Detroit Tigers traded first baseman Prince Fielder for Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler in a crazy blockbuster deal that seemed like a fake rumor before it was confirmed by Jon Heyman. The deal includes the Tigers sending $30 million in cash to Texas to help pay for the remaining $169 million in Fielder’s contract.
Here are the basics of what we know about where the Tigers stand now after the deal.
3. Detroit saves $76 million at max in the trade, $69 million if they pick up Kinsler’s team option in 2018.
4. Detroit now has a hole to fill in left field in addition to needing upgrades in the bullpen.
These are the bare bones of what we know. There is no evidence to suggest the Tigers will go after Robinson Cano (where’s the fit on the field?) or that they will be bidders for Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury. Carlos Beltran could potentially be in play, but there is nothing to confirm that interest. However, it should be noted the Tigers were never considered players for Prince Fielder two years ago when he signed, so things can always change in a hurry.
Another thing to consider here is what the Tigers do with Max Scherzer. The immediate assumption is that Detroit will spend the money saved in the Fielder trade to sign Scherzer to an extension. But it is still possible Detroit could trade him as was rumored before Wednesday’s deal.
What does this mean for the Royals? As of now, it means the Tigers are worse than they were a year ago.
KINSLER, INFANTE, AND SECOND BASE
Kinsler will replace Omar Infante. The numbers are quite interesting in terms of production and defense.
Kinsler turns 32 next season and has a long history of injuries. He has played 140 games or more in his career just three times in eight seasons, though it should be noted he has played 155 or more in two of the last three years.
Power and speed numbers have started to decline for Kinsler in the last two years. His slugging percentage was down to .413 in a very hitter friendly park last season, and he hit 32 total home runs in the last two years after hitting 32 homers in 2011. And after stealing 30 bases while being caught only 4 times in 2011, Kinsler stole only 15 bases while being caught 11 times in 2013. His 13.9 power/speed number was the lowest for a season in his career in which he had at least 500 plate appearances.
Other Kinsler hitting numbers…
ISO (measures power): .136 (lowest of his career, min. 500 PAs)
OPS+: 105 (lowest of his career)
Slugging %: .413 (lowest of his career, min. 500 PAs)
Runs Created per Game: 5.1 (second lowest of his career)
To recap: Kinsler was a player of comparable numbers to Omar Infante, is a declining player who is two years older than Prince Fielder, and is under contract for another five years.
Meanwhile, Detroit loses their only other hitter to have 20 or more home runs and creates a hole in left field because Nick Castellanos will be moving back to third base. They become marginally better defensively, but lose a significant amount of offense.
Yes, Detroit opens up $76 million in long-term cash but most, if not all, of that will go towards extending Scherzer. If it doesn’t go towards resigning Scherzer and Detroit decides to spend it on a free agent outfielder then the Tigers will have a huge hole in the rotation to fill in 2015.
HUGE OFFENSIVE DECLINE COMING?
Last season, Detroit had six players with an OPS+ over 110. But 2014 looks to have a less potent Tigers squad.
Alex Avila will return as Detroit’s catcher after hitting .227/.317/.376 with an 87 OPS+. Nick Castellanos will be a rookie at third base, so we don’t know what he will produce. He was 5-for-18 last season at the MLB level. It is assumed the Tigers will make a move to add an outfielder this winter, but for now Andy Dirks will man left field. Dirks had an 86 OPS+ last season.
Glove-first Jose Iglesias will be the full-time short stop for the Tigers. In 46 games with the Tigers last season he had a .654 OPS, which translates into a 77 OPS+. He is replacing Jhonny Peralta, who had a 119 OPS+ last year. And we already discussed how Kinsler had a lower offensive numbers than Infante last year at second base and isn’t necessarily a defensive upgrade at the position.
