Last night, I decided to go for a run. I’m running in a 5k on Thanksgiving, and unlike every major league player on the cusp of spring training, I am not in the best shape of my life. I’m probably in the worst shape of my life. Any joke you could make about Prince Fielder being overweight and not exactly athletic-looking, could be made about me and what I call “running.” So it’s interesting that as I staggered back into my driveway, the Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler trade was just going down. I talked to my parents on the phone after my return home, and I thought my dad was messing with me when he told me about the trade. Then I thought that maybe I was hallucinating because not enough oxygen had reached my brain due to my pathetic attempt to run three miles. Detroit actually found someone to take Fielder’s contract, without having to pay like 60% of said contract? This could end up being a huge win for them.
Back in January 2012, when Fielder was originally signed to his 9 year, $214 million deal, I said that it was the kind of signing that would look fantastic for the first couple of years, and kill them on the back end of the deal. So now they had him for the first couple of years, and he’ll be someone else’s problem for the back end of the deal. Fielder is still owed $168 million over the next seven years, or $24 million annually. As Dave Cameron pointed out in an article at Fangraphs, the Tigers will shed $76 million of what they would have paid, when you factor in Kinsler’s salary over the next four years, and the fact that Detroit sent $30 million to Texas in the deal.
One of the biggest benefits to shedding such a large contract is the fact that it gives the Tigers much more payroll flexibility in the long run. Max Scherzer is a free agent after the 2014 season, and Miguel Cabrera will be a free agent after the 2015 season. There were rumors that the Tigers would try to trade Scherzer since they wouldn’t be able to afford to sign him, and hope to keep Cabrera just a year later. Now it’s feasible that they could keep both, or they could choose to make a splash on the free agent market. With Kinsler at second, they could focus on an outfielder like Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury, to roam the outfield with Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter. They’re no longer forced to keep Cabrera at third; a move back to first may be easier on his body in the long run. Fielder had an off year offensively in 2013 (for him), and had an extremely poor showing in the playoffs, drawing ire from a number of Detroit fans. I found myself wondering if there would be awkwardness next season between Fielder and the home crowd at Comerica Park…now it’s a moot point.
As Cameron explained in the Fangraphs piece, the Tigers can either pursue a free agent to cover third base, or just rely upon top prospect Nick Castellanos to man the position. I think the most telling point he makes is when he says that the Tigers “turned a $168 million +3 WAR player into $92 million +3 WAR player.” Now they have some flexibility because they’re no longer forced to keep Fielder at first (since Victor Martinez is already pretty much the full-time DH). Plus the subtraction of Fielder automatically means that defense at first will likely improve – addition by subtraction. There are concerns that Fielder’s absence from the lineup may negatively impact Cabrera, removing the big bat protecting him. Although Victor Martinez will obviously still provide some protection, and a gifted hitter like Cabrera will probably be fine.
From the perspective of an Indians fan, I don’t really care for this deal. The Tigers greatly improved their flexibility and will no longer have the weight of Fielder’s contract around their neck as we approach the end of the decade. I think there will be one or more companion moves to go with this trade – either another deal, or a splash in the free agent market. I think this could end up helping Texas some too – they now don’t have to worry about getting rid of either Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar. One can move to second, and Fielder can take over first base for Mitch Moreland. Since they’re not a division rival, I’m a bit less concerned with them; although since they were competition for the Wild Card this season, I’m obviously keeping an eye on them as well.
Also in the AL Central today:
– The Royals announced that they signed pitcher Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million deal. While the per-year sum isn’t unreasonable, I think that four years is a bit excessive. The way the Royals hyped a “big announcement for 4 p.m.” all afternoon, I thought it was going to be a much more significant move than a Vargas signing. He’s a decent pitcher, but he’ll basically be taking the rotation spot of Ervin Santana, since he’s unlikely to return to Kansas City. I don’t think he’ll end up duplicating Santana’s 2013 numbers, but at least he fills a hole.