Let's start off with perhaps the least profound and least prophetic statement you'll see in the immediate aftermath of the Prince Fielder/Ian Kinsler Blockbuster..."Dave Dombrowski isn't done this off-season!"...and I'm not just talking about shopping for the bullpen needs. (hey...they just signed Phil Coke!)
The Tigers have made a trade that makes sense on multiple levels both in their lineup and for their future payroll. However it is a domino that looks highly likely to set more moves in motion to balance a lineup that suddenly looks to have the rightward lean of Fox News. (by the way...is this a "Dump Fielder" deal far more than a "Get Kinsler" deal in the minds of readers? Or a little of both?)
Swapping out Fielder and inserting Kinsler now leaves the Tigers with only 3 left-handed bats in the starting lineup (Nick Castellanos likely taking a spot in the batting order as well). Switch hitting Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, and Andy Dirks are the only players the Tigers have on the left-side that currently project to start. Factor in that both Avila and Dirks are coming off seasons that we'll kindly call "disappointing" offensively. As things stand, a right-handed reliever would be licking his chops to rarely have the platoon advantage out of his favor when facing the Tigers...not to mention tough right-handed starters. This lineup imbalance seems like something that GM David Dombrowski will look to alleviate in the coming weeks.
Certainly the Tigers have gone through seasons in the Dombrowski Era which were successful and featured lineups that also were righty-bat dominant. 2006 and 2007 were teams that featured only a few lefty sticks and won plenty of games. However when building those teams there may not have been the deep list of options available on the open market to plug in a lefty bat.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran, Curtis Granderson, and Robinson Cano (Cano, of course would also necessitate a Kinsler position change) are all players which would suit the Tigers lineup by providing lefty balance. All come with varying price tags and skill sets. Draft compensation will be in play as well. But as the Tigers embark on churning their roster after the Fielder trade, it will be fascinating to see if Dombrowski/Ilitch shoot high and pay a premium for a player like Choo or Ellsbury who will command 9-figures or will they aim lower on the financial commitment scale and make a play for Beltran. Beltran is far older and may "only" command a deal similar in scope to Torii Hunter's commitment from last season. However his skill set would plug in nicely into the upper half of the Tigers lineup allowing new Manager Brad Ausmus to break up a run of righties.
Perusing the free agent list doesn't even begin to ponder the trade market further. The oft-rumored dealing of Rick Porcello or Doug Fister could certainly yield a quality left-handed hitter to plug into Detroit's lineup. Starters of Porcello youth and durability and Fister inexpensive abilities should bring more than merely relief arms. Neither of these pitchers should be moved unless a position player is in the return's equation.
A signing of Ellsbury may also put more players like Austin Jackson in play on the trade market. If something like that were to happen, Jackson's return in trade could also bring a left-hand bat to play left-field along side of Ellsbury. (assuming they see Dirks as a 4th outfielder at best now and won't be proceeding with him as a starting option) With Jackson two years out from free agency, gauging his market value is probably on the table should a major signing for Ellsbury happen. Moving either player out of centerfield really diminishes their overall value by putting a premium defender in a less important spot.
Smaller moves may also be on the table as well. It would seem that players like Jose Iglesias and Castellanos would be good candidates for Ausmus to employ pinch-hitters for in later innings. Unless Dirks or Don Kelly is thought to be that guy, it would behoove the Tigers to get a veteran lefty bench hitter to take some big at-bats late in games instead of the light-hitting Iglesias or the youthful and still learning Castellanos. Of course saying that guy is needed is probably a bit easier than finding one. The art of pinch-hitting is a bit from a bygone era perhaps as the silliness of expanded bullpens has eaten up roster spots for batsmen to come up in high leverage spots. There really aren't a ton of pinch hitting specialists floating around.
Wednesday's Fielder Trade will long be remembered by all. However it may just be the tipping point to an off-season of dramatic change from several points in the Tigers organization. The Tigers have won three straight division titles and at least one post-season in each season after clinching their AL Central crowns. But change was always looming. Too many contracts are coming up in the next two off-seasons and, to be honest, roster stasis is bad. Teams that stay the same are usually waiting around to get worse. Dombrowski looks to be taking the aggressive road to fortify his organization for the long haul. This seem eminently sensible. There will be no standing pat in Detroit this year. "Win now" doesn't mean you have forget about setting up your roster from coming seasons.
Yes...a "proven Closer" is probably on the shopping list and may be next in line to be taken care of. However keep an eye on the lefty bats. Dombrowski may be hunting for big game to balance his lineup and replace a bit of the power lost in moving Fielder.