This evening, Jon Heyman broke the story that the Detroit Tigers are on the verge of sending Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler. We don’t have all of the details yet, so there could be more to it, but at the very least, it is a very, very interesting trade. Dave Cameron will have more on this later, but let’s take a brief look now, shall we?
First and foremost in this trade is the money that will change hands. Fielder is still owed $168 million a contract that runs through the 2020 season. Kinsler isn’t exactly cheap himself, as he is owed $57 million on a deal that runs through 2017, with a $10 million club option or $5 million buyout for 2018. Or, in other words, $62 million. That $106 million gap is pretty significant, and if it turns out that the Tigers aren’t covering a great deal of that gap, then it will be a pretty big win for them. But we don’t know that particular detail just yet. Heyman’s report also said there may be other players involved, so we’ll have to stay tuned on the final outcome.
We can, however, theorize about how this affects both teams heading into next season. For Texas, the big thing is that they solved their middle infield logjam. One of Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar or Kinsler were going to have to be traded or moved to another position. I advocated last year for moving Kinsler to first base and making Nelson Cruz the designated hitter. That didn’t happen, but you could see a scenario this offseason where Kinsler was going to have to move to right field or first base. With him out of the picture, Rangers manager Ron Washington is spared from forcing Kinsler to play a position that he seemingly did not want to play. Profar can now get as many plate appearances as possible at a valuable middle infield position, and that is great news. That could end up being an epic double-play combo, and the fact that they won’t be broken up should be exciting for baseball fans. From a handedness standpoint, Fielder will also help, as in Geovany Soto, Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Alex Rios and Craig Gentry, the Rangers leaned a lot to the right.
There is also the little matter of how well Fielder will do in Arlington. His OPS there is higher than his career OPS, but the sample is too small to be indicative of much at all. And Arlington only played four percent better than did Comerica this year, so this isn’t a massive shift in park factors — if park factors can indeed be trusted as a method of evaluation in this case. The Rangers had certainly better hope that he can produce like he has in his better years. The question of course, is are his better years behind him? In two of the past four seasons, he has failed to be a three-win player. The effect on the team’s defense will be interesting as well. Beltre and Andrus are two of the better glovemen in the game, and Profar carries the same reputation. They will have to make sure that their throws are crisp though, since Fielder has next-to-no-range.
While Fielder and Profar will simply slide into preordained slots, there may be some rejiggering of Detroit’s defense. It is obviously too early to say this for sure, but Miguel Cabrera may shift back to first base. That would be a big win for the Tigers, as whether Nick Castellanos replaces Cabrera at third, or they sign someone externally to man the spot (like, say, Jhonny Peralta) whoever it is will likely be better defensively. The defense will be better overall with that move, and it could be more depending on which defensive metric you trust most. Last season, UZR did not love Kinsler, but DRS did. The opposite was true of Infante, to a degree. In the end, we can safely call that a lateral move for the Tigers, with maybe a point or two for Kinsler simply because he is younger.
Summing up, this deal would seem to hinge on the pace of decline for each of these players. Both have seemingly already played their best seasons — Fielder in 2009, and Kinsler in 2011. Since 2011, Kinsler has been basically league average both offensively and defensively, but the bar for league average is high for a second baseman, and with the dearth of quality keystoners in the game, he is most certainly still an asset — assuming he doesn’t continue to decline. After a horrid 2010, Fielder rebounded with two straight seasons of nearly five WAR. He fell off dramatically last season, and then wasn’t all that great in the postseason to boot. Should he shake off the rust his power could be a boon for a team that was decidedly middle of the pack in that department last season. But that’s a big gamble for Texas to make — especially if the money in this deal doesn’t wash.
UPDATE: According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo!, the Rangers will receive $30 million from the Tigers in the deal. That balances the scales quite a bit. It makes Fielder’s AAV less than $20 million, and makes Kinsler’s $23 million for the Tigers. If you use a generous $/WAR of say, $8 million, then Kinsler is sure to be a value. A more traditional figure would make it a bit harder for the Tigers to get value out of Kinsler, although now they are also on the hook for three fewer seasons as compared to Fielder’s deal.