Posted November 21, 2013

Prince Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler is winter’s first blockbuster

Detroit Tigers, Ian Kinsler, Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first blockbuster of the winter. On Wednesday evening, the Tigers and Rangers worked out a deal that sends Prince Fielder to the Rangers in exchange for Ian Kinsler, a move that not only fills persistent holes for both teams but also clears roster logjams by opening spots for their respective top prospects. The deal reportedly includes $30 million heading from Detroit to Texas to help offset the difference in the remaining salaries of the two stars, but the Rangers are still taking on considerably more risk.

By far the bigger surprise in this deal is the trade of Fielder. The 29-year-old first baseman (30 in May) is just two years into a nine-year, $214 million deal he signed with the Tigers in 2012, a contract that ranks as the fifth-largest in baseball history. Though he made an All-Star team for the fifth time and played in all 162 games for the fourth season out of the last five, Fielder’s .279/.362/.457 line and 25 homers were underwhelming. His power numbers — slugging percentage, isolated power and home run total — were all career lows, while his on-base percentage was his lowest since 2006, and his first time below .400 since 2008. Likewise, his 120 OPS+ was his worst since 2006.

Thanks to especially bad defense (-13 Defensive Runs Saved), Fielder’s 1.7 Wins Above Replacement was well off his 4.9 from 2012, and marked the third time in the past seven years in which his poor glove has depressed his value below 2.0 WAR; in that span, he’s averaged just 3.5 WAR. Furthermore, he struggled mightily in the postseason, hitting just .225/.311/.250 in 45 plate appearances with just one extra-base hit and no RBI. His baserunning bellyflop during a rundown between third base and home plate in Game 6 of the ALCS punctuated the Tigers’ elimination at the hands of the Red Sox.

Fielder’s rough year may be somewhat mitigated by the fact that he wound up filing for divorce in August. No one can measure the toll such matters can take on a player’s production, but they’re almost certainly not helping matters. Even so, and even in light of his impressive durability — an average of 160 games per year for the past eight — his dropoff renewed concerns about how he would age given his body type. That’s no small concern given that he’s owed $24 million a year for the remainder of his deal, a total of $168 million. Trim $30 million off that via the money changing hands and his contract becomes easier to swallow; the resulting average of $19.7 million per year is well below what Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira, Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez are making. Another point in his favor: the Ballpark at Arlington is a better place for left-handed power than Comerica Park; according to The Bill James Handbook 2014, Fielder’s new home has a three-year left-handed home-run park factor of 120, while his old stomping grounds were at 108. Thus it shouldn’t be a surprise if he returns to 35-40 homer range.

On the other side of the deal is the 31-year-old Kinsler, who has spent more than a year in the middle of rumors regarding either a trade or a shift off second base, either of which would have allowed the Rangers to play Jurickson Profar, the consensus top prospect in baseball coming into 2013, at the keystone. The three-time All-Star didn’t have a great year with the bat, hitting .277/.344/.413 with 13 homers and 15 steals in a hitter-friendly environment, good for just an OPS+ of just 105. Thanks to strong defense (+11 DRS), he was still good for 4.9 WAR, a solid rebound after just a 2.1-WAR season in 2012. Since 2007, he’s averaged 4.7 WAR; among second baseman, only Robinson Cano, Chase Utley and Dustin Pedroia have been more productive in that span.

Kinsler signed a five-year, $75 million extension with the Rangers in April 2012, covering his 2013-2017 seasons; he made $13 million this past year and is thus guaranteed another $62 million, including a steep $5 million buyout of his $10 million club option for 2018, his age 36 season. That money isn’t exorbitant, but with Profar ready and both third baseman Adrian Beltre and shortstop Elvis Andrus also on long-term deals, finding room for Kinsler going forward had already become a problem. He resisted the possibility of moving to first base, and neither that nor a potential move to left field would have taken advantage of his particular combination of skills; he’s too good a defender to waste in either spot, but not a good enough hitter to offset that loss of value.

