Many centuries ago, the Greek and Roman Empires experienced a period that could be called their Golden Age, followed by an Age of Decline.

Similarly, quality baseball hitters reach their Golden Age, followed by an Age of Decline.  Sometimes the decline is gentle and gradual, sometimes precipitous and severe.  When deciding to keep, trade for, or sign aging players, which Slope of Decline might ensue is often a crapshoot.

David Wright is one of the poster boys of precipitous decline....we all know chapter and verse here, so I will not elaborate.

How about a few great players, both Mets and non-Mets?

Ken Griffey, Jr. was utterly spectacular - he had nearly 440 career homers before he turned 31.  His stretch, from age 23 through age 30, was jaw-dropping.He had "just" 190 more dingeroos over his last 10 years, in which he managed to hit as many as 30 in a season twice, and never managed 100 RBIs in a season over his last decade.  Steep decline.

Mo Vaughn - Big Mo averaged 38 homers and 116 RBIs while playing in an average 150 games  over a 6 year stretch from age 27 through 32.  Wow.  Then Slo Mo missed his age 33 year with an injury, and then (what else) signed with the Mets. In 166 Mets games over 2 seasons at age 34 and 35, he hit .249 and 29 homers, and retired.  Steep decline.

Mike Piazza was an unparalleled hitting catcher until age 33. In his final 5 years, though, he averaged just 16 homers.  Catchers do wear out, and while his decline was not precipitous, he certainly went from Immortal to Mortal in those last 5 seasons.

Jason Bay - we all know about him too - PRECIPITOUS - declining almost as fast as getting a facial from a fence while going 25 MPH.  Fences usually win.

Hubie Brooks - the former Met did just fine for a long time, particularly in his age 28 through age 33 seasons with the Expos and LAD - then the Mets got him back at age 34 and then he declined (surprised?) as he hit just .238 over 103 games, then played at ages 35 through 37 poorly, hitting .225 with low power and low on base % before hanging up the cleats. 

Michael Cuddyer - after Mike briefly bucked the age-brings-decline trend and hit a Colorado-aided .331 in 179 games spanning 2 seasons at age 34 and 35 (although the latter season was limited to just 49 games - WARNING WARNING!). 

Then the Mets got him and he played very unimpressively at age 36 and summarily retired thereafter.  Can playing in Queens cause precipitous decline?  When someone asked Roger Daltrey to play for the Mets, the Who's now-72 year old clean up hitter sang "I hope I die before I get old."

Curtis Granderson - the man hit an average of 42 homers a season at age 30 and 31 in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium while scoring 238 runs and knocking in 225, but at age 32, he missed much of the season due to a few broken hand injuries.  The Mets, who seek out players in decline, it seems, grabbed him for his 33 thru 36 year old seasons, and he averaged 25 homers and 65 RBIs, not too bad but a big drop from a few years prior, and he hit just .235 in those 4 Mets years in a career where he otherwise hit .261. 

His decline was certainly not precipitous, but it was nonetheless significant.
Albert Pujols - through age 31, everyone could see he was Ruthian: .328/.420/.617 career with 445 homers.  Since going to the Angels, though, he has played 6 years (ages 32-37) and, while his production has been solid for a mere mortal starting player, his numbers have dropped VERY substantially: .262/.319/.459.
Carlos Baerga - assuming his birth certificate was reliable, he was tremendous for Cleveland over a 5 year stretch from ages 22 through 26, where he hit over .310 with very solid power numbers.  In his age 27 season in 1996, he was not doing nearly as well, and the Mets traded for him during that 1996 season. 

For a few seasons with the Mets, he hit a far lower-powered .267, and afterwards had his ups and downs in much more limited playing time from ages 30 thru 36 before his major league playing days are over.   

