By Ross Newhan
The one thing we knew for sure about this baseball winter was that the Texas Rangers would trade a middle infielder--Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler or the prized prospect, Jurickson Profar-- for either a front line pitcher of the David Price caliber or a left handed power hitter of the, well, Prince Fielder, stature. As it turned out, quickly and quietly, Kinsler has been traded for Fielder in what can be considered a power play on two levels: Power in that unique form of Fielder for the middle of the lineup and the first flexing of power by General Manager Jon Daniels now that he doesn't have to go through the "retired" Nolan Ryan at the top of the front office roster and has a Dallas supporter and friend, Ray Davis, in that role.
Daniels/Davis and the Rangers seem certain to have more to come as they attempt to retake the West from the imaginative Billy Beane and his middle class Oakland A's and, (oh, yes) fans in Anaheim nervously wait for the Angels to improve pitching in the hope of resurfacing in the West.
Although neither Fielder or Kinsler were at their best in 2013, the trade should help both the Rangers and Detroit Tigers in a variety of ways.
Kinsler will play second base in Detroit, Miguel Cabrera, a liability at third, will carry his MVP Awards to first, replacing Fielder, and a touted rookie, Nick Castellanos, will play third.
The Tigers had given Fielder a nine year, $214 million contract in a failed attempt to win a World Series for owner Mike Ilitch two years ago (they did reach the Series in 2012) and will send $30 million to the Rangers to help offset some of the $168 million that Fielder is still owed over the next seven years. But despite that $30 million, Detroit now will have the financial flexibility, if it chooses, to extend Max Scherzer and Cabrera while pursuing a free agent closer and another hitter to pick up some of the Fielder slack.
Amid a public divorce last season Fielder hit only 25 homers, had a career low slugging percentage and failed to homer or drive in a run in 54 post-season at bats. Still, at a prime 29, he will now join Adrian Beltre in the middle of a lineup aching for left handed power in a park where left handers need only a sand wedge to reach the seats amid the prevailing breeze. In addition, amid the constant jibes at Fielder's physique, an overlooked fact is that he has missed only one game over the last five seasons and played 217 more games than the athletic Kinsler since 2006, although, admittedly, there is nothing to compare with the heat of a Texas summer.
The departure of Kinsler opens up second for Profar, and, while the Fielder contract will cost the Rangers an annual average of $24 million over the next seven years, it is not expected to deter their immediate pursuit of a free agent catcher, outfielder and closer if free agent Joe Nathan, isn't retained--with the outside possibility they could even move another middle infielder with another of their middle infield prospects, Luis Sardinas, knocking on the door.
It's still the early weeks of a market that has seen the San Francisco Giants set some stunning pitching precedents with the $35 million retention of Tim Lincecum and $23 million signing of Tim Hudson, but one thing is clear: The Texas power play isn't finished.