The Rangers have been to the World Series for two straight years, and they have just as good of a chance of any other competing team in the AL to do it a third time in 2012. The team as a whole is strong, but a central part of their success over the years has been second baseman Ian Kinsler.
Kinsler and the Rangers are reportedly working on an extension that could keep him in Texas for another six years. Those same reports mentions complications like Robinson Cano's impending free agency (and likely mega-millions payday), but it would be in the Rangers' best interests to work things out with their own second baseman. It's Josh Hamilton who gets the credit as the centerpiece, and it's his need for an extension that is often discussed, but Kinsler is just as important -- if not more so -- both now and in the future.
Kinsler has spent six years in the majors, and he's been above-average at the plate in all of them. Not just for his position, but the league: his .275/.355/.477 line translates to a 114 OPS+. That doesn't sound like much, but the list of players that good at the keystone since Kinsler entered the league (minimum 2,000 plate appearances, 75 percent of games at second) is a short one:
He's the fifth-most-productive second basemen at the plate since he came up from the minors as a 24-year-old, alongside the likes of the aforementioned Cano, as well as Boston's Dustin Pedroia and Dan Uggla, who hits (and fields) like a first baseman. Ben Zobrist doesn't qualify for the above list because of all the time he's spent as a hybrid second baseman and utility player, but were we to include him, Kinsler would be ranked directly above him in OPS+.
Like many of the above, Kinsler is a great defensive second baseman, too. It's the reason that, were we to rank the game's second basemen by wins above replacement since 2006, Kinsler would come in third, behind just Utley and Cano and a rounding error ahead of Pedroia. Even better for Kinsler, he's one of the few players that the various advanced defensive metrics can agree on as being great. John Dewan, in the latest Fielding Bible, describes Kinsler as the "total defensive package" alongside his #1 ranking at the position.
He has easily been Texas's most productive player during the same stretch, too -- Hamilton has two fewer years and nearly 300 fewer games to his credit, but is two season's worth of value behind, as well.
He'll be 30 years old in 2012, and has something of an injury history that could make the Rangers worry if he's the next Chase Utley: great when he's around, but how many games can you count on him for? His injuries haven't been the chronic kind, though, as he dealt with a sports hernia that knocked him out in 2008, and a high-ankle sprain and groin strain in 2010 that held him to just 103 games. Second basemen don't tend to age wonderfully, as there was already something lacking in them physically that pushed them off to second to begin with, but not every player at second is going to turn into a weak-hitting, no-range pumpkin once they turn 30, either. (And some of them even rebound from their initial pumpkin-ness.) Given Kinsler's defensive chops, it's likely he'll be productive for a longer period of time than many other of his peers at the position.
At the cost the Rangers are expected to pay, Kinsler is worth the risk. According to his agent, Jay Franklin, Kinsler was offered a $76.5 million deal that was turned down. It's more likely to be in the $14-16 million range, meaning $84-96 million over six years. The Rangers, who are flush with money for at least the next 20 years or so thanks to their television contract, can easily afford that -- it's "just" $7 million more than they are paying Kinsler this year to get to $14M, or just $4M more than what they would pay him on his $10M option for 2013.
The money is there, and with all of the extensions and long-term deals signed as of late, the list of impact position players with whom the Rangers could replace Kinsler is a short one. Without playing sports psychologist, whatever risk there is to signing Kinsler to an extension that kicks in after he turns 30 is magnified for Josh Hamilton, who not only has his own injury history, but also struggles with addiction. It's likely the Rangers will sign at least one of the two, and if it can only be the one, it should be the one they can more easily predict the future for.
They have already shown themselves willing to sign talented players in their 30s to long-term deals -- Adrian Beltre was 32 last year, in the first season of his own six-year, $96 million contract with the Rangers. Kinsler has been better than Beltre since he came up, and while there's risk in any long-term contract, they're a better team with a larger window to win -- one they've already cracked open -- with Kinsler around.