Paying players in their 30s rarely works out. Here's why Judge, Turner and Bogaerts will or won't be different

by Daryn Albert - Do big players really age poorly? Are long-term contracts for 30-year-olds actually risky? We look at recent history ... and this year's big signings.

7:00 AM ET David SchoenfieldESPN Senior Writer Close Covers MLB for Former deputy editor of Page 2 Been with since 1995 At the news conference officially welcoming Xander Bogaerts to the San Diego Padres , he tried on a pin-striped Padres jersey emblazoned with "2" on the back as A.J. Preller, the team's president of baseball operations and general manager, looked on with a smile as big as the USS Midway docked in San Diego Harbor. And why not? Bogaerts' path to the Padres certainly seemed unlikely at the outset of the offseason, but after the Padres first aggressively pursued and failed to sign either Aaron Judge or Trea Turner , Preller turned his focus to Bogaerts and landed the four-time All-Star shortstop with an 11-year, $280 million contract . Bogaerts joins a star-studded Padres lineup that already features Manny Machado and Juan Soto , with Fernando Tatis Jr. returning after he missed all of 2022. It was a stunning signing for a player who had been predicted to receive a contract more in the range of $160 million to $190 million. "It's crazy how the world works," Bogaerts said. That's one way to explain what has happened so far this offseason. Until this month, nine players in major league history had signed contracts with a total dollar amount of more than $275 million -- and all nine of those players started the first year of those contracts while still in their 20s. Now we've had three players ink contracts for at least $280 million while beginning those deals in their 30s: Bogaerts will be entering his age-30 season in 2023. Turner signed an 11-year, $300 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies while also entering his age-30 season in 2023. Then the big one: Judge signed a nine-year, $360 million deal with the New York Yankees as he begins his age-31 season. On top of that, Jacob deGrom , coming off two injury-plagued seasons, signed a $185 million deal -- the seventh largest for a pitcher -- with the Texas Rangers as he enters his age-35 season. And Justin Verlander , who will turn 40 in February, signed a two-year deal with the New York Mets that ties him with teammate Max Scherzer for the highest annual average value in the sport at a non-Scrooge $43.333 million. Editor's Picks 2 Related The executives negotiating these contracts -- with the support of their owners -- certainly understand the risks of long-term deals for players in their 30s. Preller or Dave Dombrowski, who signed Turner, don't realistically expect Bogaerts and Turner to be starting shortstops when they're 41. They're exponentially more focused on winning in 2023 than on how these deals affect the payroll in 2033. "It's apparent if you're going to participate in trying to sign this type of talent in today's game, you're going to have to give a lengthy contract and probably one you wish you didn't have to give quite as long," Dombrowski told MLB Network last week. "But again, that's the price of doing business." Still, you can't ignore the aging curve to consider what might happen. Let's dig into some numbers and a little history. A quick history of megadeals for older players OK, so the deals for Judge, Turner and Bogaerts are the three biggest ever for players 30 or older. Six other position players have signed deals of $200 million or more -- and it's not hyperbole to suggest that none of them worked out as anticipated. That list: Alex Rodriguez , Yankees, 2008 to 2017, $275 million (deal started at age 32): Coming off a 54-homer MVP season, Rodriguez had just one more 5-WAR season (although he did help the Yankees win the World Series in 2009). Miguel Cabrera , Detroit Tigers , 2016 to 2023 (age 33): He signed his extension -- when Dombrowski was the Tigers' general manager, by the way -- in March 2014, but it didn't kick in until 2016. That would be Cabrera's last elite season, as he has hit just .262/.330/.385 since 2017. Anthony Rendon , Los Angeles Angels , 2020 to 2026 (age 30): He was excellent in the shortened 2020 season, but he has hit .235 and played just 105 games over the past two years. Albert Pujols , Angels, 2012 to 2021 (age 32): He produced just 12.8 WAR in his 10 seasons with the Angels, and the club made just one postseason appearance. Robinson Cano , Seattle Mariners , 2014 to 2023 (age 31): He was very good in his five seasons with the Mariners, averaging 4.7 WAR, but they traded him at just the right time. Joey Votto , Cincinnati Reds , 2014 to 2023 (age 30): He enjoyed three top-MVP finishes from ages 31 to 33, but he has averaged just 2.3 WAR per 154 games in the five seasons since. "There's no exact crystal ball," Dombrowski said at Turner's introductory news conference. "But you spend a lot of time looking at the individual and the talent that's involved. Sometimes you have to differentiate between a normal big league player and an elite athlete. I do think there's some