Sports

Fielder-Kinsler trade works perfectly for Detroit and Texas

One-for-one trades are rare in professional sports.

With multiple draft picks and role players available, teams almost always toss in a few fillers to balance swapped players’ salaries and skill levels. This is even truer in baseball when teams have access to their deep minor league system.

That’s why the Texas Rangers’s trade of All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler and $30 million to the Detroit Tigers for first baseman Prince Fielder was that much more shocking.

For both teams, this deal gave up some of their strengths in return for help in an area of desperate need. The Tigers had three power hitting first basemen/designated hitters in Fielder, 2013 American League MVP Miguel Cabrera, and former catcher Victor Martinez.

When Detroit signed Fielder back in 2012, Martinez had just been knocked out of the year with a torn ACL injury, and the Tigers still thought they were in a position to compete for a World Series. Fielder was still available on the free agent market and the Tigers brought him in to help them compete, but at the steep cost of a $214 million contract over nine years.

Now Martinez is healthy and productive again, while the Tigers are off to a disappointing loss to the eventual champion Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. Cabrera’s deficiencies at third base have become unbearable as he ages, and neither he nor Fielder desired to become the full-time designated hitter.

Detroit is also about to hit a payroll bind when CY Young winner Max Scherzer becomes a free agent at the end of the 2014 season and Cabrera’s contract expires after 2015.

Detroit’s trade for Kinsler filled two needs. First, payroll relief: Kinsler will make $57 million over the next four seasons, while Fielder will make $168 million over the next seven years.

Second, Kinsler and Detroit’s shortstop Jose Iglesias, who was acquired in a midseason trade with the Red Sox, will help turn what was a defensive liability in the infield into a strength. Cabrera will move over to his more natural position at first base and top prospect Nick Castellanos will likely be the starting third basemen. Castellanos brings a lot more range to the hot corner than Cabrera, along with some added speed.

For the Rangers, Fielder fills a massive hole in the middle of their lineup. After losing All-Stars Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli to free agency the past two seasons, Texas was missing some pop in the middle of its line-up.

This became apparent once slugger Nelson Cruz started his 50-game suspension in connection with the biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal. Cruz is now a free agent and already turned down the Rangers’ qualifying offer, and there a few power-hitting free agents available who can fill the void. With Fielder, however, the Rangers have a strong left-handed hitter in the middle of the lineup to complement third baseman Adrian Beltre.

Kinsler’s absence also opens up the logjam in the middle of the infield. With shortstop Elvis Andrus signing an eight year, $120 million contract extension at the start of the season, top prospect Jurickson Profar was stuck with no place to play.

Profar played a fill-in role this past year, split time at third base, shortstop, second base, left field and designated hitter. His offensive game struggled as a result. He had a meager 0.234 batting average in 85 games.

The Rangers have no problem taking on the extra payroll with the Rangers’ local television contract about to balloon in 2015. The Rangers are one of the few contending teams that are looking to expand payroll instead of contract it and are likely to add at least one or two more big names before the offseason is over, be it through trade or free agency.

This was a perfect fit for the two teams. Each team had an excess of talent at premium positions and a deficiency in other areas. It’s bold for general managers to make these moves with large room for speculation about their effect five years down the line. But the Tigers and Rangers want to win and have now shown the league that they will do anything necessary to do so.