Detroit Tigers Want It Called “The Kinsler Trade”
“The Ian Kinsler Trade” sounds a lot better than “The Prince Fielder Trade” if things work out best for the Detroit Tigers over the long haul.
Ian Kinsler has moved to Detroit in 2014 and is off to an excellent start in the Motor City. With a well-timed hot start, Kinsler is quickly becoming a fan favorite. He has taken up residence in either of the top two spots of the Tigers batting order and in his first 78 plate appearances has posted a very tasty slash-line of: .319/.359/.486. There have been no major base-running gaffes that have plagued Kinsler at times in his career and his defense has looked generally above average, if not a little stylish, in the early going of the season.
Kinsler’s offense has been sorely needed. The Tigers aren’t exactly knocking the cover off the ball in the early going. Miguel Cabrera’s slow start has some fans worried (though the styling’s of Charlie Leesman and the White Sox bullpen may have fixed that on Tuesday night with a Cabrera-barrage that could be a sign of things to come) and Alex Avila’s struggles have many wondering when Tigers prospect catcher James McCann might be ready.
Kinsler has answered the bell however. He has both set the table and knocked in runs for the Tigers as they rest of the cast sorts themselves out. It’s a transition year for the Tigers offensively. They are quite plainly moving to a team looking to add speed and aggressive base running to their attack. Gone are power bats, but slow feet, of Fielder and Jhonny Peralta plus veteran 2B Omar Infante. In their place is Kinsler, speedy Rajai Davis, and rookie Nick Castellanos. While we can debate the merits of the move made by the Tigers, it is questionable how quickly and efficiently that transition can take place. Can you become a speed/running team in one off-season? Especially with so much of the offense built around Cabrera and the even slower Victor Martinez.
Indeed the Tigers 10-7 start has really been about their solid starting pitching and taking advantage of the power production they have managed thus far to secure wins. The running game has helped around the margins so far, but for all the hype, the Joe Sheehan Newsletter mantra “ball go far, team go far” is holding true in Detroit overall.
One solution to easing the transition is definitely to get at least some power production from all points in the lineup from sources such as Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Avila, Kinsler, and Castellanos. So far Kinsler is doing that with a .486 slugging percentage. It will be very important for the Tigers throughout the summer for Kinsler to be that sources of power to knock in some runs but also be on base for Cabrera and Martinez. Kinsler’s early success is supported by a BABIP of only .317, which isn’t a big red flag of coming regression. Kinsler was quoted in Spring Training that he would be changing his approach looking to drive more balls into the spacious Comerica Park gaps instead of looking to loft homers in the friendlier dimensions of his home field as a Ranger. But it’s really not about the homers. It’s about extra-base power that blows open games from time to time. If Kinsler can be a steady source of doubles up the gap or 3-baggers into the Triples Alley in Detroit it won’t matter if he “only” hits 12 to 15 homers on the season.
The blockbuster trade that brought the veteran second-baseman to the Tigers in the off-season was made primarily (in the eyes of many) to extricate the Tigers from the long commitment they hastily gave Fielder just two off-seasons earlier in the aftermath of Martinez’ ACL injury. The 9-year hitch was a lot to give to a portly fellow who doesn’t play defense all that well. The signs of some decline were evident in Fielder’s two years in Detroit as his power output waned at times. A completely awful offensive show and a seemingly indifferent reaction in the press hastened the Tigers urge to move Fielder.
Enter the Texas Rangers. The Rangers needed a power bat and they had a highly paid middle infielder in Kinsler who was creating a logjam with Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar on the Arlington diamond.
Stunningly there was a match to be found. I will be perfectly honest; I did not believe that Fielder’s hefty deal was very likely to be marketable after his down year. But the Tigers found the one serious suitor they needed and they kicked in $30M to make the math work for Texas. However the Tigers walked away with a good player in Kinsler and will still save themselves over $75M over the course of Fielder’s deal.
Freeing themselves from the Lion’s Share of Fielder’s deal has enabled the Tigers to remake their ball club in many respects. Getting out from under watching Fielder possibly decline for the next seven season set several dominoes in motion. It has led to changes on defense, a new offensive philosophy, and it made money available for moves such as extending the deal of one day Hall-of-Famer Cabrera.
However a multi-year run of exciting offense from Kinsler at the top of the order plus a steady defensive presence will give those who study Tigers’ history reason to one day recall the “Kinsler Trade” as the move the Tigers made attempting to extend their 3-year run at the top of the American League Central and possibly secure a World Series Championship that eluded them in the early years of their playoff run in the second decade of this century.