Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Prince Fielder Trade Gives Tigers Flexibility

One of my biggest shocks as a Tigers fan came the day the Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a nine-year $216 million contract as a free agent in 2012.  The Tigers needed a bat to replace designated hitter Victor Martinez, who would miss the whole season with a knee injury, but who would have guessed that they would acquire one of the premiere sluggers in the game?  It was hard not to get excited about the acquisition and it worked out well the first season with Fielder posting a .940 OPS, but the deal never made sense long-term.

With Martinez returning in 2013, the Tigers had three immobile players in the starting line-up including superstar Miguel Cabrera.  Cabrera handled a move to third better than many predicted in 2012, but he was a below average defender and Fielder was awful at first base.  Fielder would have worked out better as a designated hitter, but that spot was reserved for Martinez.  Cabrera's injuries last year highlighted their lack of positional flexibility even further.  It sure would have been nice if they could have moved him to the designated hitter spot before his health deteriorated to the point where he could barely move in the field or at the plate. 

With the the trade of Fielder to the Texas Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler, the Tigers will no longer have to play players out of position.  Cabrera can play either of the corners, but I suspect he'll end up at first.  If he gets injured or needs a rest, he can go to designated hitter while Martinez switches to first base.

Even more important than positional flexibility is payroll flexibility.  Fielder was owed $168 over the next seven years, while Kinsler is guaranteed just $62 million over the next five years (includes a $ 5 million buy out in an option year in 2018).  The Tigers will be sending $30 million to the Rangers, but they still save $76 million in this deal.  That money can be used to add pieces this off-season and also for a long-term contracts to Cabrera and perhaps pitcher Max Scherzer. 

What about next year though?  Fielder hit for just a .819 OPS in 2013, but was likely to bounce back closer to his .916 lifetime mark next year.  So, that leaves a big void in the middle of the line-up. They may not want to dip back into the free agent market with a big priced acquisition such as center fielder Jacoby Ellbury or outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, but they will get another big bat, most likely of the left-handed variety.  They are probably going to trade a pitcher - either Rick Porcello or Doug Fister or even Scherzer this winter and I'm going to guess that's where the hitter comes from.

Kinsler fills a void by replacing Omar Infante at second base and stops the talk of rookie Hernan Perez getting a starting job.  Kinsler has batted .262/.341/.438 over the the last three seasons and is a solid defender.   Some are concerned about his lifetime home/road split - .898 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and .710 on the road.  The Texas ballpark is a hitter's haven, but it's not that much better than other parks, so I'm guessing the .710 does not quite reflect is true talent. I think sometimes players adjust their game to an extreme home park and might suffer on the road because of it.  Even if he is a low .700s OPS hitter though, that's about what you'd expect from Infante and that's not terrible.

Will Cabrera remain at third or move back to first?  That depends on how well he recovers from his groin injury and what other moves they might make.  There is some talk though that the Tigers might now move highly-touted rookie Nick Castellanos back to third.  They seemed intent on having him stay in the outfield, but if Cabrera needs to play first and they can't find a third baseman, Castellanos could be the best solution.  I would expect to see him playing some third in winter ball fairly soon.

The deal is far from a slam dunk in the short-term.  The Tigers still have a lot of work to do this winter - most notably a bat to replace Fielder and multiple relievers. Long-term though, this is a great deal for the Tigers freeing up money that will help them lock up their stars, add pieces and stay in contention for years to come. 

12 comments:

  1. I suspect the Tigers might spend nothing at both Catcher and 3B and fill those spots with guys from the minors. There were a couple of guys that had pretty good offensive years at 3B, so the Tigers might try to spend virtually nothing on Offense to afford making some pitching moves. That's my guess.

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  2. I think Castellanos will get a shot at third and they'll trade Porcello or Fister for a left fielder.

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    1. I'd be surprised. He committed a lot of errors there in minor league play and they might want to make room and have 1 if not 2 guys that are super cheap considering they have a couple of interesting bats that can man the position. I have a gut feeling that Castellanos is pegged as a lifer at LF, but that's only cause I haven't been proven that he can play any other position but that one, if even that one.

      Plus we still have Tyler Collins we might want to make room for in the OF. Another freebie player.

      Nick might be for all we know the greatest career DH of all-time!

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    2. Any way you slice it, if we don't make a major offensive acquisition, then the competition in the spring at 3B will be the most exciting battle with the new guys competing there.

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  3. Right, he's not a good defender at 3B, but Castellanos/Cabrera couldn't be any worse defensively than Cabrera/Fielder. Ideally they would get a 3B and leave Castellanos in LF but 3B are hard to find.

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    1. That's fine if he can play it. But don't be surprised if THREE no-namers outperform him with the glove and the bat in spring. Then what? They could keep the best 2 of them and try them out for a while for no cost.

      I think that's the plan.

