By Matt Collins
Pessimistic Tigers fans, rejoice! This off-season has been one for the ages for you. It would seem that after last night’s announcement that Prince Fielder has been traded to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler and, oh you know, a modest sum of money, and after the retirement of Jim Leyland last month, Tigers fans on Twitter got their way. Like the trade, or hate it, the Detroit Tigers get rid of over $70 million of payroll, and the guy who made these comments after the Tigers were eliminated from the playoffs this year.
People may talk about Fielder’s recent performance, the need to move Miguel Cabrera back to first base, or Fielder’s attitude as the reasons for this trade, but as far as I see it, something much bigger is happening in Motown. For the better part of the past few years, the Tigers have relied on strong starting pitching and power hitting to lead this team, despite a lack of defense and consistent offense. While this approach has been successful to the tune of three consecutive ALCS appearances, it also led to TWELVE shutouts throughout the 2013 season! That seems to be enough to scare Dave Dombrowski and new Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, leading to a shift in the Tigers lineup that favors small-ball play over power hitting, and two things that Tigers fans probably forgot existed: defense and consistency.
When you look at this trade offensively, one might scratch his head and wonder what the Tigers were thinking. Even with 2013 being a down year for Prince, Fielder bested Ian Kinsler in almost every significant batting category (BA,H, RBI, HR, OPS, etc.) throughout his career. That being said, Kinsler brings an additional 14 stolen bases in 2013 to a Tigers lineup that desperately needs speed! Kinsler also has the distinction of being one of only two second basemen with 150 home runs and 150 stolen bases since 2006 (Brandon Phillips being the other). I’m sure it’s also worth mentioning Kinsler’s .311 postseason average compared to Prince’s .194.
So, offensively it’s not as bad as it seems at first glance. However, where this trade really starts to shift in the Tigers’ favor is on the defensive side of the ball. Kinsler alone isn’t a particularly spectacular defender (though, let’s be honest, a brick wall might be more effective on defense than Fielder), but replacing him with Fielder allows the Tigers to set up an infield that could suddenly become one of the better defensive infields in baseball. Miguel Cabrera moves back to his natural position at first base, top prospect Nick Castellanos alleviates some of his growing pains by moving back to HIS natural position, and I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out the defensive upgrade at shortstop made in July.
Ultimately, the only way this trade severely hurts the Tigers is the Andy Dirks sized hole in left field (Shin Soo Choo anyone?). The Tigers give up an inconsistent, yet extremely powerful hitter for consistency, defense and speed. The Tigers will be a playoff contender with the roster they have today. To remain a World Series contender, however, the Tigers must find some help in the outfield and at relief pitcher…this isn’t exactly a new development.
This trade benefits the Tigers in the long run. Dave Dombrowski now has payroll flexibility to negotiate extensions with Miguel Cabrera (an absolute must!) and Max Scherzer (I still don’t agree with this, but that’s another post for another day). In the present, assuming the Tigers make another couple of moves before April, this team goes deep in to the playoffs again, but with a very different philosophy. Miguel Cabrera still belts tons of home runs. Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez continue to destroy hitters, but the Detroit Tigers offense becomes faster overall, more consistent, and less reliant on the deep ball. Defensively, the Tigers become a juggernaut with the best defensive newcomer in the league, a rookie with solid defensive upside, consistent defense in the middle, oh, and this nine-time gold glove winner in the outfield. When it comes down to it, the worst part of the Prince Fielder trade is that we won’t hear this over the PA at Comerica Park anymore.
What do you think?