There was no official blog post yesterday. That’s because I spent yesterday creating the transactions page. That’s right folks, the tab that – when clicked previously took you to a page that said only “Coming soon” is now a portal to a breakdown of each of the 30 teams’ Major League player transactions. I completed the list of 2013 offseason deals dating back to the start of November. There were some deals reached in October as well, which I plan to add to the list this weekend.
A couple of big deals this week provided some strong motivation to go ahead and get that Transactions page up and running. The biggest of those being the Ian Kinsler/Prince Fielder trade that broke Wednesday night.
In case you missed it – and you have to have been living under a rock not to at least have seen a headline or an update – the Texas Rangers traded All-Star 2B Ian Kinsler to Detroit in exchange for All-Star 1B Prince Fielder and $30 million. It was a rare swap of All-Star talent that has been the talk of talking heads for the last few days.
The move has been one praised for analysts and experts looking at both sides of the deal, but the majority opinion seems to be that the Tigers came out a little better, all things considered.
I kind of disagree.
Sure, the Tigers did do themselves some good by getting out from under Fielder’s monstrous nine-year, $214 million contract. But Kinsler’s contract will be no picnic in terms of the team’s overall payroll either. By shedding Fielder’s contract, the Tigers stand to save $76 million through 2020 even after sending $30 million to the Rangers in cash considerations as part of the deal. That equates to about $10 million per season in payroll that the deal frees up, money that could be used to add another piece this offseason or to negotiate with a current player – say a Max Scherzer – on a contract extension. But how far $10 million per year will go during this free agency period remains to be seen. Many anticipate the market to be over-inflated, which is why teams like Detroit and Texas are turning to trades as opposed to signings for upgrades.
One target the extra money could go toward is Jhonny Peralta, who was the team’s most steady bat during the ALCS after returning from a 50-game Biogenesis suspension. Fielder’s departure will allow Miguel Cabrera, who is recovering from groin surgery, to move back to first base. Cabrera had been playing third the last two seasons to make room for Fielder, and defensive metrics showed him as well below average at that position. If the Tigers were to use the extra money to sign Peralta, he would make for a more natural fit at third base, and the defensive shift could save the club runs in 2014.
Kinsler fills a positional need. Omar Infante, who occupied second base in Detroit last season, is a free agent. And if this deal had happened a few years ago, one could say with supreme confidence that Kinsler was an upgrade at that spot. But we saw a serious decline in Kinsler’s performance last year, and according to FanGraphs WAR (wins above replacement), Infante actually offered a higher wins above replacement value than Kinsler in 2013. Kinsler will continue to get on base a decent clip and hit for average, but his power has fallen over the last three seasons, and should fall even more leaving the hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington, where he played his home games for Texas.
The biggest praise heaped on Detroit for this move was based on the perceived upgrade at second base and the cash that it freed up to make future moves. Both of these are a little overstated in my opinion.
On the flip side, the Rangers get a premiere power hitter for what is essentially a seven-year, $138 million contract after the $30 million received in cash contributions is factored in. That calls for the Rangers to pay Fielder just $20 million per year. Jeff Passan at Yahoo! Sports tweeted that at just 29, if Fielder were a free agent this year he might demand as much as Yankees 2B Robinson Cano – who’s asking price right now is 10-years at $300 million plus. That’s a steal for Texas in terms of value.
Fielder struggled offensively after Cabrera first injured himself. His on-base percentage, average and power numbers all declined from 2012. But he now will benefit from getting to play half the season in Texas’ Ballpark at Arlington, one of the most power-friendly parks in all of baseball. It would be no surprise if Fielder returned to his 40-home run per season form with his new organization.
The Rangers will no longer have to rely on the Mitch Moreland to hold down the middle of the order alone, which he did after Nelson Cruz was suspended 50 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Moreland, who was the primary first baseman a season ago, hit 23 home runs but drove in just 60 RBIs and batted a career-low .232. A lot of that was likely due to a lack of protection in the lineup, something batting in front of Prince Fielder would alleviate. Moreland can now be slotted in a corner outfield position, or could bat as the team’s DH.
Shipping off Ian Kinsler opens up a roster spot for prized middle infield prospect Jurickson Profar – widely regarded as one of the best young players in baseball – to finally become an everyday player, without requiring the team to trade shortstop Elvis Andrus, who in my opinion has added far more value to the Rangers lineup and defense over the last few seasons than Kinsler.
So in terms of what this trade does for the Rangers, it offers an obvious upgrade at first base and secures control over a premiere power hitter for the next seven seasons at a contract that, when all circumstances of the deal are considered, is an incredible value. It bolsters the lineup and offers protection for Mitch Moreland, which should allow him to be a more productive run produce. And it frees up a spot on the field for the uber-talented Profar to get the opportunity to finally play every day by moving the lesser of the team’s two middle infielders.
Pat yourselves on the back, Rangers front office members. That’s a job well done.