Just a few other non-Mets super-steep decliners:
Zoilo Versalles - the 1960s infielder won an MVP at age 25, but hit just .198 at ages 27 and 28, and was done at 29.  29!
Nate Colbert - hit 30 homers a year for 5 years stretching from age 23 thru age 27 in the early 1970's playing in hitter-Unfriendly San Diego - but ages 28 thru 30 were brutal for Nate, as he hit well under .200 in 650 at bats with just 24 homers, and was done by age 30.
Morale of this story?
The likes of a Jay Bruce (still available on Thursday) or an Evan Longoria (whoops, he's gone) could look mighty good right now as a possible trade or free agent acquisition, but where are their future career decline points, and will those declines be gentle or precipitous? 

Often, historically, those declines have been quite precipitous (the likely PED-aided Barry Bonds being an extreme, but rare, contrary example of a steep INCLINE while aging).
So while most of us want Sandy to go big and bold, the risks there are severe and potentially very painful.
On the latter point, cue up David Wright's image, please. 
Caveat Emptor, as they used to say in the long-gone Roman Empire.  Let the buyer beware.  Especially Mets buyers.


Mack Ade said...

Morning Tom.

I will always have mixed feelings about Grandy.

Yes, he never did what we hoped he would, and his dry spells were truly dry, but he quickly became the face of the Mets when David Wright went away.

His profession approach to the team and game will be sorely missed.

Unknown said...

Lets not forget good old Edgardo Alfonzo who surprisingly we didn't resign for his declining years. Sure was great to see Freddy come out from under his rock and his comments should be reason enough to have MLB pull a "McCourt" on him and force a SALE of the team ....PLEASE!!!! Now not beat a dead horse here but couldn't we have at least tried to get Stanton with a Cepedes plus offer? I know, I know he wasn't coming here anyway but at least MAKE A FRIGGIN OFFER to show were still trying.....or maybe were not which is the point.

royhobbs7 said...

Sign A-Gone. He would fit perfectly into your premise. LOL!!!!

bill metsiac said...

Stanton had a firm no-trade list in his contract, and only 4 teams were not on it. What would be the point of the offer?

Tom Brennan said...

Grandy was a great guy, Mack, and in my opinion was mostly worth the $$. The problem with deals like his is that the last year usually is the "why couldn't this deal have been one year shorter?"

Some people have been defending Fred Wilpon lately, but he is being outplayed by his crosstown rivals far too often. If he really cares for the team, which one article said he does, I would recommend he sell it, and then root like the rest of us.

Tom Brennan said...

And happy holidays to all, in case you or I are not on the website much in the coming few days. As the song goes, "It's Christmas time in the city."

Reese Kaplan said...

A-Gone at minimum wage is not the stupidest thing they've ever done.

A good GM would have traded away outgoing star caliber players for some position player help at the AA or AAA level, paying down contracts to sweeten the return.

Thankfully Omar Minaya is back in the fold as he understands talent WAY better than the dunce in charge.

bill metsiac said...

I've asked this question multiple times, to those advocating large, long-term contracts to FAs 30+, without an answer yet:

How many contracts of 3+ years, to over-30s, in the last 10 years, have been productive after the 1st 2 years? Tom's article only re-inforces my belief that such deals are BAD for the teams.

Anyone have answers to my question?

bill metsiac said...

Omar is back?

Unknown said...

Bill in the right deal of course he would wave it but that's not the point ...at least make us feel like were in the game instead of starting out the off season telling your fan base we're cutting payroll. Omar's back but well he have any more input into trades? hmmmm guess we'll see.

Mike Freire said...


I have always been wary of "second generation" contracts, meaning the player has established themselves and they are about to get PAID. Often, you are paying as much for "what they did", as opposed to "what they may do".

Your bargain player today will likely be your albatross tomorrow.

The Cardinals played the Pujols situation pretty well, in hindsight.

It is much easier to find examples of players that are not justifying a "second generation" contract, then it is to find one who is exceeding one.

Tom Brennan said...

Mike - your statement "It is much easier to find examples of players that are not justifying a "second generation" contract, then it is to find one who is exceeding one" is spot on.

Eddie Corona said...

I think the only issue i have with your premise it the players ceiling... puljos is probably the one that has the greatest decline but non of the others hard sky high ceiling so thier declines were not so far... so while I would sign a older great player I would never sign a solid/good player based on your assessment... so no to the current free agent crop...

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