Even with seasoned vets, Arizona leads youth movement
By Mike Bauman
You have heard players, coaches, managers, front-office personnel all say something like this: "We have a good mix of veterans and young players."
This just in: Everybody has that mix in varying degrees. The difference from club to club is whether the veterans and the young players are any good.
The demographics do differ from team to team but not always in the way we might expect. If form was followed on the veterans/young players' spectrum, the oldest clubs would be the established teams that are perennial postseason contenders. And the youngest teams would be those in full rebuilding mode.
But that assumption doesn't actually hold up, either. According to an analysis of the 2016 Major League rosters done by ESPN.com, the team with the highest average age is the Mariners. Seattle can be considered contenders this year, but it has not been to the postseason since 2001.
The team with the youngest average age is the D-backs. Far from rebuilding, the D-Backs are all in to compete now, with the expensive free-agent signing of ace Zack Greinke and a major trade for a No. 2 starter, Shelby Miller.
The game is getting younger. That seems counterintuitive, just writing it. But as teams emphasize building their farm systems, and seek talent that is both controllable and affordable, the direction is toward younger.
The average age of a Major Leaguer at the beginning of the 2015 season was 29.1 years. At the beginning of this season, the average age was 28.6.
The difference between the oldest team and the youngest team is not night and day, but a noticeable 3.3 years. Here is a list of the average ages of the 2016 opening 25-man rosters of all 30 teams, from the oldest to the youngest.
The teams that don't fit the profile include the Braves, who are rebuilding, but who have the ninth-oldest team, with an average age of 29.2.
The Braves have accumulated considerable young talent in their system, but they are not a kiddie corps at the Major League level. Reliever Jason Grilli is 39. So is catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Four other pitchers are in their 30s, along with three infielders and three outfielders.
The Yankees are thought of as "old" because some of their most prominent players have some mileage. But they are merely the 11th oldest on this list. True, Alex Rodriguez is 40, Carlos Beltran will be 39 later this month, Mark Teixeira is 36, CC Sabathia is 35. But the Yanks have 10 pitchers in their 20s, the youngest of whom is starter Luis Severino, at 22.
The D-backs have only one position player over the age of 30, outfielder Rickie Weeks Jr., who is 33. They have only three pitchers over 30, one of whom is Greinke, 32. The oldest is closer Brad Ziegler, 36.
In 2015, the Giants had the oldest team, with an average age of 31.2 years. The 2016 Giants became younger by an average of almost two years. Among the departures from that club were Tim Hudson, who turned 40 during the 2015 season, Ryan Vogelsong, who turned 38 and Jeremy Affeldt, who turned 36.
The reverse aging trend is shown in the relative position of the Rangers. In 2015, they were the youngest team, with an average age of 27.9. This season, they are tied for fourth youngest at 27.8. Texas won a division title with the youngest team in the Majors. Under the circumstances, that was a doubly encouraging development. Now the Rangers continue to infuse their roster with young talent. They have, for instance, 10 pitchers in their 20s.
The Mariners aren't ancient, but they do have a veteran crew: four outfielders over 30, three infielders over 30 and four pitchers over 30, including Joel Peralta, 40, and Joaquin Benoit, 38.
The team age averages will obviously fluctuate with roster moves over the course of the season. Over time, the players will all age, but the teams will attempt to defy that process by becoming younger.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.