The Detroit Tigers have been on the positive end of many trades within the past 10 years. Whether it has been shipping out prospects for stars like Miguel Cabrera or sending away studs like David Price to rebuild the farm system, there has been plenty of action in the Tigers’ favor. One trade that perfectly exemplifies this was the swap of Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. Despite throwing in a decent amount of cash to make the deal work, Detroit came out miles ahead, even before Fielder was forced to retire.
The addition of Kinsler did many things for the Tigers all at once. Primarily, it bolstered their options at second base and at the top of the lineup, giving Detroit a true two-way player that was not very common in an unbalanced lineup. Kinsler quickly became one of the better defenders on the team in place of one of the team’s worst. Trading Fielder allowed Cabrera to move from third base back to first, where he is much better suited as a fielder, and also opened up a spot for Nick Castellanos to play every day.
In short, one trade triggered a positive wave of dominoes in perfect unison, and Kinsler himself did not disappoint. From 2014-2016 he played in 468 games, over 95 percent of the Tigers’ schedule. He hit .286/.332/.443 over this period with 56 home runs and 39 steals. His 112 wRC+ ranked eighth among all second basemen during this time frame.
Additionally, Kinsler’s defense was as good or even better. His 51 DRS was almost double the total of the next closest second basemen over the past three seasons, and his 27.8 UZR ranked second at the position. Overall, Kinsler posted 15.1 fWAR which was the eighth-highest among all position players.
Right player, wrong time
Unfortunately for Kinsler, his outstanding individual effort did not correlate to team success. His first season in Detroit marked his only playoff appearance as a Tiger, a forgettable sweep against the Orioles. The 2015 Tigers became sellers in July, as did the 2017 edition of the team, and the 2016 squad was in the hunt but hardly competitive. While Kinsler was over-performing on both sides of the ball, the team had nothing to show for it.
As a player in his mid-30s, the expectation was that Kinsler would eventually experience an unpleasant drop in production, and 2017 may have been just that. A .234/.310/.393 slash line has culminated in just 86 wRC+ and 1.9 fWAR. After an impressive three-year run with Detroit and extended stint with the Rangers before that, Kinsler’s time appears to be running out.
Racing the clock
While Kinsler now looks to be fighting the clock on his career, the Tigers are hurrying on a similar timeline. With just one year left on his contract, there is no need to trade the second baseman to get his contract off the books, but there is some logic in retrieving whatever value is left for him from the market.
This past July, Kinsler’s name was mentioned a few times as a potential trade candidate for contending teams, and at least one team allegedly claimed him off waivers in August. With just one year left on his contract and a sharp downturn in numbers, there is still interest in him at this time, but that may not last for long.
During the offseason the Tigers would be foolish to not pursue trading Kinsler for whatever they can get. He will do absolutely nothing for a Detroit roster that will not compete in 2018, and losing him after next season for nothing is not smart management. The problem for the Tigers is that his value has quickly plummeted over the last 12 months. With his age and his 2017 stat line, finding a buyer may be tricky.
It is difficult to blame the Tigers and say that they waited too long to move him. Kinsler had shown little signs of decline and he was an essential part of the roster. However, the team has moved in a different direction, and future assets are much more important than current stars such as Kinsler. The Tigers will just have to hope that they did not make up their minds a little too late.