This trade allows both teams to reconfigure their infields. Fielder represents a huge offensive upgrade at first base over Mitch Moreland, who hit just .232/.299/.437 (98 OPS+) in 2013. In fact, the .223/.295/.405 line the Rangers received from all of their first basemen was the league’s second-worst, ahead of only the mess the Yankees made in papering over the loss of Teixeira. Profar hit just .234/.308/.336 in 324 plate appearances this past year, but that had much to do with sporadic playing time and a whole lot of bouncing around the diamond; he saw time at DH, third base and left field in addition to second base. In 2012, the season that vaulted him to the top of every major prospect list, Profar hit .281/.368/.452 with 14 homers and 16 steals as a 19-year-old at Double-A Frisco. He boasts an exceptional arm and approach at the plate, not to mention good power; as ESPN’s Keith Law wrote back in January, he offers “an incredible combination of tools, skills, and baseball instincts rarely found in players who play in the middle of the field.” By keeping Profar instead of trading him, the Rangers also retain some amount of insurance in case Andrus opts out of his eight-year, $120 million deal after the 2018 or 2019 seasons, as they can move him back to shortstop.

As for the Tigers, Kinsler will remain at second base and replace Omar Infante, who shored up a longstanding problem at the position upon being reacquired in mid-2012, and reached free agency after a strong season (.318/.345/.450). With Fielder gone, Miguel Cabrera can move back to first base, where he spent most of his first four years with the Tigers (2008-2011) prior to Fielder’s signing. Jose Iglesias, who was acquired from the Red Sox in a three-way deal in late July, will be the full-time shortstop. At third base, the team can either sign a free agent — not Jhonny Peralta, who’s seeking much bigger money than the Tigers aim to spend — or return top prospect Nick Castellanos to his old position.

A 2010 supplemental first-round pick, the 21-year-old Castellanos has ranked among Baseball America‘s Top 100 prospects in every year since, topping out at No. 21 prior to this past season. For the year, he hit .276/.343/.450 with 18 homers at Triple-A Toledo, then played 11 game with the Tigers, going 5-for-18. Castellanos was a full-time third baseman until the middle of 2012, when the team began experimenting with him in the outfield corners in light of the Cabrera-sized obstacle in his path; he spent all of 2013 in left field. Prior to shifting, his defense at third base drew mixed reviews, with some praising his arm strength and quick reactions and others finding him stiff and often caught between hops.

Factoring in the money and the contracts changing places, the Tigers will save $76 million, including $8 million on their 2014 payroll. In the short term, that money can help them add a free agent at whichever of the two positions Castellanos doesn’t play. In the long run, this could help a team that’s reached the ALCS in three straight seasons keep the window of opportunity open even longer: The savings can be put towards extensions for Cabrera, whose current deal runs through 2015, and Max Scherzer, who can be a free agent after the 2014 season. Presumably, the savings mean that the Tigers won’t trade Scherzer, whose name has been floated in recent rumors.

The Rangers are thus taking on an additional $76 million in commitments over the next seven years, but have added just $8 million to their 2014 payroll in doing so, netting the long-sought big bat without having to surrender the draft pick that it might have cost them. Which isn’t to say that they won’t do so by signing a free agent who received a qualifying offer, but at the very least, the addition of Fielder presumably takes them out of play for Mike Napoli unless they envision Fielder as a very expensive full-time designated hitter.

In the short term, this deal that should help both teams remain contenders while taking the wraps off exciting young prospects. In the long run, however, the bulk of the risk in this trade has been assumed by the Rangers. They’ll need Fielder to age particularly gracefully if it’s to pay off in the end.

43 comments
JeffreyClinansmith
JeffreyClinansmith

Lets hope Profar pans out. He wouldnt be the 1000 sure fire high grade rookie that does not translate his game from the minors to the majors. to me, this is the biggest risk this whole situation.

PatriotNut1975
PatriotNut1975

As a Tigers fan, I can't say Im a fan of this move.  But we will see how it plays out for both sides next season.  For some great football picks, visit sportsbettingstar. com

netdoggydog
netdoggydog

Prince, welcome to the Texas heat, where every year will be like a summer long session of Fat Camp.

DODGERFAIL2013
DODGERFAIL2013

Is it Texas' priority to win a World Series or just spend more money?

William27
William27

in my opinion this proves that signing fielder was a mistake for detroit. it cost them about $70 million to have him for two years.

that would have feed a lot of starving senior citizens in this country.

our priorities are evil

MMoney0021
MMoney0021

Probably a win win for both teams, but that being said, the Prince Fielder contract is awful.  When these teams start realizing that these type of contracts are both bad for baseball and are way too risky an investment if you want to be competitive, the better the sport will be.  The Yankees are in trouble with 3 declining players on that team having terrible deals.  The Angels are heading in that direction with Pujols and Hamilton.  And if the Dodgers continue their free spending, they will be in the same boat sooner than later.