As currently constructed, Detroit will have three starters with an OPS+ below 90 (catcher, shortstop, and left field), a rookie third baseman, and, potentially, decreased offensive production at second base. This goes without mentioning that Torii Hunter will be 38 and Victor Martinez will be 35 next season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if one or both saw a significant decline in their offensive production.
MONEY PROBLEMS STILL LOOM FOR DETROIT
Even with the shedding of the Prince Fielder contract, there are still a lot of financial issues the Tigers have to deal with over the next few seasons. As a result, it could affect the way they choose to attack the rest of this offseason.
Detroit had a payroll of $148.7 million last season according to Cots Baseball Contracts. They already have $99.8 million committed to Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Kinsler, Anibal Sanchez, and Torii Hunter for the 2014 season. Additionally, they have nine arbitration eligible players who are estimated to make a total of 42.3 million. This means Detroit has about $142.1 million wrapped up in 14 players for the 2014 season.
(Note: If the Tigers had kept Fielder their estimated committed money to 14 players would have been $150.1 million.)
Detroit is still a comfortable distance from the luxury tax line and will also benefit from the $25 million in new television money that the rest of league will be receiving.
Max Scherzer is estimated to make about $13.3 million this season via arbitration. Should the Tigers elect to extend him they could lower this year’s salary a little bit this year in order to open up some payroll room.
Another option would be to trade Rick Porcello for bullpen help. He is estimated to make $7.7 million in arbitration and could bring back some arms Detroit could use in their bullpen. Drew Smyly could be shifted to fill Porcello’s spot in the rotation and Detroit could save some money while filling some holes in their bullpen. That saved money could also be used towards signing a closer.
Beyond, things get trickier.
After 2014, Scherzer becomes a free agent if he is not extended this year. Doug Fister hits his final year of arbitration as does Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, Don Kelly, and Porcello (if he is not traded). Martinez and Hunter will be free agents. 2015 also represents the final year Detroit does not send cash for Fielder to Texas.
2016 is even more complex.
Miguel Cabrera will be a free agent after the 2015 season. Cabrera has won back-to-back MVP awards, three-straight batting titles, and solidified himself as the best hitter in baseball. His current contract pays him $22 million per season and, at age 32, he’ll likely be looking for one last monster contract.
When Cabrera is hitting free agency this is what Detroit will also be dealing with:
– Justin Verlander will be 33 and be owed $28 million per season through 2019 with a vesting option in 2020.
– Kinsler will be 34 and be owed a minimum of $30 million through 2018.
– Sanchez will be 32 and be owed a minimum of $38.6 million through 2018.
– Detroit begins $6 million payments to Texas for Prince Fielder.
– Porcello, Fister, Jackson, Avila, and Kelly are all scheduled to be free agents.
– Jose Iglesias will hit his first year of arbitration.
Would Cabrera see the Tigers as a fit for him by 2016? Would Detroit be willing to offer the monster contract necessary to keep him? Will Detroit have enough money left to re-sign Jackson, Fister, Avila, and/or Porcello?
Detroit’s window was closing fast before the trade, and now it may be mostly shut without a few moves this winter. The Tigers have to replace the offense Fielder was producing and they have to guard themselves against the potential regression of Kinsler, Hunter, and Martinez. Plus, what happens if Castellanos proves he isn’t ready for the full-time gig at third base?
Once they figure that out, they have to solve the original problem which was their bullpen.
All of that means Detroit is coming back to the fold a little bit. One could estimate that they are about a 89 or 90 win team as presently constructed. This means the Royals are closer in reach to Detroit than they were Wednesday morning.
The problem here is that the Royals have some work to do to get themselves into a position to take advantage of Detroit’s fall back to earth. Kansas City still has to add a starting pitcher to replace Ervin Santana. Then they either need to add one more starting pitcher and a bat or add two bats to play in right field and at second base.
What has changed now is if Kansas City adds those pieces (and potentially more) they will be serious contenders for the AL Central and not just a wild card spot. This offseason just got way more interesting.