Prince Fielder, Ian Kinsler swap makes sense for Rangers, Tigers

It’s time to unpack the trade of the year. (USATSI)
It’s time to unpack the trade of the year. (USATSI)

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As's Jon Heyman first reported, the Rangers have agreed to send second baseman Ian Kinsler to the Tigers in exchange for first baseman Prince Fielder and, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo!, $30 million in cash.

First, the most relevant numbers: Kinsler is signed through 2017 at a total cost of $62 million (assuming the Tigers opt for the $5-million buyout of his $12-million option for 2018), and Fielder over the next seven seasons is owed $168 million, which of course will be partly defrayed by the $30 million reportedly headed to Texas. And with that our thoughts turn to what this certifiable blockbuster means for each team on the field. 

As for the Rangers, they fill a gaping hole in the lineup. Last season, Texas first basemen -- mostly Mitch Moreland -- combined to hit just .223/.295/.405 while, of course, playing home games in hitter-friendly Arlington. In comparison, the average MLB first baseman in 2013 authored a batting line of .261/.337/.436. That's a production deficit, and Fielder will address it directly. 

To be sure, Fielder wasn't up to his usual standards this past season, as he put up an OPS of .819 versus a pre-2013 career OPS of .931. Even in decline, though, Fielder is a solid upgrade over Moreland and company in the near-term. Of course, there's also reason to believe that Fielder will improve in 2014.

The best hope might be that his home run/fly ball percentage bounces back. In 2013, it dropped to career-low mark of 13.5 percent. Sometimes, that's an indicator of declining power and bat speed, but often it's a statistic prone to random variation, even among hitters. In Fielder's case, it's worth noting that the average distance of his fly balls was largely unchanged from 2012 (296.4 feet, 35th in MLB) to 2013 (293.7, 34th in MLB). The expectation is that a few more of those fly balls are going to go over the fence in 2014. He figures to be better, and early projection systems agree

Taking the view, Fielder's contract remains troubling. After all, he's signed through 2020, and thanks to his body type he's almost certainly not going to age well. In fact, we may have already seen the early stages of his decline this past season. Decline, though, isn't a straight and tidy line, and some temporary improvement is possible -- even likely -- while the general downward trend remains in force. That's probably what we should expect from Fielder next season: better numbers relative to 2013 but not as strong as his peak years. For Texas, that's still going to be a substantial upgrade at the position. Getting Fielder's glove off of him and slotting him in at DH would be all the better, and that may yet be was GM Jon Daniels has in mind.   

As for the hole left at second base, the Rangers can of course install phenom Jurickson Profar at keystone and in doing so give him the "role certainty" he needs to develop properly. In a related matter, you can now commence ignoring any trade rumors involving Profar or shortstop Elvis Andrus

From Detroit's standpoint, they may have cleared the payroll space they need to in order to keep Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and sign him to an extension, and, as noted, they can be out from under Kinsler's contract after the 2017 season. They're also now free to move MVP Miguel Cabrera off third base -- a position that, noble efforts notwithstanding, he simply can't man adequately anymore. The less demanding defensive assignment should also help keep Cabrera healthy and in the lineup as he heads deeper into his 30s. On a Wednesday night conference call, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said he didn't know whether Cabrera would be moved for 2014 but said that he did see his eventually shifting to first base. The bet here is that it happens in time for next season. 

As for Kinsler specifically, he's still capable of being productive at the plate by the standards of the position, and he's also a plus fielder and solid base-runner. By pairing Kinsler with Jose Iglesias, shipping off Fielder and moving Cabrera across the diamond, the Detroit infield defense just got vastly better. Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and their strong groundball tendencies certainly approve. 

The likely move of Cabrera means, of course, a hole at third. To fill that hole, the Tigers could turn to top prospect Nick Castellanos, who manned the hot corner until being transitioned to the outfield prior to last season (Dombrowski acknowledged this possibility). Alternatively, they could re-up with Jhonny Peralta (Dombrowski didn't respond when asked about Peralta) and install Castellanos as the regular left fielder. The point is that they have options now. 

In total, this is a sensible deal for both teams. For Texas, it's a much-needed near-term upgrade at a bat-first position, and for Detroit they have, in a roundabout way, addressed one of the team's most glaring weaknesses -- the infield defense. To state the obvious, the story of this trade won't be written for a long time, but in these very early moments it looks like one of those elusive win-win arrangements. 

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