There is no baseball thunderstorm quite like a Detroit Tigers one. As citizens across the state of Michigan settled into their couches and recliners for a night of relaxation, their foundation was rattled by yet another mega-trade, courtesy of GM Dave Dombrowski.
When news of the Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler trade landed, cell phones and Twitter feeds erupted, everyone clamoring for all of the details. As it turns out it was quite simple. A trade that had no legs on Tuesday morning was struck Wednesday afternoon. Detroit sends Fielder and a convoy of dump trucks full of $30 million to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler. That’s it.
By the numbers
Fielder is 29, Kinsler will turn 32 in June. Prince has seven years left on his contract that will pay him $168M. Kinsler has four years left on his deal that will pay him $16M in both ’14 and ’15, then $14M in ’15 and $11M in ’16. There is an option year in 2018 for $12M or a $5M buyout.
The net effect of this trade is that the Tigers will save $76M in payroll over the course of Fielder’s contract. If you prorate the $30M they’re kicking in then the Tigers are paying Fielder $4.286M to play for another team for the next seven years. That’s how much they felt they needed to get rid of him to create options defensively and payroll flexibility down the road.
It reminds me of the scene in Moneyball where GM Billy Beane is trying to remind the aging David Justice of his true value. Beane notes that the Yankees are paying him $4M to play against them.
The difference here is that Prince Fielder is in his prime. He certainly wore out his welcome in Detroit for appearing unfazed by another failed playoff experience and two consecutive dismal postseason runs for him personally. But Prince could easily go down to Texas in a more favorable ballpark and dominate for years to come.
Domination is something the Tigers aren’t expecting out of Kinsler, which brings me to my next point:
Do not anoint Kinsler as the savior
Kinsler is a solid all-around player who put up a 30-30 season in homers and steals as recently as 2011. However, over the past two seasons combined he has managed just 32 homers and 36 steals. The skill set may be declining.
During those two seasons he hit .256 and .277, respectively. After setting a career high in walks in 2011 his base on balls rate has plummeted. He walked just 51 times a season ago. On the bright side, he rarely strikes out. He only whiffed 59 times in 2013, which gives some credence to the theory that he could lead off for the Tigers.
But consider that his on-base % of .344 was just seven points higher than Austin Jackson’s. Jackson did strike out at more than twice the rate of Kinsler and thus might find himself batting lower in the order come Opening Day.
Kinsler has also been a brittle player throughout his career. He has missed more than 20 games in a season due to injury in five out of his eight big league years. Prince Fielder missed exactly zero games as a Tiger.
This is just the beginning
One very important thing to note on this trade is that from a pure standpoint of ‘did this clearly make the Tigers a better baseball team?’, the answer is no. Swapping out Fielder for Kinsler creates more questions than answers.
Will Miguel Cabrera move back to 1st?
Will Nick Castellanos move in to 3rd or play left or neither? He isn’t particularly skilled at playing any defensive position.
Will the Tigers bring Jhonny Peralta back to play 3rd?
Will Kinsler play 1st, something Texas almost did a season ago, allowing Hernan Perez to play 2nd?
Will Perez play 2nd and Kinsler get shifted to 3rd, creating a very solid defensive infield?
Will the Tigers package up Perez along with Doug Fister or Rick Porcello and another prospect or two to take a run at a Domonic Brown-type to play left? After all, the Tigers will need a left-handed bat now, one preferably with ample power and a low salary. And the Phillies just signed Marlon Byrd so they could roll with Byrd, Ben Revere, and Darin Ruf across their outfield.
Will this trade free up enough long term money for the Tigers to sign both Cabrera and Max Scherzer to big contracts in the coming year or two? Or is it enough for just one of them?
Keep in mind that by chipping in $30M as part of the trade, and factoring in Kinsler’s $16M over each of the next two seasons, that roster spot is essentially still a $20M+ drain on the payroll. The real money isn’t freed up until much later. If Scherzer does get extended, look for him to get a big raise that gets even larger once Kinsler’s contract eventually declines and then goes away altogether.
Starting to see the point? While this trade was monumental, it by no means shuts the door on Detroit’s offseason. It actually throws it wide open. The bullpen will be revamped. A starting pitcher might get traded and questions have to be answered at 1st base, 2nd base, 3rd base, and left field.
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