The Tigers and Rangers agreed to a blockbuster trade on Wednesday night, with Prince Fielder heading to Arlington and Ian Kinsler moving north to Detroit. While seemingly coming out of nowhere, the move makes sense for both teams.
The Rangers get a first baseman who will help replace some of the power they lost when Josh Hamilton left in free agency after the 2012 season. On top of that, the move finally clears the way for future star Jurickson Profar, who was being blocked by Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, and Adrian Beltre in the infield.
As for the team’s current first baseman, Mitch Moreland, the time has come and gone for him to prove himself. After three largely unimpressive seasons, general manager Jon Daniels now has options for him, including a trade, becoming a DH, or transitioning to a platoon/bench role.
The Tigers, meanwhile, move a huge contract that could become more burdensome in its final few years, and Fielder had increasingly frustrated Detroit fans with his poor production in big situations and occasional apathy toward winning in general. In Kinsler, they’ll receive one of the league’s best second basemen as they move on from Omar Infante.
To replace Fielder, it’s likely Miguel Cabrera will shift back across the diamond where he will be able to protect his health a bit more with the less physically-demanding requirements of first base. That would also mean a spot would open up at third base, potentially for the organization’s top prospect in Nick Castellanos. Meanwhile, the $70 million or so that the Tigers will save could go toward a new contract for Max Scherzer, who had been rumored as a potential trade candidate.
This trade, though, also has an impact on many of the top free agents on the market this offseason.
- Robinson Cano – Cano could potentially be one of the biggest losers in this deal. He’s been wanting a $300 million deal, but there are only a handful of teams that have the ability to get even two-thirds of the way there, and fewer still that would actually consider it. Even if the Tigers kept Fielder and his salary, with a hole a second base, Detroit would have at least been in the conversation. What Cano and Jay-Z want is to engage the Yankees in a bidding war with someone, and the Tigers could have done that, at least to a certain degree. Now with Kinsler, Detroit won’t enter the fray. This could be a tough blow for the Cano camp.
- Jacoby Ellsbury – There were rumors that the best outfielder on the market could get some interest from the Rangers, but they apparently dropped out earlier this week. After this trade, they’re surely even further out. The Rangers could use another outfielder and leadoff hitter, but bringing in Ellsbury will require a huge financial commitment, which they just made in bringing in Fielder. The opposite is true in Detroit, though. The Tigers, too, could use another outfielder, and they have more money to potentially use for one. While Ellsbury may have lost one suitor in Texas, he may have picked up another in Detroit.
- Shin-Soo Choo – Choo is in a similar situation to Ellsbury, but maybe less so. He is a natural corner outfielder, which is more of a need for both Texas and Detroit, and he likely won’t require as big a contract as the Boston center fielder. But it still may take a nine-figure deal to land him, so it won’t be cheap. The Tigers will still be players for his services, but will the Rangers? They were making a play for him before the trade, though it’s now possible they are out if the bidding gets that high.
- Brian McCann – The Tigers were never going to be in on McCann, but the Rangers were expected to be one of his biggest suitors. Texas had already signed Geovany Soto to a contract for next year and Daniels and manager Ron Washington have even named him the team’s starter. At the same time, though, they also haven’t ruled out anything else at the position because he is still the only catcher on the roster. A McCann/Soto combination would be very palatable in Arlington, but Soto is also capable of being the lead backstop. After bringing in more power with Fielder, will Daniels feel the need to spend big money for a power bat at a position that doesn’t typically require one? Maybe. Maybe not.
- Mike Napoli – The former Ranger catcher had already seemed to find a new home in Boston, and at first base, but Texas has been rumored to want him back. Before the trade, it would have been easy to see him back with his former club. He could have created a nice platoon situation with Moreland at first base and DH. But that option is now off the table with Fielder claiming the job at first. The sales pitch to Napoli would now have to be as a primary DH, with a chance to play first to give Fielder time off. If he has any interest in returning behind the plate, that could be a possibility and he could be a cheaper option than McCann. However, in his first full season at first base, he proved himself more than capable there, and staying at that position would decrease the potential of any hip problems flaring up, therefore extending his career. With the success he had in Boston, the fact that he wants to stay there, and the need that the Red Sox still have at first base, it would seem highly unlikely he would now consider an offer from Texas over one to remain in Boston.
There are other lower-tiered free agents this has the potential to impact too, as there are many pieces that still need to fall into place. But with the Rangers and Tigers having been among the most aggressive teams with free agents in recent years, these top players could see a change in the landscape as a result of the Fielder-Kinsler swap.