Every two weeks Kurt Mensching writes a Tigers column for The Detroit News. Usually it’s my job to tell him how wrong he is. This is a rare time we agree.
“We won the trade.”
It’s a mantra Tigers fans have been using ever since Dave Dombrowski pulled off a miraculous and unimaginable move that sent Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers and brought the second baseman north to Detroit. At the time people were hesitant. Would Ian Kinsler be a good fit? Would the loss of power-hitting Fielder take the oomph out of the heart of the order?
Now in his fourth season with the Tigers, Kinsler has proven time and time again that he has been a gem of an acquisition for the team.
With the promise of big changes to come for the organization in the coming years, and every indication pointing to this being the last real contention opportunity for the Tigers for the near future, fans might want to thank their lucky stars the team has been able to hold onto Kinsler as long as they have.
Kinsler is one of those players who is unbelievably good at what he does, yet somehow manages to be overlooked by just about everyone outside his team’s fans. He has such a stern, serious quality to him that outsiders might not appreciate just how fun he can be. Even with Tigers fans he seems to not get the credit he deserves. How else can one explain his dismal numbers in All-Star votes last season, where he ranked below Royals’ DFA’d second baseman Omar Infante. That’s right, Kinsler got fewer votes than a player the Royals didn’t even want on their team.
Some might say Kinsler lacks the flash and charm of other players like spunky Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve or the Cubs’ Javier Baez, who is half-cat and half-liquid mercury, and all excitement. The old-school thoughtfulness Kinsler brings to the game is part of what makes him so special, though. He doesn’t need a lot of flash or theatrics. He makes himself known with spectacular catches and highlight reel worthy double plays, that he nails with such accuracy it looks like he’s teaching a master class on the field every day.
Kinsler’s value is in knowing he can pull off a play like this intentional ball drop, and take advantage of having a slower runner on base, while also cleverly avoiding the infield fly rule. It was a genius in-the-moment choice.
As Kinsler approaches his 35th birthday and his 12th season in the majors, it’s important to reflect on the kind of player he has been to Detroit. In his first three seasons with the team his WAR was 5.7, 6.0, and 6.1 respectively. He’s a four time All-Star, and last season won his first Gold Glove Award — the same year he was beaten in All-Star votes by Infante.
He is very quietly one of the best players in the Tigers lineup, and one of the best second basemen in the game today.
More importantly, Tigers fans might be running out of time to claim bragging rights to him, so they should start taking advantage of it while they can. Big changes will rock the Tigers’ world starting next year — or even by the trade deadline if things go poorly — and the team taking the field in 2018 will look nothing like what fans see this year. Some franchise guys like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera are almost sure-bets to be back, unless the Tigers get an offer they can’t refuse. It’s more likely Verlander and Cabrera will function as the established veterans, guiding in a new generation of Tigers. Where does Kinsler factor in that?
With a $12 million team option on his contract next year, it seems likely Kinsler will still be sporting the Old English D in 2018, but that supposition comes with a big asterisk. Kinsler was a target of interest to several teams this offseason, even though he’s practically a senior by baseball standards. He does have a 10-team no trade list, and has said he won’t take a trade without an extension, but that doesn’t mean he’s outside the realm of trade possibility. If Kinsler comes anywhere near the kind of season he had in 2016, there will absolutely be teams considering his value in the offseason, and if the Tigers goal is to rebuild, they might just let Ian go if the return is worth it.
Kinsler is a gift that Tigers fans need to learn to appreciate. Those near balletic double-plays will only be around for so long, just like the baseball season itself.
And should the worst come to pass, and Kinsler is no longer with the team next year? Well, chin up, be strong, and when in doubt just rub some dirt on it.