the other nineteen were under 30 (including Young).

In 2007, probably only eight regular shortstops will be older than Young: Vizquel, Jeter, Orlando Cabrera, David Eckstein, Carlos Guillen, Miguel Tejada, Julio Lugo, and Edgar Renteria. That’s as of today, not in two years when Young’s extension begins. By the time that happens, Young might already be among the five oldest shortstops in the Majors.

What became of 2002’s collection of aged starting shortstops? 2002 featured seven who were 32 or older and another four of 30-31 years of age:

What Became of Him
Barry Larkin
Retired after two more seasons. Could still hit respectably
Mike Bordick
Out of baseball after one more season
Omar Vizquel
Still starting and getting on base, averaged 151 games during last three years
Royce Clayton
Still starting, but on six different team in five years. Replacement-level hitter in 2002 and today
Shane Halter
Out of baseball after two more seasons
Tony Womack
Intermittent starter from 2003-2005; on the fringes of employment in 2006 and 2007
Jose Hernandez
Still playing but has declined from regular to super-utility player to ordinary sub to infrequent sub and pinch-hitter
Chris Gomez
Mostly a utility player and most often a 1B; only 110 games at short during 2003-2006
Andy Fox
Retired after two more seasons of minimal play
Rich Aurilia
Mostly a super-utility player who spends most of time at 1B and 3B, now a starter at 1B; bat improved during 2005-2006
Rey Ordonez
Had two seasons of dwindling play; not retired but no MLB appearances since 2004

Six of the eleven players are retired or effectively out of Major League Baseball. Two others are bench players. One is now a regular first basemen, and two are still starting at short (though I’m skeptical of Clayton’s immediate future).

Now, I’m not suggesting that Michael Young won’t last at shortstop because of the case histories of Chris Gomez and Shane Halter. But this exercise clearly indicates that shortstop is a young man’s position. Young has been exceptionally durable, and I expect him to remain at short longer than most of his peers. Near the end of his term, though, he may have to move to third or left, where his bat probably will be a liability.


Did the Rangers pay too much? Of course they did. But this contract doesn’t seem too far out of line with other deals inked this winter. Young’s contract wedges nicely between former Rangers Carlos Lee (6 years, $100 million) and Gary Matthews (5 years, $50 million). Give a choice between the three, I’d take Young and his contract.


Reportedly, $15 million of the $80 million total is deferred. To my knowledge, the specifics weren’t publicized, but let’s assume $3 million is deferred in each of Young’s five extension seasons with deferred payments to begin the year after the extension ends. Thus, Young would receive $13 million during 2009-2013 and $3 million from 2014 through 2018. What do those deferments mean relative to a straightforward five-year contract at $16 million per season?

In terms of present value, not much. Using a discount rate of 6% (equivalent to a “safe” rate of return), deferring $3 million per season for five year lowers the present value of the contract from $69.2 million to $67.5 million, a difference of just $1.7 million. Upping the discount rate to 8% (equivalent to salary inflation) results in a savings of $2.2 million.

The real savings come from the retention of his current contract. Texas will pay Young only $3.5 million in 2007, his last arbitration-eligible year, and $5 million in 2008, his first free-agency year.

Assuming my guesses are within reason, I’d say the deferred payments make the deal more palatable for the Rangers but will have, at best, a small effect on their payroll structure and (in)ability to sign players during Young’s extension.


This is something I’ve been saving for my boffo article on Hank Blalock that I’ve been promising for many months, but I’ll print it here instead. For years, Baseball Prospectus rated Young as a bad defensive shortstop and Hank Blalock an average third baseman. Suddenly, in 2006, Young became Ozzie Smith and Blalock became Butch Hobson. You think I’m joking? I am not:

Baseball Prospectus “Rate2” Defensive Stat *

Michael Young, 2002-2005:
Michael Young, 2006:
Ozzie Smith, career:
Hank Blalock, 2002-2005:
Hank Blalock, 2006:
Butch Hobson, career:

* Rate2 is an indexed statistic measuring how many runs a player saves or costs a team defensively. 100 is average. Young’s 113 in 2006 indicates he saved Texas 13 runs per 100 games played. Scores outside the 90-110 range are rare.

My stat-free, visual opinion is that Young is an average defensive shortstop, neither as bad as previously rated by BP nor as fantabulous as rated in 2006. He’s no elite, but I certainly see no reason for a position switch in the near future. But again, age is a killer. Texas has locked up Young through 2013, but they haven’t locked up a shortstop for that long.


I don’t recall Teixeira ever indicating that he’d prefer to stay in Texas. He’s here only because Texas drafted him, and after 2008, he’ll sign with the team that offers the best combination of money and potential to win a championship. Retaining Young will have only a minimal effect on Teixeira’s decision.

I don’t mean that as a criticism. He wants to work for a winner and get paid as much as possible. Don’t we all?


Is it okay to remain ambivalent about this deal? To an extent, it is an attempt to defy Time, and Time never loses (except to Julio Franco and Elizabeth Hurley).

Texas desperately needs to make some noise during Young’s most productive years because the downside of this deal is almost too depressing to contemplate. Imagine a Ranger club that hovers around .500 for three or four more seasons, then falters with Young’s inevitable decline. At that point we’re looking at fourteen years (2000-2013) of mediocrity or worse.

On the other hand, I think that Young, more than anyone in baseball (and I do mean anyone), has the work ethic to make this deal pay off for Texas. Given how far he’s surpassed the expectations of almost everyone (me included), presuming that he’ll decline precipitously would be foolish. Who’s to say Young can’t emulate Omar Vizquel and Barry Larkin, blithely hitting well and playing shortstop into his late thirties?

I hope so.

Posted by Lucas at March 8, 2007 06:07 PM