Wednesday night’s huge (what other word do you use for a transaction involving Prince Fielder?) deal between the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers — Fielder to Texas, Ian Kinsler to Detroit — could have a ripple effect on the Red Sox.
For one, it may take the Rangers out of the bidding for free agent first baseman Mike Napoli, although it’s still conceivable that the Rangers view Napoli as an ideal complementary bat to the left-handed hitting Fielder, who could DH while Napoli plays first. The Rangers ranked 14th in the league in OPS at first base (.700) — only the Yankees were worse — and they were slightly worse at DH (.698, ninth in the league).
Less than two years after boldly signing Prince Fielder to a $214 million contract, the Detroit Tigers traded the slugging first baseman to Texas in another blockbuster move.
Fielder was dealt to the Rangers on Wednesday night for second baseman Ian Kinsler. The Tigers agreed to pay the Rangers $30 million as part of the swap, according to a person with knowledge of the deal. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the amount of money exchanged was not revealed when the teams announced the trade. The $30 million is payable from 2016-20.
”Obviously, a very exciting trade for us in adding Prince Fielder to the organization,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. ”Also a tough trade to make in that Ian Kinsler’s been with the organization since he was drafted in ’03, and we’ve signed him here a couple of times. Been here, a catalyst for our World Series clubs, and a huge part of this. A winning guy, a heart-and-soul guy, and Detroit got a tremendous player and person.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, made it known last week at the GM meetings that contrary to speculation, they are not in the market for Ellsbury. Moving Fielder wouldn’t seem to alter that. The Tigers’ priroities remain re-signing pitcher Max Scherzer and extending two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera, whose current deal runs out after the 2015 season.
It’s the first headline-grabbing move of baseball’s offseason, and it involves two of the American League’s top teams. Detroit has won three consecutive AL Central titles and reached the World Series in 2012, while Texas won the AL pennant in 2010 and 2011.
Fielder, a five-time All-Star, had to consent to the trade before it could be completed. The big first baseman signed a $214 million, nine-year contract with the Tigers before the 2012 season that includes a limited no-trade provision.
”We’re thankful for what he did for us,” Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski said. ”It’ll be a bat that we miss at times – there’s no doubt about it.”
Kinsler just finished the first season of a $75 million, five-year contract.
With stars like Fielder, Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez in the fold, Detroit’s payroll had become one of the game’s biggest. And although Fielder hit 55 home runs over the last two years for the Tigers, his numbers dipped this season and he struggled in the playoffs when Detroit lost to Boston in the AL championship series.
Fielder hit .279 with 25 homers this year. He drove in 106 runs, but it was his lowest home run total over a full season. He did not have a single RBI in the 2013 postseason and hit .182 in the ALCS.
Daniels said the trade came together quickly – the first discussions took place Tuesday. The Rangers will welcome the durable Fielder, who has played 162 games in four of the last five seasons. Texas was interested in Fielder when he signed with Detroit as a free agent.
”Our offer was well below what it ended up being, so we weren’t that close,” Daniels said. ”I thought he was a genuine guy that really loved the game, really loved playing the game, loved his boys, his sons.”
Kinsler batted .277 with 13 homers this year. The a three-time All-Star was limited to 136 games because of injuries to his ribs and right side. Kinsler stole 15 bases in 2013 – not a high total by his standards but more than any player on the Detroit team he is joining.
The trade could save the Tigers more than $75 million in the long run, giving them more financial flexibility with Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer a year from free agency.
Fielder is still only 29, and the Rangers are set to add a big bat to the middle of their lineup while also resolving a logjam in the middle of their infield. Jurickson Profar, a highly touted 20-year-old prospect, appeared to be blocked by Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus. Now, Profar should have a chance to play regularly.
The Tigers signed Fielder to a huge contract shortly before spring training in 2012 – after designated hitter Victor Martinez injured his knee. Martinez came back in 2013. With Fielder gone, Cabrera may move from third base back to first.
”I’m really not sure what we’re going to do as we sit here now today,” Dombrowski said. ”Eventually, we see him as a first baseman. Will it happen this year or not? I’m not sure.”
The 31-year-old Kinsler fills a need at second base for Detroit after Omar Infante became a free agent.
Fielder is due $168 million through 2020, a salary of $24 million per season. Under his no-trade clause, he submits a list of 10 teams each year that he can be traded to without his approval.
Texas was not on that list this year, but Fielder agreed to accept the trade and instructed agent Scott Boras to approve the deal.
”If he was coming off the best year of his career, he’s not available,” Daniels said. ”I think that’s kind of the whole idea of this deal – if anybody feels like that’s a sign of things to come, that he’s slipping, you may not like the deal. We don’t feel that way. We don’t feel that way at all.”
Kinsler is guaranteed $62 million through 2017: $16 million in each of the next two seasons, $14 million in 2016, $11 million in 2017 and a $5 million buyout of a $10 million option.
It’s already been an unpredictable offseason for the Tigers. Manager Jim Leyland stepped down after the season and was replaced by Brad Ausmus. Detroit could have come back with a similar roster and probably been favored to win the division again, but now more changes seem possible.
”If you put Kinsler’s bat at the top of the lineup, that’s an instant threat,” Ausmus said. ”It changes the dynamic, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less potent.”
If Cabrera moves back to first base, prospect Nick Castellanos might replace him at third. Previously, it appeared Castellanos would have to play the outfield if both Cabrera and Fielder were still on the team.
Andy Dirks is still available to play left field, but that’s a spot the Tigers could still try to upgrade. They also have six capable starting pitchers – Drew Smyly was used in the bullpen this year – so that’s a surplus that could come in handy in a possible trade.
Detroit’s bullpen will likely undergo a makeover after struggling last season.
The Rangers lost slugging outfielder Nelson Cruz to a late-season suspension as a result of MLB’s investigation in the Biogenesis case. He’s now a free agent, and if Texas loses him, Fielder, who hit 50 homers in 2007 for Milwaukee at 23, should help replace his production.
”A huge focus for us this winter was finding some kind of middle-of-the-order presence and power, and at 29 years old, I still think there’s still a lot of big run production and years ahead of him,” Daniels said.
The Rangers also were thought to be on the margins for free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, but taking a contract that pays Fielder $24 million a year through the 2020 season would seemingly be a deterrent to GM Jon Daniels adding another $20-million-plus per year in Ellsbury. The Rangers have two outstanding outfield defenders in Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry, so it would seem they would be better served going after catcher Brian McCann.
Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios are among the dangerous hitters under contract next season in Texas. Beltre had an AL-high 199 hits and Rios, acquired from the Chicago White Sox in August after Cruz was suspended, has a year left on his deal.
The Rangers lost a one-game tiebreaker to Tampa Bay for the second AL wild card this year.