Gentlemen. Ladies. Boys and girls. The first blockbuster trade of the Major League Baseball offseason has arrived.
And to the naked eye, it's one of those trades that looks good for all involved parties.
Mere minutes after he tweeted that a deal was on the table and that it was "a possibility," Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com broke the news: The Tigers and Rangers had agreed to a deal that would send first baseman Prince Fielder to Texas and second baseman Ian Kinsler to Detroit.
According to the Tigers, it's now official:
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports says the Rangers are getting $30 million, which was probably the dealmaker. Fielder's contract calls for him to be paid $168 million over the next seven years. Kinsler's calls for him to be paid close to $60 million over the next four years. Those two things are not alike.
Everybody got it?
Yes? Good. That means we can get down to why this trade works for everyone.
Why This Works for the Tigers
This trade involves a couple of immediate benefits for the Tigers on the field.
First, obviously, the Tigers have a new second baseman to fill the vacancy of Omar Infante, who is currently floating somewhere out there in the free-agent waters.
Based on Kinsler's track record, it's an upgrade. Based on what happened in 2013, however, it's a downgrade as far as FanGraphs WAR is concerned. And because Kinsler's power has been about at the league average in three of the last four years, one trusts the apparent downgrade more than the apparent upgrade.
And yes, removing Kinsler from Rangers Ballpark in Arlington isn't going to help. His career road OPS is about 190 points lower than his career home OPS.
But while Kinsler is not an obvious upgrade over Infante, he's no bum. He still has the goods to give the Tigers a solid on-base percentage in the mid-.300s to go along with a decent amount of power and speed. And while the Ultimate Zone Rating metric says he was a below-average defender in 2013, the Defensive Runs Saved Metric says he was a well-above-average defender. The latter point is certainly more in line with Kinsler's reputation.
Kinsler isn't the only new face the Tigers are going to have on the right side of their infield after this trade. With Fielder out of the picture, the door is open for Miguel Cabrera to man first base once again after a two-year hiatus at third base.
And that's most definitely for the best. Among qualified third basemen, Miggy has been the worst of the worst over the last two years in the eyes of both UZR and DRS. Anything hit to him was liable to become an adventure.
Now, Cabrera doesn't boast great career numbers at first base either. His career UZR as a first baseman is minus-8.7 and his career DRS is minus-16. But first base is where bad defense hurts the least, so the move is essentially a defensive upgrade by default.
For third base, the Tigers could go out and get somebody. They might look to re-sign Jhonny Peralta for his bat. Or Juan Uribe for his glove. Or they could go out and get a buy-low trade chip, such as David Freese.
Or they could play it cheap and hand the job to Nick Castellanos, which will do for a decent idea.
Castellanos most recently played left field, but he comes from a background as a third baseman. A sudden return to third could reveal some rust, but you have to think that a rusty Castellanos is still a better defender than Miggy on a good day.
Castellanos packs a solid bat, too. He had a .793 OPS in 134 games at Triple-A in 2013, which is darn good for a mere 21-year-old who was juggling a position switch. And in the long run, he projects to be much better than that.
Put Castellanos at third base alongside Jose Iglesias at shortstop with Kinsler and Cabrera on the right side, and Detroit's infield defense becomes notably better than it was the past two years. And between the two of them, Castellanos and Kinsler would probably be able to surpass the 25 homers Fielder gave in 2013.
So basically, the answer is yes—the Tigers are a better team after this trade. Cue the rejoicing and so forth.
What's more, trading Fielder away should allow general manager Dave Dombrowski to make sure the Tigers remain a good team. While he didn't exactly unload all of it, he did just unload the biggest contract on the club's books.
And given the circumstances at play, that's kind of a big deal.
Dombrowski now has a lot more leeway to pursue an extension for Max Scherzer, who is due for free agency after 2014. If he'd prefer to allocate the money saved, he could target extensions for Cabrera and/or Austin Jackson, who are both due for free agency after 2015.
