How old can an outfield be? The San Francisco Giants trotted out a creaky-kneed trio aged 39, 41 and 41 last season and lost 85 games.
This year, the Kansas City Royals might feature a 39 year old veteran roaming the grass at Kauffman Stadium along side a 25 year old converted third baseman.
A couple of twenty-something speedsters could provide great defense one day, while men who will never get closer to a Gold Glove than Mark Grudzielanek’s locker could be chasing down doubles the next.
Playing time at first and third base will come at a premium this season, with the gentlemen below feeling the squeeze.
Generally speaking, baseball players improve over their first few years in the league, peak at age 27 and slowly decline after that.
Here is how DeJesus has tracked since becoming a full time player in 2004.
Year Age Games AVG OBP SLG
2004 24 96 287 360 402
2005 25 122 293 359 445
2006 26 119 295 364 446
Last March, he signed an extension through his age 30 season in 2010 for an average of $2.76 million per year. If he can manage to stay injury free and make the leap in production many expect this season, the Royals will have made a very good deal.
Assuming Buddy Bell doesn’t take any blows to the head this Spring, David will be leading off for the Royals on April 2nd. He’s had some pop in the one hole, hitting six home runs to lead off a game in his career.
Last year, DeJesus was moved to left field when Joey Gathright came over from the Devil Rays.
According the research done by John Walsh at The Hardball Times, DeJesus was one of the best defensive outfielders in both center and left field in 2006.
Emil Brown was not one of the better defensive outfielders in 2006 or any year for that matter.
However, he has managed to carve out a nice career for himself after toiling away in the minors for many years.
If Mark Teahen gets moved to the outfield to make room for third base prospect Alex Gordon, then Brown could find himself in the thick of a mean battle for the remaining corner outfield spot.
The other highly-paid option to man right field, Sanders has always been an above average hitter, and a bit of a nomad.
Since leaving Cincinnati in 1998, he has never signed more than a one or two year deal with any team.
While Sanders has managed to put up highly productive seasons despite being on the wrong side of the age curve, the following trend is of concern:
39 year olds who aren’t pitchers don’t have much history contributing at the major league level.
A highly comparable player to Sanders is Ron Gant (who the Royals could have had once).
Gant also bounced around at the end of his career, put up his last useful season at 37 and saw injuries end his career.
Yes, the batting line is atrocious, but he is fast, or so I’m told whenever I see his name mentioned in any story ever written about him.
Gathwright hit for average and got on base at a respectable clip in the minors (315/391/360 in five seasons), but has yet to see that translate in the bigs. He will never be a power hitter, but if he can start getting on base and stealing at a 75% clip, he will be a valuable fourth outfielder.
Costa beat out Aaron Guiel for the fourth outfielder spot out of spring training last year, and I was none to happy about it.
Costa is another player who put up good but not great numbers in the minors. After being sent down last season, he put up his best line yet going 342/398/593 in 52 games with Omaha, bouncing back and forth with the big club all year.
He’s a Cal State Fullerton Titan, so my wife likes him; though she hates baseball, so I don’t think Shane is gleaning much positive karma from his time in southern California.
Pitcher previews next week.