Fielder/Kinsler Trade Sets Tigers Roster Churn in Motion

by Jon Erkkila | Posted on Thursday, November 21st, 2013
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Prince Fielder

Standing pat was not an option in Detroit. Good teams aren’t afraid to churn their roster looking for ways to improve their organization and position themselves with more flexibility moving forward.

The Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers came together on Wednesday on a two-player blockbuster trade that woke up the rather sleepy Hot Stove season by dealing slugging 1B Prince Fielder to the Rangers with veteran 2B Ian Kinsler heading to the Motor City. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted that Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski approached the Rangers with the general idea of a deal on Tuesday and 36 hours later a trade was consummated.

While a Fielder deal seemed a bit far-fetched in some circles, there was almost no question that an off-season of change was brewing in Detroit. The three-time defending AL Central champs are coming off a disappointing post-season effort which included a very impotent offense, an ordinary at best defense, and a shaky bullpen. For a team two-wins shy of appearing in a second straight World Series there was definitely work to be done on the roster.

The Tigers also have a boatload of players set to see their deals expire over the next two off-seasons. Indeed, as pointed out by Fox Sports 1’s JP Morosi, the Tigers only have three players committed to contracts beyond 2015 (Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and, now, Ian Kinsler). Therefore plenty of decisions were looming in the near future and trade rumors/ideas were swirling in all the usual online markets.

Dombrowski is not a stand-pat GM. He tends to be aggressive and decisive. This trade fits his career record. Baseball has seen several large contracts for first-basemen start to look very shaky such as Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, and Mark Teixeira in recent seasons. It did make it a fair question to know if there was a market for the final seven seasons of Fielder’s deal. But the Rangers had a surplus of middle infielders and the need for a power bat. It only takes one dance partner to get a trade done and Dombrowski found Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels to be his Ginger Rogers. Its no shock that once Dombrowski had a willing counterpart, a deal came to fruition quickly.

The interesting part for Detroit is that the positives of moving Fielder, and what that does alone, might make what Ian Kinsler contributes mostly a mere bonus. Kinsler is a solid player and one who has had some very high quality seasons. But make no mistake, he’s been rather pedestrian the last two seasons offensively. He posted an OPS+ of 105 in 2012 and a 97 in 2013 (league average in OPS+ is always 100). Kinsler has been very average. Perhaps the Tigers get a better version…and maybe they won’t. But will it matter?

Here’s why…Detroit gets out from under the final 7 seasons of Fielder’s deal by kicking in an additional $30M to get the deal done. But the club is still saving in excess of $75M over the life of Fielder’s contract when subtracting what Kinsler makes as well as the $30M. This savings comes at a time when large extensions will be on the table for MVP Miguel Cabrera, Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, and eventually other core players like Austin Jackson. Or it may allow the Tigers to pursue a big ticket free agent this winter such as Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury.

Moving Fielder also opens up a position to move Cabrera back to 1B and insert top prospect Nick Castellanos at 3B. Pursuing a better option to Andy Dirks in LF is also now a distinct possibility. The troika of Cabrera, Fielder, and Victor Martinez offered the Tigers practically no positional flexibility last season. Now there is a chance to for new manager Brad Ausmus to be able to move pieces around on occasion. A more athletic defensive infield can’t hurt either as Fielder was one of the worst defensive players in the major leagues according to some metrics.

Prince Fielder is a good baseball player, the Rangers are getting a guy who should love hitting in their park. It’s not as though a party should be thrown because he’s leaving Detroit. The Rangers should feel pretty good about their move considering part of Fielder’s huge cost is being defrayed by the Tigers. But the deal Fielder was brought to Detroit with was one that seemed all too assured to become an albatross over time.

An overweight man entering his 30’s just doesn’t seem like a safe bet for a 9-year/214M investment the Tigers made two off-seasons ago. The final 4 seasons always seemed as though they would be very painful to watch. The Tigers were able, at a large cost, to cut bait after two seasons. With the aforementioned 9-digit big money 1B deals looking pretty shaky, it was a safe bet for the Tigers to seize upon the chance to extricate themselves from all the downside risk that’s held in Fielder’s deal moving forward.

The Tigers do get Kinsler and he can help them. He may not be a better player than Omar Infante at this point, but the chance to move Fielder’s mountain of cash off the books, improve the defense, open up other spots for flexibility, and start the process of reshaping their roster was a move that had to be made. Ultimately Kinsler’s contributions are all icing on the cake compared to what dispatching Fielder’s deal sets in motion if Dombrowski takes advantage of his opportunity to fine tune his roster moving forward.

The rest of the off-season promises to be an active one in Detroit. They will be linked to several late inning relief specialists. It seems like they are high in the running to get veteran closer Joe Nathan and they’ve been connected to Brian Wilson as well. A lefty-specialist may also be on their shopping list. (keep the name “Felipe Paulino” in mind as well. The righty was cast adrift by the Royals and he throws some real heat. He could be nice under-the-radar target for Detroit’s bullpen)

The Tigers also seem to want to Drew Smyly to move into their starting rotation. This would necessitate a deal of Rick Porcello or perhaps Doug Fister. Fister or Porcello may be able to bring a solid left-fielder to plug and make Dirks a 4th outfielder.

Finally, there may be a large extension looming for Cabrera or Scherzer. There seems little doubt that they will look to lock up their two-time defending MVP in Cabrera. Cabrera was also quoted in a recent ESPN article that he’d like to finish his career as a Tiger. There could easily be mutual interest in securing a deal this winter. Cabrera signed his current contract well out in front of free agency, so the idea of losing his chance at the free market may not worry him.

As for Scherzer…yes, there is the Scott Boras factor…but there is also a Mike Ilitch factor. Ilitch isn’t afraid of big contracts. A big number will likely be flashed in front of Scherzer and it will be seen how he reacts to it.

The Fielder/Kinsler deal qualifies as a “blockbuster”. But as the Tigers recover from their October disappointment, Wednesday’s deal may be only the jumping off point for an off-season of roster fireworks in Detroit.

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Jon Erkkila
About the Author

Jon Erkkila is a native of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan. Currently living in MLB Blackout Hell, otherwise known as Iowa. Follow him on twitter @yooper_ia

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