He's a crafty one, that Dave Dombrowski. He caught everyone off-guard when he signed Fielder in the first place, and right now he's probably smirking at anyone who dared suggest that it was an albatross contract the Tigers wouldn't be able to get off their hands.
Dombrowski just got it off Detroit's hands, and he increased his team's competitive fortunes while also loosening its financial constraints. Bravo.
But now for the big question (or, well, the next of several big questions): If Prince Fielder is such an albatross, why is this such a good thing for the Rangers?
Behold the next bolded section.
Why This Works for the Rangers
When we think of Fielder, I imagine most of us can't help but think of what he signed for initially: nine years and $214 million. That's a big contract, and it obviously hasn't panned out too well so far.
But that's not the contract the Rangers now have on their hands. Take it away, Jeff Passan:
Seven and $138 million calls for the Rangers to pay Fielder less than $20 million per year, which is indeed a decent rate for a middle-of-the-order slugger these days.
Curious about the last time Fielder was actually worth $20 million? It was just last year in 2012. According to FanGraphs' WAR-based value system, his 4.8 WAR made him a $21.7 million value.
A couple things contributed to Fielder being worth "only" $11.2 million in 2013. His OBP dropped from .412 to .362, and his Isolated Power (ISO) dropped from .215 to .178.
He can't run the bases or play a good first base, so Fielder needs to get on base and hit for power to contribute. He didn't do either nearly as well he did in 2012. Hence the relative suckitude.
Frankly, I'm iffy as to whether Fielder's OBP will be making a dramatic turnaround in 2014 and staying steady over the next few years. His walk habit is trending in the wrong direction, and Fielder has never been an elite BABIP merchant. Rather than a .400 OBP guy, it's absolutely possible that a mid-.300 OBP guy is who he's going to be the rest of the way.
But Fielder's power? It now gets to spend half the season in a place that's very welcoming to power.
According to ESPN's Park Factors, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington was not one of the 10-best home run parks in the league in 2013. But it was in the top 10 in 2012 and 2011 and 2010 and 2009 and...well, you get it. Not that you need the numbers anyway, of course, as its reputation as a launching pad precedes it.
It's unlikely that Fielder will ever again be the 40-homer threat. But if Texas GM Jon Daniels is banking on the possibility that playing 81 games in Arlington year after year will get Fielder back to being a 30-homer threat, he could have come up with much worse ideas.
Isn't that right, Brandon McCarthy?
Pretty much, yeah.
Elsewhere on the diamond for the Rangers, second base is now up for grabs. That means the door is open for Jurickson Profar to finally become an everyday player.
Widely regarded as one of the best young players in the game, Profar is a natural shortstop. But he made 29 starts at second base alongside Elvis Andrus in 2013, and should be able to do better than a minus-1.4 UZR and a minus-four DRS over a full season if the message comes across that he's going to be an everyday second baseman.
Offensively, Profar has underwhelmed with a 75 OPS+ in 341 major league plate appearances. But his career minor league OPS is over .800, with 53 stolen bases next to 34 home runs. If it all comes together for him like it should, he'll be a good-fielding, good-hitting, good-running second baseman.
In other words, all the things Ian Kinsler used to be. Since Kinsler used to be a very valuable player, that's a good thing.
Since it's a question that has to be answered, I can't say I like the Rangers' end of this trade as much as I like the Tigers' end of it. The Tigers won't be hurt as bad if Kinsler goes boom, and they're the ones who are getting more financial wiggle room rather than less. Daniels is the one with the bigger stack of chips in the middle of the table.
But Fielder is an easy upgrade over decidedly "meh" Mitch Moreland at first base, and will indeed be a sizable upgrade if Rangers Ballpark augments his power like it should. And given the bag of skills Profar has working for him, he has the potential to be a massive upgrade at second base at a rate that—for a few years, anyway—will be dirt cheap.
It's not often that we see a swap of problem contracts in baseball. It's even less often that we see a swap of problem contracts that feels like a good trade.
That's what this one is.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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