MLB: Thoughts on Fielder for Kinsler

371px-Prince_Fielder_on_July_13,_2012

On Wednesday night, veteran baseball writer Jon Heyman of CBS Sports bucked his longtime trend of simply confirming the work of other sportswriters and did some actual reporting of his own, breaking the biggest star-for-star trade in Major League Baseball in years: Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler, pending physicals and Fielder’s expected waiving of his no-trade clause.

This trade has so many implications, so many ripple effects and so many facets I decided to buck my own longtime trend of only writing about such things in 140-character bursts and actually fire up the blog to get my many thoughts about it out.

All of this comes with the caveat that the thing could blow up at any second. But without further ado, here’s how the deal affects each of the major players involved:

TIGERS: Yahoo’s Jeff Passan is reporting the Tigers will be kicking in $30 million of the remaining $168 million on Fielder’s deal. Kinsler is owed a guaranteed $62 million, which could get as high as $69 million if the Tigers exercise a 2018 player option.

Kinsler, 31, has a .262/.341/.438/.780 line over the last three seasons, averaging a 107 OPS+, 21 HR, 159 H, 104 R and 149 games played over that stretch. Even though his numbers the last two years haven’t been as good as his stellar 2011 campaign (when he hit 32 HR and posted an .832 OPS), Kinsler is easily still a top 5 AL second baseman and should hold up well enough at the position to stay there through the end of the deal.

It seems likely the Tigers will move Miguel Cabrera back across the diamond to first where I imagine he will split time with Victor Martinez in a 1B/DH timeshare. That leaves an opening at third, where top prospect Nick Castellanos could find himself, although he moved from third to left field for 2013. There could also be a return engagement for Jhonny Peralta, as he profiles better for a corner at this point in his career.

Regardless, first-year manager Brad Ausmus now has a remade infield that should be much better defensively than the one that lost in six games to the Red Sox in the ALCS. The reduced wear-and-tear on Cabrera could make an already historically-dangerous hitter more dangerous. The Tigers are losing a lot of offense by dumping Fielder (more on that to come), but the Red Sox proved just how important run prevention can be.

Perhaps more importantly, this trade gives the Tigers financial flexibility. The savings should allow them to make longterm pacts with Max Scherzer (who’d been rumored to be on the block) and, after next season, Cabrera, who can be a free agent after 2015. The possibility that Cabrera could spend the last years of his career at 1B/DH with the Tigers makes Detroit an even more enticing option for him.

Also, don’t be surprised if the flexibility also leads to the signing of an outfielder to replace some of Fielder’s bat. Carlos Beltran is the name to watch.

Mike Illitch wants that World Series ring before he dies. He’s taking a big gamble by green-lighting this, but it’s got a great chance of paying off.

RANGERS: Texas is getting a Texas-sized bat from a Texas-sized man in Fielder. He has few peers over the last three years: .297/.396/.515/.911, 145 OPS+, averaging 31 HRs, 35 2Bs and 175 hits. Despite his size, Fielder has been exceptionally durable as the active consecutive games played leader at 505. He’s missed just 13 regular season games since the start of 2006.

It’s still a long commitment of seven years left for Fielder, 29, and who knows how he’ll age. There’s a bad track record for overweight sluggers in their 30s (look no further than his lineage). But the Rangers could be getting a superstar offensive player in the middle of their order in a hitter’s park at a shade under $20 million a season.

For a team with many solid building blocks already in place, it could be a steal when you consider how much the likes of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols are being paid and how much you can expect Robinson Cano to make this winter.

There are reports Tigers people were down on Fielder for his on and off-field performance in the 2013 playoffs, after he hit 4-for-22 in the ALCS and did, well, this. I think Fielder was injured but wouldn’t admit it or take himself out of the lineup. The Tigers’ willingness to move him was more about clearing salary and trying to remake the team more than anything else.

The Rangers no longer have to think about trading entrenched shortstop Elvis Andrus or prospective second baseman Jurickson Profar now that they’ve moved Kinsler, and Profar will finally get the shot he deserves at second base in 2014. A couple years ago, Profar and Mike Trout were similarly touted as prospects, but Profar has a paltry .644 OPS in an admittedly small sample of 94 MLB games.

Profar had to assume a super-utility role for the Rangers in 2013, seeing time at short, second, third, left field and DH. That probably wasn’t the best way to use a prospect who’s still only 20 years old, but the trade of Kinsler provides a clear path for Profar to play everyday at one position.

The Rangers are also still in a position to add more offense, but it will probably be in the outfield or behind the plate. They’ll also be a player for Beltran as well as Brian McCann.

After this trade, the Rangers are better positioned to leapfrog over the Athletics in the AL West and get back to the World Series, where they were in 2010 and 2011.

FREE AGENT/TRADE MARKET: I’ve touched on this a bit already, noting the likes of Scherzer, Andrus and Profar won’t be on the trade market anymore, if they ever were at all. But there are important implications for the free agent market too.

For the Red Sox, there’s a potential positive in their pursuit to keep Mike Napoli. The Rangers were viewed as competition for the Napster and now that seems pretty unlikely, unless their plan is to play either him or Fielder at DH, which again seems unlikely with Mitch Moreland¬†under team control.

It also saves the Rangers the unintentional comedy of giving up Napoli without getting a draft pick back for 2013, then giving up a draft pick in 2014 to get him back. Oh well.

On a lesser note, Omar Infante won’t be going back to Detroit now and he appears to be the fallback option for any of a number of teams who will lose out on the Cano sweepstakes, including the Yankees themselves.

This is the first major domino of the offseason to fall. Usually, it takes until the Winter Meetings for something like this to happen, and those meetings still aren’t for a couple more weeks.

With expected free agent prices to be astronomical, that could set the stage for more trades than normal this year. It should make for a very interesting winter.

Overall, I think this trade could be a win for both teams. The Tigers make their team a bit better by reshuffling the deck and getting a fantastic second baseman while the Rangers add a major bopper and a lot more payroll.

Baseball trades are awesome, especially the blockbusters. Here’s hoping for many more this winter to keep us entertained until spring arrives once again.

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