Why trading Prince Fielder was a very smart move for the Tigers

Prince Fielder was never really embraced during his two years as a Tiger.

Prince Fielder was never really embraced during his two years as a Tiger.

So long, Prince, we hardly knew ya.

Just two years into one of baseball’s most expensive contracts, the Detroit Tigers have jettisoned first baseman Prince Fielder, trading him to the Texas Rangers for infielder Ian Kinsler. It’s the sort of blockbuster deal that rocks baseball’s hot stove season. It will be debated in Detroit over the next few days and into next year as Tiger fans get their first look at Kinsler and Fielder goes on to play in the Lone Star State.

Those of you Tiger fans out there who are upset about this deal, I have two words for you.

Stop it.

This is a great deal for the Tigers. (that’s Tony the Tiger style GREEEEEAT!!!)

It’s a deal that goes well beyond the two players and the 2014 season.

Let me count the ways that this trade is a positive transaction for our Tabbies:

1. Miguel Cabrera can go back across the diamond
For two seasons we watched our best player – the best hitter in baseball – play the hot corner at third base. Was he terrible? Not really. Was he great? No. He was average or a little below average when you factor his limited range. When a ball was hit right at him or within a step or two of him, Miggy gobbled it up for the most part, and his arm is strong. But that terrible range (especially combined with the tractor-type range of Jhonny Peralta at shortstop) was a major liability. Now, with Fielder gone, Cabrera can go back over to first base, where he is much less of a defensive downer. Also, as Miggy gets older and more fragile, it’ll be much more comforting to know he can relax at first base. His injury last season and his subsequent playing through the pain at third, was a bit scary. He is the franchise, and he can realistically add more MVPs and batting titles to his record. He’ll be able to focus on hitting much more as a first baseman.

2. Nick Castellanos can move back to his natural position
Tiger blue chip prospect Nick Castellanos is a real-deal type young ballplayer. He has very big upside potential. Is it a lock that he’ll be an All-Star at the big league level? Of course not. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes on to have a long career as a very good and possibly impact player with the bat in the majors. The kid can hit the baseball. With third base freed up, young Castellanos can move back to that position, which is his natural position.

3. Kinsler gives Dombrowski some options in the infield or elsewhere
At 31 years old, Ian Kinsler is no longer in his prime, but he’s still a very good baseball player. Like most middle infielders, Kinsler is losing some of his power as he gets into his 30s, and he was even started to be used at DH by the Rangers for a few games here and there over the last few seasons. Kinsler could make the transition to third base rather easily, if only for a season or two while Castellanos gets his feet wet in Detroit against big league pitching. if the Tigers want to bring Omar Infante back (he’s a free agent), they could use Omar at second and use Kinsler as a third baseman or even consider him for left field. Kinsler is a versatile player who could make that transition much better than a young player like Castellanos. I think, ultimately, Detroit will pass on Infante and play Kinsler at second, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Detroit will re-sign Jhonny Peralta so he can play third while Castellanos either plays left or gets more seasoning. Peralta, of course, can also play left field.

4. Detroit now has more money for signing Max Scherzer
Since the Tigers are paying $30 million of Fielder’s future contract and assuming all of Kinsler’s deal (worth less than $90 million), the team is saving more than $75 million by trading their All-Star first baseman. GM Dave Dombrowski has effectively relieved himself from one of baseball’s worst contracts. When Detroit signed Prince prior to the 2012 season, it was sort of an impulsive “let’s do it to do it” type deal orchestrated by team owner Mike Ilitch. But Fielder was never a good fit for spacious Comerica Park, which meant his power numbers were destined to flounder, which they did. In addition, he struggled for stretches in 2013 when he was distracted a bit by his divorce. Despite the fact that Prince played every game the two years he was here and he hustled as much as any player on the team, he was never embraced by Detroit faithful. His postseason struggles (one homer and three RBI in 24 postseason games for the Bengals) didn’t help him.

Now that Fielder’s contract (most of it) is Texas’s problem, the Tigers have more coin to sign Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, pursue free agent relievers, or both. It’s quite possible that Detroit could ink a couple of the top free agent relievers this off-season and then ink Scherzer to a deal during spring training. Of course there’s still the possibility that Scherzer could be traded, but with Fielder off first base, it gives Detroit more leverage in deals. With Fielder, Cabrera, and Victor Martinez, Dombrowski had three slow moving sluggers clogging up three spots. Now, they could deal Scherzer or Rick Porcello for an outfielder, third baseman, or parlay it to get closers and/or a lefty starter.

Please note: in Texas where the ballpark is much more friendly for Fielder’s upper cut power hacks, Prince WILL hit more home runs. And some Detroit fans will whine about that, like they did when Curtis Granderson was traded to the Yankees. But those fans don’t understand how ballparks impact performance. Prince might bounce back to a 35-40 homer level (maybe), but that won’t mean that Dombrowski made a dumb move. In Detroit, Kinsler won’t hit 25 homers, but he will play great defense, pop 15 homers, 35-45 doubles, and 15-25 steals.

5. The team has a real leadoff hitter
Let’s face it, Tiger Nation: Austin Jackson is not an effective leadoff hitter. When he gets on base he’s good, but he just hasn’t gotten on base consistently enough and his frequent strikeouts are innings killers. With Kinsler atop Brad Ausmus’s lineup, the Tigers can shift Jackson down to the 6th or 7th spot where he will not feel the pressure of being the offensive catalyst. Kinsler’s career on-base percentage is just five points higher than AJax’s, but he puts the ball in play far more often and he is a good basestealer too.

6. This is an upgrade at second base
Kinsler is a better defensive player and offensive player( by a long shot) than Omar Infante.

7. Clears the way for young players who are stuck in the Detroit farm system
Have you ever heard of Jordan Lennerton? I didn’t think so. He’s a first baseman who hit .278 with 17 homers and 43 extra-base hits for the Toledo Mud Hens last season. He drew more than 80 walks and has a very good idea of what the strike zone is. He’s a good defensive first baseman too and he can DH when needed. He’ll also be 28 years old in February. He’s been stuck in the Detroit farm system behind Miggy and then Prince for years. With “play everyday” Fielder gone, Lennerton is an option for a roster spot with the big league club. He’s a left-handed bat that would look good off the bench and as a fill-in when needed to spell Cabrera and VMart.

That’s seven reasons off the top of my head. Sure, those of you with a #28 Detroit jersey will have an awkward wardrobe choice to make next season, but the team will be better. It’s not that Prince Fielder was terrible, it’s just that his contract was outrageous for what Detroit was getting in return. It’s not like he was Reggie Jackson or David Ortiz in the playoffs, either.

Oh, and if you’re worried about protection for Miguel Cabrera in the lineup, we have Victor Martinez, who just keeps chugging along hitting .300 and making life uncomfortable for pitchers. Anyway, Cabrera is so good he is going to hit and he is going to be intentionally walked when he has to be regardless of who is hitting in the cleanup spot.

What do you think about the trade? Make a comment below.



About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He was formerly the Web Producer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @twebman or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.