Thoughts On The Ian Kinsler For Prince Fielder Trade
The Rangers needed power, so they got Prince Fielder. The Tigers needed some money off the books and a second baseman, so they got rid of $138 million and acquired Ian Kinsler. Its beauty is in its simplicity.
However, it certainly didn’t hit me without bringing some heartburn with it. There are a lot of reasons why Texas shouldn’t have done this deal.
1. Ian Kinsler is still a very good player
Something was going to change for Texas in its Andrus-Profar-Kinsler problem, either a position or a uniform. The solution was the latter. But that doesn’t mean Kinsler would have been worthless to the club had he stayed in 2014. In fact, in terms of value, Kinsler’s 4.9 rWAR far surpassed Fielder’s 1.7 in 2013. Though their fWAR was more comparable, Kinsler held the edge there as well (2.5 to 2.2, respectively).
Kinsler will be missed in Texas for his on-field performance and style of play, as well as his leadership in the clubhouse and involvement in the community. Trading a player like him is not an easy move to make.
2. Prince Fielder comes with a big contract
Texas was a contender to sign Fielder in the 2011-12 offseason two years ago. They fell short of his asking price, which ended up netting him a nine-year, $214 million deal with Detroit. Now, two years later, with theoretically the best two years of that contract already behind him, Texas is taking on that contract, with Detroit sending $30 million along with it.
If they didn’t want to spend that much two years ago, why would the Rangers want to get into that kind of a deal now for a player two years older and further away from his prime?
The total commitment for Texas ends up being seven years, $138 million, with the $30 million from Detroit being paid out in 2016-2020. The net result looks like this:
If Fielder was a free agent, would he get a seven year, $138 million deal? Probably, almost definitely given the state of the free agent market. Would you expect Texas to be the team to sign him? I wouldn’t.
3. Prince Fielder has a big body; Texas is hot
This article on Fangraphs has a graph that shows that heavy players decline faster on the aging curve than normal guys (like Kinsler). Playing in the Texas heat during the summer is unlikely to help Fielder beat that aging curve.
On the other hand, this article from Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus a few years ago shows that first baseman as a whole actually age better than second baseman. He does note that a potential reason for this is that playing first base is a last resort of sorts for players, once they can no longer play other positions, which may help prolong the aging curve of the group.
4. Fielder is literally the worst defensive first baseman in baseball
And he has been for several years. Signing up for seven years of Prince Fielder suggests that he won’t be the designated hitter that whole time, and so that defensive liability will be a part of the package. It makes one wonder what sort of impact Fielder’s defense will have on the rest of the infield when it comes to receiving offline throws.
So why then, would Texas make this deal?
1. Fielder’s 2013 season was one bad year, and he’ll rebound in 2014.
He will be 30 years old next season. While that’s not exactly a baseball player’s prime, one bad year (and let’s define “bad”; he had a 120 OPS+) does not mean he is in full decline. For this deal to work out for Texas, he needs to rebound.
For his career, Fielder has averaged a 19.2% HR/FB (home run per fly ball) ratio. In 2013, that number was 13.5%. According to ESPN’s home run tracker, he did have a reduced average speed off the bat on his home runs in 2013:
Many people have pointed out that playing in the Rangers’ ballpark instead of spacious Comerica will benefit Fielder. The evidence suggests that will not have much of an impact. According to ESPN’s park factors, Comerica rated higher than the Ballpark in terms of park factor. Fielder may have a turnaround season, but it would be a false narrative to say that it is ballpark-dependent.
2. The extra money Texas is taking on can’t limit them elsewhere
In total, the Rangers have $76 million more committed to their payroll now. Only $27 million of that comes in the next four years, with the remaining $49 million in the last three years of Fielder’s deal.
By inserting Profar into the vacant 2B hole, and adding Fielder, Texas has crossed off two needs from its offseason list for an additional $8 million next season. Assuming Fielder is able to perform at or close to a pre-2013 level, that should create more value than $8 million spent in free agency would.
That’s the short term. In the long term, the fact that Texas is willing to commit this kind of money to this kind of player for this kind of term is counterintuitive to their typical philosophy. Based on the team’s track record, that doesn’t suggest they don’t know what they’re doing. Instead, it suggests that the Rangers are one step ahead of the game here. Taking on more money in 2018-2020 will be alleviated by the Rangers new TV contract that begins in 2015, and by the additional money that all clubs will be receiving in the future. And, we have seen in the recent past that these large payroll figures in the last few years of an albatross contract, even for a severely declined player, doesn’t make him untradeable. Texas may find itself in a position in 2018 where they can comfortably eat a portion of Fielder’s remaining deal to move him.
3. Win now
From the Rangers’ standpoint, this move puts them in a better position for the next four years. For his ages 30 and 31 seasons, Texas pays Fielder $24 million, and then $18 million for ages 32 and beyond. Up until he is 33, it’s reasonable to expect a player of his caliber can be worth somewhere in that ballpark. From age 34 to 36, well, you just figure that out when you get there.
The Rangers’ middle infield logjam this offseason could have been fairly classified as a problem. The Texas front office turned it into an opportunity, and they cashed in on that opportunity. It didn’t come without cost, and without risk, but they added a major offensive weapon to a club that needed a major offensive upgrade.
As they have done in every trade for the last several years, Texas has dealt from their strengths to fill a weakness. This is why organizational strength, scouting, and player development is so important. Texas can’t make this trade without a Jurickson Profar, or Rougned Odor, or Luis Sardinas. Having high-talent prospects in the system isn’t just about being armed for the future; it’s about competing in the present too.
Jon Daniels and associates always talk about the two-year plan, and the five-year plan. They look to strike a balance between the two; compete in the short-term but don’t sacrifice sustainable success. Sometimes, to the watching public, it has appeared that the team has put a heavier emphasis on the five-year plan. This time, they did the opposite and are showing that they’re going for it, and it feels pretty good.