difference in that regard. An elite athlete can last longer at their performance level than, say, other individuals can." The MLB aging curve Highlights from MLB free agency Money has been flowing this offseason, with some of baseball's biggest names cashing in. Takeaways from the winter meetings » Inside the WM's $1.6 billion spending spree » Judge is back! How do Yankees get better this winter? » Grading Mets' offseason spending » But how long do they last? There are a million different ways to look at how players age, but here's what I did. I went back to 2008 -- what we'll call the post-Barry Bonds era. Bonds' stats kind of screw up studies of this sort, so let's start after he retired. Using Baseball-Reference WAR, I found the 30 best position players from 2008 through 2022 at age 30, the best 30 at age 31, the best 30 at age 32 and so on -- not necessarily the same 30 players each year. Certainly, the expectations are that Judge, Turner and Bogaerts -- not to mention Carlos Correa , who is entering his age-28 season in 2023, but his 13-year, $350 million contract with the San Francisco Giants will take him to his age-40 season -- will remain among the very best at their respective ages. That was Dombrowski's explanation, and that's why these players got these massive contracts. As you would expect, the 30-year-olds performed the best, averaging 6.3 WAR -- ranging from Judge's 10.6 in 2022 to Max Muncy 's 4.9 in 2021. At age 31, the average was 4.6 WAR; the group lost 26% of its value in one year. The declines in the next few years aren't quite as dramatic. But at age 35, the group averaged 3.4 WAR, and at age 36, it was down to 2.2 WAR, having lost 66% of its value. At that point, Turner, Bogaerts and Correa will still have five years left on their contracts. Don't even ask about those later years. By age 38, there weren't even enough position players to fill the 30 spots; eight of the 30 players were pitchers. At age 39, five of the top six players were not speedy shortstops but primarily designated hitters: Jim Thome , David Ortiz , Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Nelson Cruz (alongside Ichiro Suzuki ). Here's the aging chart using this method: Age Total WAR Average WAR Best player WAR 30 190.0 6.3 Aaron Judge 10.6 31 139.9 4.6 Adrian Beltre 7.8 32 127.6 4.3 Alex Rodriguez 6.8 33 123.0 4.1 Robinson Cano 7.3 34 104.7 3.5 Adrian Beltre 5.7 35 102.1 3.4 Derek Jeter 6.6 36 65.4 2.2 Torii Hunter 5.4 37 40.8 1.4 Adrian Beltre 6.7 38 29.6 1.0 Nelson Cruz 4.4 39 20.8 0.7 Jim Thome 3.6 40 7.0 0.2 David Ortiz 5.2 This isn't to suggest Judge, Turner, Bogaerts or Correa won't remain great throughout most of their contracts. Adrian Beltre is a great recent example of a player who was terrific throughout his 30s, producing 52.5 WAR. Maybe Judge will age as gracefully as Thome or Ortiz. But most of the time, that's not what happens. When it does, you're looking at a Hall of Famer. The shortstops The Phillies and Padres, who met in last year's National League Championship Series, are obviously in win-now made -- with the Phillies trying to get back to the World Series and win it for the first time since 2008, and the Padres trying to get there for the first time since 1998 and win it for the first time in franchise history. Still, Padres owner Peter Seidler insisted the Padres aren't sacrificing the future for the present with the Bogaerts deal. "As an owner that will be in this game as long as I'm allowed to, we look at a very long-term perspective. We start from that," Seidler said at the Bogaerts signing. "And signing a ... person with his level of commitment and leadership, those deals tend to work out. So, strategically, Xander's a great fit for us. And in baseball, really like with all sports franchises, you can never be done because things always change. And I'm financially trained. I have a budget mind up there somewhere. And I think budgets get better when you win world championships, and that's our goal." The lure in signing Bogaerts and Turner is that both are well-rounded players, with Turner adding his blazing speed as an extra dimension. They certainly feel like the types of players who should age well, as their offense is theoretically good enough to play at another position down the road if they move off shortstop. Since Bogaerts and Turner are both entering their age-30 season, I wanted to see: How do elite shortstops fare in their 30s? (This all applies to Correa, as well, although he is two years younger.) I first looked for the best shortstops of the division era (since 1969) at ages 28 and 29, which covers the 2021-22 seasons for Bogaerts and Turner. Both are elite players, with Turner ranking fifth in WAR among shortstops over those ages, while Bogaerts ranked ninth. Among all shortstops since 1969, only 10 produced at least 20 career WAR from age 30 on. The top of the list would be the best-case scenarios, all Hall of Famers: Ozzie Smith (52.1), Cal Ripken (38.2), Barry Larkin (35.7) and Derek Jeter (30.7). Turner's style of play certainly compares favorably to Larkin with his speed and power, although Larkin was a better defensive shortstop. Bogaerts