No coincidence that the two teams playing in the world series this past year went out and made numerous low risk moves that fit needs as well as developed talent within their systems.  I hate the Red Sox as a Yankee fan but they are going to start a new trend.  Hopefully the Yanks stop giving out 8+ yr deals and learn their lesson with Arod, Teix and CC.  

drunkLobster
drunkLobster

I was really hoping for a St. Louis <-> Texas trade.  Now I don't see that happening.

joeymatta
joeymatta

No baseball insiders saw this one coming? Guess they don't have too much access to information....lol

PaulS
PaulS

Dude, nobody in Detroit ever calls the Tigers "the Bengals." And for sure nobody calls Miguel Cabrera "Cabby."  The rest of yours points though are correct.

ineedataxi
ineedataxi

All the WAR references are as big of a joke as Fielders contract. I'm glad he's gone . This frees up & solves a host of issues for the Bengals. Castellanos moves back to his natural position at 3rd, Cabby goes back to 1st. Kinsler will bring solid defense & hit leadoff allowing Jackson to move down the order. An added bonus is how much payroll flexibility this brings

Vinny Cordoba
Vinny Cordoba

This should work out well for Prince, who'll find plenty of biscuits and gravy to feast on in Texas.

JohnLammTX
JohnLammTX

I'm curious what the fan reaction to this will be in Texas. I went to a Rangers game this summer, and Kinsler was by miles the leader in replica jerseys worn. Very popular player.

DarrenZancan
DarrenZancan

"Trim $30 million off that via the money changing hands and his contract becomes easier to swallow; the resulting average of $19.7 million per year is well below what Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira, Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez are making."

So Prince Fielder is making less than Prince Fielder?

AllanJKrueger
AllanJKrueger

Fielder will do better in Texas (or not)! Personally, I think he is washed up. He will be playing for the black, Jim Leyland, though!

Listening
Listening

I wonder how much Kinsler's refusal to move from second base played into this.  I remember before last season he said he would play whatever position would help the Rangers best.  As the regular season became closer he changed his mind and said second base was just for him.  I know how John Daniels can be.  I like Kinsler and wish him all the best.

GeraldRosenstingel1
GeraldRosenstingel1

I think it was a great trade for the Tigers. As for the Rangers, Fielder might help their offense but it is a long, long deal and at some point they will regret it.

Rosie68
Rosie68

I read about these huge long term salaries for average ballplayers, and I am no longer doubting why the NFL rules sports

sportsGuy12
sportsGuy12

welcome to the end of 8-10 year contracts. You listening Cano??

Pope1944
Pope1944

COuld work out as a good deal for both.  Fielder should do better in a hitters park and Moreland can replace him late for defense.  Kinsler gives Detroit a solid 2B  results.the see to fun be Should skills. baserunning better learn to needs who

OglesbyBradford
OglesbyBradford

I'll take Fielder. It gives Profar 2nd and Elvis SS so no probs here. We need the bat anyway.

MrArlington
MrArlington

Given what each of these guys brings to their team, while considering the cost, I wouldn't want either of these guys on my team.

gymviking
gymviking

@William27 In reality, Detroit got over, then. Fielder never would have signed a two year deal, even for $70 million. They got their man and went to a world series and the playoffs after. They just didn't finish the job. They also got out from under the contact, avoiding those later years that they wanted to.

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

@William27 

It's not your money, so you have no right to tell them how to spend it.

Don't like it? Stop following sports.

DODGERFAIL2013
DODGERFAIL2013

@William27 who cares.  if you care that much, get off the internet and stop watching sports and volunteer all of your free time to charity.

nyhoukcdal
nyhoukcdal

@GeraldRosenstingel1 Agree that in 3-4 yrs, they'll hate his contract.  But they also believe they have a window to win now and that subpar hitting was they're undoing.  This (probably) fixes a significant piece of that perceived flaw.  Fielder is much better protection for Beltran (or vice versa) than anybody else they had this year.

Dirty_Bob
Dirty_Bob

@Rosie68 

Because we all know that never happens in the NFL... They might not have contracts at quite so many years but they waste a lot of money on crappy players like every other sport.

MontyStanford
MontyStanford

@MidwestGolfFan @William27 Can't do that, must utilize laws to bring equality, if that does not work must lie to people to get them to vote for "equality",  if equality does not work must take long march and kill 15 million of scoundrel dogs......

PaulS
PaulS

Well then you should stop, because it's lame.