Tigers, Rangers Swap Fielder, Kinsler

In shocking news (to me) that came out of left field (to me) the Detroit Tigers have traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler. Wow.

This happened so fast that my head is still spinning as I try to make sense of it and evaluate the trade. All we know right know is that it is a straight-up trade with the possibility of some money being exchanged. For now I will analyze it as a straight-up trade and can edit in some opinion if more information is revealed.

After the 2011 season the Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a 9/$214mil contract. This is not only the highest contract on the Tigers, but one of the highest in baseball history. From 2011-2013 he put up fWAR’s of 4.9, 4.8, and 2.2. His wRC+ over that span is 160, 153, 125 and his defense has been rather poor, as one would imagine.

After the 2012 season Ian Kinsler signed an extension with the Rangers to the tune of 5/$75mil with a $10mil club option in 2018. From 2011-2013 his fWAR was 7.3, 3.0, 2.5. His wRC+ has ranged from 123 to 100 to 105 while playing above average defense.

In this trade the Rangers will be trading four years and $62mil of Kinsler for seven years and $168mil of Fielder.

Taken on face value this seems like an unfair trade. The Tigers will be reducing payroll while getting a good second baseman. Moreover, they will be on the hook for less years in a long term contract. However, we know the analysis doesn’t end right there.

Why did the Tigers make this trade? Prince Fielder was a star athlete and hit in the heart of the lineup. He made the All-Star team both seasons in Detroit and was the best hitter on the team, outside Miguel Cabrera, both seasons. Moreover, he has led baseball in games played the past few seasons. However, he is a big, power hitting first baseman who will be thirty in 2014 and be paid $24mil a season through 2020, his age 36 season. His B-R similar players list is scattered with players who saw a steep decline in production after age thirty.

Here are two graphs from a FanGraphs article written by Eno Sarris.

What these graphs are trying to say is that hitters decline around age thirty. The graphs show BB%, K%, GB%, and ISO- all components of a power hitter like Prince Fielder. From 2009-2012 Fielder had an OBP above .400 and BB% in the 15% range. However, it has dipped the past two seasons to 10.5%. His K% went from about 12% in 2012 to 16% in 2013 (although his career average is about 17%). His GB% has actually lowered the past two seasons, but his ISO has shown the expected dip that the above graph expects.

By most estimates we should expect a less dangerous Prince Fielder going forward. He won’t be bad, but between poor defense and declining offensive skills, $24mil for Prince Fielder is a steep price to pay for Detroit, Texas, or any team.

At the same time, Ian Kinsler is going through a similar decline phase. He will be 32 in 2014. His offense and defense have taken a hit from his peak season in 2011. However, Kinsler’s decline won’t be as bad as Fielder’s. First off, the Tigers won’t be on the hook for as many years and as much money as the Rangers will be with Fielder. Moreover, Kinsler holds a lot more positional value at second base. Going further, while he has probably peaked defensively, Kinsler is still an above average fielder. And while we won’t see anymore .364 wOBA seasons out of him, he has a good BB% and superb K% rate and GB% still. While we should expect all those to decline, he will still be an average offensive contributor for the remaining years on his contract. So at an average of about $15mil over the next four seasons, we can expect Kinsler to match those expectations more so than Fielder and his $24mil AAV contract.

So, after that roundabout analysis, let’s get back to the question- why did the Tigers make this trade after giving Fielder a nine year contract just two seasons ago? Well, Fielder is entering the decline phase of his career, but still was owed $168mil over seven seasons. All that for a future DH. Meanwhile, Kinsler would be on the Detroit payroll for three less years and for over $100mil less in payroll money.

When it comes to the ball field it makes sense as well. Without Omar Infante the Tigers needed a second baseman. Kinsler not only gives the Tigers a second baseman, but it gives them a quality second baseman. To fill the hole at first, the Tigers can move Miguel Cabrera there (a defensive liability at third) and then fill third base with top prospect Nick Castellanos. The $100mil in savings can go towards re-signing players such as Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera. And the end of the day the Tigers really shouldn’t project to lose any projected wins for the 2014 season.

As for the Rangers, I think the trade still makes sense despite what I said about Prince Fielder before. In 2013 the Rangers got a combined 0.4 fWAR from first base. Prince Fielder is an immediate upgrade, albeit at the cost of $24mil. The trade also opens up a position for top prospect, Jurickson Profar. Instead of paying $16mil for Kinsler in 2014 they can play Profar for the league minimum and get similar on-field production and/or value. In a sense, the Rangers are paying just an extra $8mil over the next couple seasons to upgrade at first base and allow Jurickson Profar to start full time at the league minimum.

My only qualm is the long term impact this deal will have for Texas. Fielder’s contract will be a heel in a few seasons and by that time Profar will no longer be a league minimum player. However, Texas is built to win now and after being so close to winning a title the past few seasons, Texas realizes their window is closing and wants to capitalize.

Essentially, I think this a win-win trade for two AL pennant contenders. While I like the deal more for Detroit, I can see where Texas is coming from in making this deal. Although I do think Fielder will continue to decline, playing in Arlington opposed to Comerica will surely slow that decline.

EDIT: Detroit is sending $30mil to Texas, so Texas is effectively paying $138mil over years for Fielder. That is much better value for Fielder, but it will still be a tough contract on the payroll come 2016 or 2017 and beyond. However, it makes the deal that much better for Texas in the short run, the trade still makes a lot of sense for Detroit.

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