That escalated quickly. Heading into the offseason the Tigers were expected to look to move Prince Fielder’s 7/$168M contract, but it didn’t look like there were going to be any takers. Fielder, even if he aged extremely well and bounced back to his pre-2013 levels, was barely going to be worth the contract. If he ages at a pretty normal clip and never goes back to his 5 win ways, we were looking at something like $70M in dead money. Maybe not anymore.
News broke on Wednesday night that the Tigers and Rangers agreed to a one for one swap of Prince Fielder and Ian Kinsler that gives the Rangers their power bat and frees up a spot for Jurickson Profar while the Tigers get salary flexibility and a new second baseman. The deal is amazing because if you squint really hard, it looks really good and really bad for both sides. It’s a challenge trade, but it’s also about position.
The Tigers had three guys who should be playing 1B and DH and now they have two. The Rangers had three middle infielders and now they have two. Kinsler will cost 4/$57M with a $10M/$5M buyout for year number five, plus something like $30M in cash. The Tigers are saving some cash in this deal that could prove to be extremely valuable when it comes time to extend Max Scherzer or Miguel Cabrera, but they’re also probably straightening out their defensive situation. Cabrera can go back to first where he belongs and Nick Castellanos can get into the lineup a little easier. Maybe Peralta gets back on the radar. It’s too soon to tell.
Kinsler had an insane 7 win peak in 2011, but looks a lot more like a 2-3 win player going forward. He’s a league average or slightly better bat with a history of running the bases well. The defense is a bit unclear because DRS loves him and UZR thinks he’s meh. Either way, you’re looking at solid player who is probably just a bit overpaid at $16M per season, plus however you want to allocate the $30 million
This trade has moving parts. If Kinsler is a 2 win player at 2B, Cabrera moves to first and is league average at the position defensively, and then the Tigers use Castellanos at 3B for about 2 wins, you’re looking at something like 11 wins for something like $40-44M. Re-signing Infante for $10M would put them somewhere around 12-13 wins for $54M. That’s a small improvement financially especially if it softens the risk later on in the deal.
I think this trade makes the Tigers worse in 2014, but it also gives them more financial resources to get better. They’ll save a few extra million that they can spend on a LF/RP/3B and they’re much better off in later years of the deal. Kinsler doesn’t look like a great player, but he’s good enough to probably make this work.
What we don’t know is how much of this momentum towards a deal came from the comments Fielder made after the season and his performance in the postseason. If the Tigers traded him because there were hard feelings, this is silly. If they traded him to save a little extra money that could be better allocated, it looks a lot better.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t have a strong opinion about this move. I think it makes a lot of sense for Texas and it’s a giant freaking question mark for the Tigers. Fielder probably bounces back in 2014 and beyond, but the trade saves them more money than it is likely to cost them in overall on field value. It’s a smart long term deal that might bite them in short run. Which means we really can’t judge this deal until we know how Dombrowski is going to spend the savings. That’s the key. Saving money is good, but you save that money so that you can spend it elsewhere.
I enjoyed rooting for Fielder and watching him slide, and had absolutely zero problem to his comments after the postseason ended. I’m sorry to see him go, but happy to welcome Kinsler. It’s hard to tell if this is an overreaction or a smart calculation, which is what makes it so interesting. Sorry to leave you hanging, but I don’t know what this one’s going to end. This won’t be the last thing I write about it, but my initial take is that this is probably going to work out for the best.