      Save every dollar possible while filling the spots with prospects, and maxing out spending on pitchers this year and next year if the OF and 3B rookies pan out. I know how DD thinks better than DD does. :)

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    2. As Mr. Panas says, Catellanos/Cabrera on the corners could hardly be worse than our configuration last year. Castellanos would have to be a total butcher to be so much worse than Miggy was last season that it will more than negate Cabrera's defensive advantage over Prince at first. But if Castellanos struggles at third, I could easily imagine it affecting his offense as well. I wonder if DD plans to package Porcello/Fister with Castellanos to get some thunder behind Cabrera. BTW, I am not at all convinced that we need to replace all of Fielder's power. The best Tiger offense I can remember was 2006. No monster seasons, but no outs in the lineup. 1987 was a bit like that, although Tram played out of his mind and Nokes caught lightning in a bottle. I wonder if Ausmus is thinking along the same lines, getting Wally Joiner to coach, a medium-range power guy who was a miserably tough out. I would have loved to have seen them keep Jhonny for 3B, but that seems not to be in the cards.

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    3. I don't think they need to replace all his power either. 2006 is a good example and they didn't have that much power in 2011 either. They do need another good left-handed bat, but it doesn't need to be a slugger.

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    4. Well if Nick can hit, he can hit from either the LF or 3B position. And he may very likely be better than Miggy at 3B, but that doesn't matter if somebody else can play 3B better. And if they move on from a guy like Dirks and plan to replace Hunter, they may want Nick at LF along with another younger prospect to fill a couple spots, plus another spot to upgrade Dirks. And there's always the chance they decide to trade AJ like they did with Grandy, we saw that once before so we can't rule it out again. That could be a large number of OF spots that need to get filled, and if Nick isn't that great at 3B, we may still have the issue of deciding if he's even good enough for LF.

      It's just going to be very interesting, and definitely another trade is going to happen. There's no way we won't make at least one more significant trade. Everybody knows that one of those 3 SPs are going to get dealt for sure. The writing is on the wall for that.

      Also not to beat a dead horse, but I still wish we had some insight as to what the conversation was like with Ausmus, such that did Brad say something like this perhaps?:

      "Hey, you know what, part of the reason why I wanted to come here was to change the culture and improve the fundamentals. I suspect that our Spring Training hasn't been real and valid and legit and good TRAINING of the fundamentals and instilling of a good healthy baseball attitude and discipline. I'm not convinced that Prince can't LEARN and be TAUGHT how to play 1B much better, and hey maybe we don't dump his salary for Kinsler whom I don't want anyhow, and maybe, just maybe if I can work with Prince we can leverage him up for a much better usage value or trade later."

      That's what I would have said. And if DD insisted on trading my 1B now that I'm the Manager, then I'm going to humbly ask that we do it for something other than Ian Kinsler, cause that's not exactly the play I'm looking to make for what I'm trying to build here. Not to say that he isn't a competent 2B in a short market of viable players for that position, but that's just not going to mesh with what I was talking about during the interview sessions. This is a detractor move from my vision of what I'm trying to create. Just voicing my opinion sir.

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  4. I think this discussion really points to the fact that Dombrowski has a LOT of flexibility as he looks to acquire a bat in exchange for a starter. That bat can play any of 3 positions (1B, OF, 3B) and the Tigers can morph around it. The bat could even be a RF and we move Torii to LF for one season.

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    1. I don't see all this "flexibility" that everybody else sees. I only see a tremendous amount of blown money in all previous years that was not necessary and could have been avoided. This isn't about flexibility, it's about undoing failed decisions of the recent past with an expensive exit strategy. DD doesn't have flexibility, he has a house that has been on fire for 10 years and the long-term success and health of this franchise has been continuously deteriorating as he has passed up all of the success we could have been securing during that time and for the future from now which is heavily shortchanged.

      I just think it's quite offensive to refer to this as an encouraging move, or a good trade, or one that gives him more flexibility. I think that's not the perspective that is our true reality and makes DD appear to be in control and doing a good job, which he has not been doing for a decade straight! This is just chaos and a mess, and every day we are losing buckets of money instead of filling up new ones like I suggested.

      Not about flexibility at all, just about reigning in spending control after being hit in the face with conclusive proof that we screwed up big-time and for many years in a row. This is just a slap in the face, not extra flexibility.

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  5. To try and test my DD predictor skills, I'm going to attempt to tell you what will happen in the very near future.

    First, at the Winter Meetings DD will trade AJ with either Porcello/Fister/Scherzer, and that will be in exchange for either a non-starter P, otherwise 3B/SS/LF or C as a wild-card surprise 5th option.

    Then we will make an offer to Ellsbury and he will have no choice but to say yes because the total offer amount will be $20M more than any other team is willing to pay.

    Let's see what happens!

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