Is Lynn Henning of the Detroit News nuts (don't answer yet, and be polite when you do) for, once again, floating the idea of trading Ian Kinsler in search of young talent and salary relief?
Henning's column on Monday went into the topic. It's "controversial" in the way that happens whenever a popular figure gets put into these ruminations. It's also the time of year when ideas both substantive or loopy get bandied about in "will speculate for clicks" fashion (right, boss?).
Dealing a player as popular as Kinsler would seem to be heading for "the Fister Trade Bin" but in reality, it could also just as easily be thought of one day as being in the "Granderson Trade Bin" (and remember Henning sort-of-called that one well before it happened). It all depends on what trade scenario comes across the Tigers' path.
Henning might be "off his rocker" as many of his commenters note. But, hey, it's November and I don't live and die with football or hockey. So let's entertain the idea:
Standing pat is not an option in Detroit for multiple reasons as Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski positions his club for the 2015. Some players are locked in but multiple players are on the free agent block and not all of them will be Tigers by the time teams report in February. Trades will likely occur even if Kinsler isn't involved in one. Change is afoot.
Good teams aren't afraid to churn their roster looking for ways to improve their organization and position themselves with more flexibility moving forward. Change is unavoidable and can be the ticket to better times if executed well.
There are few phrases that make me cringe more at any point in the baseball calendar than "you CAN'T trade him" or "you MUST sign him, you CAN'T afford not to". Simply put: it's rarely the case. Plus, those statements are often said in a fashion without pertinent and critical information. Who will come back in the trade? If a player isn't signed, who will replace him?
The Kinsler File
Ian Kinsler came aboard in the Prince Fielder blockbuster trade last offseason. It was a stunning move by Dombrowski as he managed to unload the massive deal and get back an All-Star level player in return.
Kinsler was the sparkplug bat of the first-half of 2014 and also played sterling defense from start to finish. Kinsler's solid batting average and power early combined with the virtuoso start of Victor Martinez to keep the Tigers offense afloat during some quiet stretches from other Tigers offensive player. The team was adjusting to not having Fielder and Jhonny Peralta in the everyday lineup. Miguel Cabrera was off to a slow start and Austin Jackson's move to a "run producing" spot in the order wasn't going all that well.
But a long and frustrating second-half loomed for Kinsler. He had long quiet stretches and batting in the leadoff spot exacerbated the situation. Kinsler's struggles were front and center each night. Solid glove work only covered up so many of the warts on his bat as the season wore on. A longer dissection of Kinsler's season can be read here from the BYB report card series.
Kinsler will be 32 years old in 2015 and is signed through 2017 for a total of $41 million over those three seasons with a $5 million buy out for 2018.
He's an expensive player on the wrong side of 30 who just had an awful three month stretch at the plate. Conversely, Kinsler is also a solid gloveman with a bat capable of torrid stretches of production who also happens to be locked up. Given that other key players may be walking away soon, his availability could be critical moving forward.
The Tigers also look to have needs that may need to be filled via trade. They look to have a dearth of outfield depth at the moment, their bullpen needs help in the view of most observers, and starting pitching depth is never a luxury to dismiss. The Tigers do have some young middle infielders to contemplate plugging into the mix over the next couple of seasons should a Kinsler deal yield something too tasty for Dombrowski to skip.
The in-house solutions (assuming the healthy return of Jose Iglesias at shortstop) should Kinsler get swapped would seem to be Hernan Perez (Henning's soup du jour), Eugenio Suarez, and Devon Travis. All have good attributes but none come with the coveted "proven" tag that is the elixir of comfort to many. Perez hit a solid .287 in Toledo and probably has the glove skills to play in the majors more than adequately. Suarez perhaps didn't thrive in his debut season in Detroit despite a hot start, but he didn't fall apart either. He'll come to camp with a season under his belt knowing what a big league challenge is all about. Travis is the guy who lit up minor league pitching at more than one stop up the ladder so far. However he just had core muscle repair surgery and missed the Arizona Fall League. Prior to his injury, he was working on converting to the outfield.
Henning rightfully notes that a player like Perez can probably match or exceed the offensive output that Kinsler managed in the second half of '14. That's likely true. Perez, and Suarez, will likely take steps forward as the move into their mid-20s.
But it also must be pointed out the whole package from Kinsler represented a 5.5 WAR player. No matter your view of WAR, Kinsler was valuable. He was a sturdy defender on a defensively challenged team and he provided a dose of speed on a team needing it. If you view a win in April as the equal of a win in August, then Kinsler's hot bat in the early months was important enough to offset much of the post All-Star Game swoon.
What might happen
Here's the kicker though. Is Kinsler valuable in trade?
Will teams be lining up to give the Tigers solid talent in return for a 32 year old second baseman? Will the Tigers only be able to unload Kinsler's contract in return for a marginal player? How in-demand would he be on the trade market? Personally, I don't believe it's a slam dunk that Kinsler brings back a premium young talent. I actually envision Dombrowski not having the easiest time lining up a favorable deal. There just aren't that many clubs with no real plan right now at second base who are also club likely to want a big money veteran to fill the gig.
The most likely outcome would seem to be that Kinsler is deemed more valuable to the Tigers in their hunt for a fifth straight division title than he would be in trade. Five win players don't grow on trees. His contract, while pricey, isn't onerous for a club like the Tigers who don't live in fear of an extra zero most years. Kinsler actually gets cheaper after 2015 and his trade value could look different then.
But if the right scenario creeps up for the Tigers they should also not fear unknown. A bold move to trade Kinsler should be shopped to see who bites. For instance, if the Tigers could move Kinsler to Toronto for bullpen arms like Chad Jenkins and Aaron Loup and then sign a cheaper veteran second baseman like Jed Lowrie to be a placeholder while the youngsters develop, would that work? I'd stick with Kinsler in this scenario, but these are the ideas I believe Henning-types might envision.
The Tigers, once again, look to be heading into an offseason of change. That's okay. They should embrace it. It's an opportunity as much as it is a challenge. They'll likely be losing Max Scherzer and they could lose Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter as well. That's a lot of talent out the door but it also frees up a lot of cash to possibly make things happen. Holding on to Kinsler while the others leave may indeed be the right call, but don't tell me you 'can't' until you tell me what is out there. I want every rock overturned. I want the Tigers to be bold more often than passive.
The Tigers are now the four-time defending AL Central champions but the "drive for five" will be a topic in Lakeland possibly overshadowed by what is about to happen during the months that snow is on the ground at Comerica Park. New faces will probably be all over Tigers camp once again.
The odds, as I see them, are that Ian Kinsler will be the Opening Day second baseman in Detroit. Dombrowski will make changes but the right deal for Kinsler won't be found. It's just not bat-crap crazy for Henning to explore the idea.
Nobody is talking about a teardown of the Tigers. The AL Central is still there to be won. No other team looks like a guaranteed 95 win behemoth. They all have flaws, as do the Tigers. The Royals won a pennant and we can congratulate them. But don't tell me a new day has dawned in the division when it comes to controlling it. The Tigers can easily defend what has been their domain in 2015. A few key moves to augment the talent base is all that's really needed. It should be a fun couple of months to see what those moves will be.