GETTING YOUNGER...AND THE REASON BEHIND IT

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For those of you folks that read the ARAM rehab post, followed my request to look at this post, I thank you, because I have taken a lot of time to research this, and finally found someone else doing the same research, Bill James.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/joe_posnanski/06/29/james.33/index.html?eref=si_mlb

To summarize the article, Bill James lists a mix of 33 players (obviously, because his article was about the decline of age 33, so it wasn't a coincidence). Names such as Mickey Mantle, Cepeda, McCovey, Brett, Murray, Kaline, Hack Wilson, Duke Snider, Jason Giambi, Ivan Rodriguez, and Albert Belle adorn the list. He shows all of their stats at age 32 compared to age 33, and you notice a significant drop-off.

I've been saying on here for quite sometime now that the prime years of a hitter are about age 26 to 32 years old, and after that, it drops off considerably. Bat speed decreases, injuries mount up, speed on the basepaths diminishes, and arm strength decreases. We have two classic examples of this on our team with Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano. I guess you could even say Milton Bradley, though he's 31 years old, he has the body of a 40 year old, always breaking down.

The fact is, post steroids era, we're seeing guys like AROD, Ortiz, Giambi, etc. come back to earth with their stats. They can no longer take "greenies" or any other stimulants they might've used in the past to their advantage, slowing the aging process.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that Bill James does talk about how some of the players that experience the decline ended up posting decent numbers near the end of their career, albeit not nearly the same numbers as before. My guess would be the reason for this is the body all of a sudden starts breaking down. You start to feel every little nick in your body, and your shoulder, or knee, or ankle barks loudly until you finally answer it, and give it a rest (disabled list). I think after that age barrier is broken, the players that come back to post decent numbers thereafter learn to play with pain a little better. But the fact is, their bat speed, their leg speed, and their arm speed never fully returns.

When I look at our roster, here's a list of guys that have played with us this year that will be over 30 next year: (ages are next year's age)

Lee-34
Miles-33
Theriot-30
Fontenot-30
Soriano-34
Fukudome-33
Bradley-32
Hoffpauir-30
Johnson-33
K Hill-31
ARAM-32
Scales-32
Freel-34
Dempster-33
Lilly-34
Gregg-32
Heilman-31
Cotts-30

The only guys that have played for us this year that might be on the team next year, and will be under 30 are:
Soto-27
Blanco-26
Fox-27
Fuld-28
Zambrano-29
Harden-28
Wells-27
Marshall-27
Guzman-28
Ascanio-25
Hart-27
Patton-26
Samardzija-25
Marmol-27
Waddell-29

***of those, only Soto, Blanco, Fox, and Fuld are position players****

So, some might say that I'm being overly negative when I say we need to blow this team up....but I said it when we got swept in the postseason too....and that's why I wanted us to go after Dunn for 3 years, $30 million, because at 2 years younger than Bradley, and 7 years younger than Abreu and Ibanez, he would've been the best choice in terms of getting prime years out of him.

If we continue down this path, and don't make significant changes now, or in the offseason, we could be looking at an even more disastrous year like the Mets are having with all their injuries with their older players. But Hendry hasn't helped matters by giving our highest paid players (5 of which are 30+ year olds) no-trade clauses. Right now, we're stuck with Fukudome until he's 34, Lee until he's 34, Soriano until he's 38, Dempster until he's 36, and Bradley until he's 33. That's going to get VERY ugly....and VERY quickly.

Guys like Bradley and Soriano already belong in the AL where they can DH. Who knows, with Lee's neck if he can handle another full season of first base for us?

So what do we do? Assuming we can get rid of most of our 30+ year olds, I say we keep Hoffpauir and ARAM off that list, and build around them.

In our minor league system, we have some pretty exciting infield and catching talent with:
IF-Spears, Barney, Tony Thomas, Lalli, Ridling, Camp, Flaherty, Harrison, Castro, Vitters, Fitzgerald, Hak Ju-Lee
C- W. Castillo, Clevenger, Robinson, Chirinos,Cerda

but we really lack OF depth:
OF- Burke, Colvin, Guyer, Wright, Deeds, Snyder (injured right now), Campana, Fuld, Adduci might be our only ones right now, and Deeds, Snyder, and Fuld are too old to even be considered prospects anymore. Honestly, the only ones that garner much excitement from me out of this lackluster group is Kyler Burke, Tony Campana, and Brandon Guyer

So, if I were to build my team from this group in 2010, I'd probably do this:

C-Soto
1B-Hoffpauir
2B-Tony Thomas
SS-Barney
3B-ARAM
LF-Fox
CF-Fuld
RF-(trade for Dunn)

I'd have a lineup of:

Fuld
Thomas
Hoffpauir
ARAM
Dunn
Fox
Soto
Barney

And truthfully, we probably would do better than this year, and with their experience, even better in 2011 with Vitters' arrival, along with perhaps Flaherty, Campana, and others. I'd probably have Colvin as my super-sub in the OF, similar to a Reed Johnson, while Spears, Harrison, and Castro would battle it out in ST for the back-up IF role(s), and Steve Clevenger and W. Castillo battle for the back-up catcher role while Burke, Deeds, and Snyder battle for the final bench spot.

I actually like Snyder and Deeds a lot. I liked Snyder's power this year (and in the past), along with both of their performances in Spring Training. They would probably get the nod in 2010 for the bench role while Burke would come up in 2011 along with Vitters (in my opinion)

There's one thing that I know, and it's this...Lilly, Theriot, Fontenot, Harden, and Dempster have pretty good value around the league. I would argue that Soriano does too in the AL where he could DH. Dempster and Soriano would have to waive no-trades, but if you just waived the white flag in July, and dealt those guys, we could nab some pretty good talent in return (Lilly especially), as he would probably land us Michael Taylor from the Phillies at the very least.

But if we're even going to have a fighting chance in 2010, we need to act NOW, while teams are still in the race, hunting for missing pieces. We can deal Theriot and Fontenot and not miss a beat with all of our IF depth, and if we are able to offload Bradley for Luis Castillo in a swap of bad contracts, it makes it even less dangerous to trade them both. I think it's clear that Hoffpauir and Fox do best when they're playing everyday, which is why you almost have to look at getting rid of Lee and Soriano as well, or at the very least Fukudome (if you can trade Bradley as well), as Fox and Hoffpauir could switch off in RF and spell Lee at 1B on occasion that way.

But, the point of all of this is we WILL end up like the 2009 Mets if we don't do something NOW....and we might even end up like them this year.