Ian Kinsler only spent four seasons with the Detroit Tigers, but he felt like a native son from day one. His quiet, “f*** you” attitude on the field is as Detroit as it gets, and he was a hard-nosed player who gave his all in a Tigers uniform — including that time he was bleeding all over the place. He played Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” as his walk-up song, just because. He and Detroit native Jack White are BFFs, and now make baseball bats together.
And now the Tigers are interested in a reunion with the 36-year-old second baseman. A reun-Ian, if you will.
The Tigers aren’t the only club interested in Kinsler’s services. According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, and Washington Nationals have all checked in on Kinsler’s availability at the Winter Meetings. All three teams need a second baseman this winter, and Kinsler is one of several options available on the free agent market. Morosi notes that D.J. LeMahieu is one of the bigger fish out there, and a certain former All-Star shortstop might consider switching positions in the right situation.
In other words, get your grubby hands off our Kinsler, other teams.
Even if you ignore all of the feels we would get from seeing Kinsler don a Tigers uniform again, this would be a good fit for both parties. Kinsler is entering his age-37 season, and has clearly taken a couple steps back from his lengthy and productive prime. He hit just .240/.301/.380 in 534 plate appearances last season, and produced a horrible 64 OPS+ in 37 games with the Boston Red Sox. He is now two years removed from his last above-average season at the plate, and has declined as a baserunner as well (despite 30 steals in 42 attempts). A team looking to contend probably shouldn’t bet the farm on a 37-year-old suddenly bouncing back at the plate.
The Tigers, on the other hand, could use Kinsler’s veteran savvy and defensive prowess. He bounced back defensively after a down year in 2017, and posted +10 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) last year. That total was tied for the American League lead at second base — only LeMahieu finished with more across baseball — and resulted in Kinsler’s second career Gold Glove. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) also thought he was better; his +9.7 UZR in 2018 was his best total since 2011.
Both sides would also benefit from a one-year deal. Sure, Kinsler might like to get paid for seasons beyond 2019, but his declining on-field production might not warrant such a contract. The Tigers have several interesting players that could potentially take over at second base in the future, including teenage sensation Isaac Paredes and 2018 third round pick Kody Clemens. Dawel Lugo is also in the mix, but is coming off a down year at Triple-A Toledo.
And while Niko Goodrum likely isn’t a future starter at second, he spent plenty of time there in 2018, and could spell Kinsler with regularity in order to keep him fresh throughout the season. Kinsler could also benefit from Detroit’s newly vacant designated hitter spot, in case he does somehow rediscover his stroke at the plate.
Is there a downside here?
Not really, if you’re the Tigers. Sure, they could stand to spend a bit more on an actual solution at the position — we like LeMahieu just fine, thank you — and force one of the young prospects to actually win the job down the line. However, since it seems unlikely that the Tigers will spend that kind of coin this winter, someone like LeMahieu, Jed Lowrie, or Marwin Gonzalez may not be in the cards. Enter Kinsler, who will likely be had for a relatively cheap one-year contract.
As for Kinsler? It kind of depends on what his priorities are in 2019 and beyond. He finally won a championship in 2018, and may be content with returning to Detroit for one last hurrah before riding off into the sunset. Getting a chance to hang out with former teammates, Jack White, and whoever else he made friends with in his four years in Detroit could be more appealing than getting accustomed to a new city and clubhouse — even if that new home offers him a chance at more championship glory.