reminds me a bit of another Hall of Famer, Alan Trammell , although Trammell was, again, the better defensive shortstop. Keep up with the MLB offseason Need to know what to make of the moves that shape the offseason? We've got you covered. On the other hand, there are the players who didn't age well. Nomar Garciaparra and Jimmy Rollins ranked third and fourth in WAR among the age 28 to 29 group, but Garciaparra got injured, and Rollins was worth just 9.0 WAR from his age 30 to 33 seasons -- even though, like Turner, he was an exciting combination of speed and pop. Jose Reyes was another speedy shortstop with good offensive numbers, like Turner, and he didn't age well, either (just 6.7 WAR after turning 30). Turner averaged 5.7 WAR over the past two seasons and Bogaerts 5.4 WAR. Since the Phillies and Padres are intensely focused on the next four seasons -- the years when Turner and Bogaerts should be at their most valuable -- what are the odds they can remain five-win players through 2026? It hasn't happened often in the past 50 years. The best shortstop since 1969 from ages 30 to 33 is Ozzie Smith, who averaged 6.3 WAR. But he was a completely different player than Turner and Bogaerts, as the "Wizard" accumulated tremendous defensive value (although he was an underrated offensive player at this stage of his career, with his baserunning and above-average on-base percentages). Only three others averaged 5.0 WAR -- including two of the Hall of Famers just mentioned above. The top 10: Ozzie Smith: 25.0 Cal Ripken: 23.3 Barry Larkin: 20.5 Miguel Tejada : 20.1 Alan Trammell: 19.7 Mark Belanger: 18.7 Bert Campaneris: 18.5 Derek Jeter: 17.5 Jay Bell : 16.2 Omar Vizquel : 15.8 Most of those players were good defensive shortstops -- besides Ozzie, Belanger (who was all defense) and Vizquel also could be classified as defensive specialists. Turner and Bogaerts, meanwhile, are viewed more as middle-of-the-pack defenders (although Bogaerts is coming off the best defensive metrics of his career), which raises the question of how long both will even remain at the position. Preller even acknowledged that at the Bogaerts news conference, saying that for now, the only sure thing is Bogaerts will start at shortstop in 2023 -- and that after that, a position switch is possible: "Is it five years down the road? Is it 10 years down the road? Is it three years down the road? It's competition, and I think our guys understand that. We've got a lot of talented players, and I think we'll do what's best for our team." What happens after 62? Judge, of course, is coming off a historic season. Maybe the Yankees don't expect 62 home runs again or 10.6 WAR, but at $40 million per season, they do expect more MVP-caliber seasons in the short term. We just showed you the rapid decline in the aging curve. You might already have speculated that not many players are putting up consistent MVP seasons in their 30s. Let's go back to 2008 again. Since then, only eight position players have averaged even 4.0 WAR per season from ages 31 to 35, ranging from Beltre's 32.5 to Chase Utley 's 20.0. Paul Goldschmidt is a good bet to make it nine such players in 2023. Only four have had at least two 6.0-WAR seasons from ages 31 to 35 since 2008: Beltre with three and Goldschmidt, Cano and Votto with two. The best of Aaron Judge Check out all our latest coverage and favorite stories from the slugger's historic season. The road to 62 » | Magical night of 60 » Free agency: $375M? » | 7 places he could land » Where this season ranks all-time » Indeed, Goldschmidt is sort of a best-case scenario for Judge. From ages 28 to 30, Goldschmidt delivered an OPS+ of 139. From ages 31 to 34, he delivered an OPS+ of 144 and just won the NL MVP Award at 34. Judge at his best -- in 2017 and again in 2022 -- has been a better hitter than Goldschmidt at his best. And if you're thinking about the back half of Judge's contract, Cruz is a good recent example of a hitter who continued to rake in his late 30s, producing a 152 OPS+ from ages 36 to 39 while averaging 42 home runs per 150 games. Ortiz, of course, is the ultimate example that age is no obstacle. He led the American League in OPS in his final season -- at age 40. Some believe Judge's size of 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds won't bode well for his long-term durability. That's a difficult issue to speculate on given the lack of comparable players to Judge. The only player built remotely close to Judge in major league history was Frank Howard, a top power hitter in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Howard actually had his three best seasons from ages 31 to 33, although he tailed off quickly from there. (It didn't help that he showed up to spring training in 1971 weighing 297 pounds.) Howard, however, was a slow, plodding slugger, nowhere near the same all-around athlete as Judge. Dave Winfield was 6-foot-6, albeit leaner than Judge, and he played until he was 43. All this is a reminder that no matter a player's gifts, it's almost impossible in this era to remain a great player once you get into your mid-30s. These contracts are betting otherwise.