Give lots of credit to Dave Dombrowski; the potential nightmare back half of Prince Fielder‘s nine-year, $214 million contract is no more.
Instead, Fielder and the $168 million he’s still owed is gone after two mildly disappointing seasons in Detroit, with Ian Kinsler‘s more palatable deal coming back. There will be some cash also going to Texas, but not so much as to make this look like anything but a win for Detroit.
Kinsler, who is owed $62 million for four years or $67 million for five if his option is picked up, supplants free agent Omar Infante as the Tigers’ second baseman. He won’t replace Fielder’s bat in the cleanup spot, but he can be just as valuable of a player, depending on how much of Fielder’s decline these last two years is for real.
Most importantly, the move shores up Detroit’s defense by getting Miguel Cabrera back to first base where he belongs. Now the Tigers can also return top prospect Nick Castellanos to his original position of third base. He was moved to left field last year because of Cabrera’s presence a the hot corner.
As of this moment, it looks like the trade frees up $8 million for the Tigers to spend this winter, though that depends on the schedule of the cash payments to Texas. If the Tigers aren’t confident in Castellanos, they could go sign Juan Uribe to play third base. They can also use some of the savings on their bullpen. For the long haul, that Fielder cash may be earmarked for a new Max Scherzer deal. Scherzer, the Al Cy Young Award winner, is a free agent after next season.
The Rangers get better on the field with the one-for-one deal, but it’s at a cost of inheriting one of the game’s worst contract. Most likely, Fielder will put up a better line next year than the .279/.362/.457 he hit while going through a divorce in a career-worst 2013 season. He’s just turning 30 in May, and while his body type suggests an early decline is quite possible, he probably has at least one or two more .900-OPS seasons in him. Also, the Rangers now have their spot freed up for young Jurickson Profar, who will step in at second base and could be an All-Star come 2015 or 2016.
Still, the Rangers didn’t need to go this route. They could have signed Mike Napoli for something like $45 million over three years. They could have shifted Kinsler to the outfield or traded him for a youngster or two, perhaps without eating any portion of his salary. Going after Fielder instead looks like an ownership move more along the lines of what we’ve come to expect from the Angels (Vernon Wells, Albert Pujols). It should work out fine for a couple of years, but what comes afterwards could get ugly.