11/20/2013 11:30 P.M. ET
Bold Dombrowski never afraid to improve
Fielder deal brings back two-way threat in Kinsler, clears salary for bigger move
By Phil Rogers / MLB.com
That didn't take long. It seldom does when Dave Dombrowski is involved.
Only 35 days after his Tigers were denied a second successive American League pennant by the Boston Red Sox, Dombrowski did what he always does. Detroit's president/general manager swallowed hard and made a swift, decisive move designed to help his organization and its ultra-aggressive owner, Mike Ilitch, complete the mission they've been on since they lost the 2006 World Series to the Cardinals.
Like the decision to deal All-Star center fielder Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson after they missed the playoffs in 2009, the deal the Tigers finalized on Wednesday night -- sending slugging first baseman Prince Fielder and cash to the Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler -- brings a major change on the surface but also some badly needed salary relief.
Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who was acquired from the D-backs in the three-team trade that sent Granderson to the Yankees, appears to be an obvious beneficiary of this trade. The Tigers couldn't have anticipated Scherzer upstaging Justin Verlander a couple of years ago, but that's what the right-hander has done. With Fielder and much of his nine-year, $214 million contract gone, Dombrowski has more flexibility to sign Scherzer to an extension that allows the co-ace to work alongside Verlander and Anibal Sanchez through at least 2017.
First-time manager Brad Ausmus, who probably hasn't even started decorating his office yet, couldn't ask for anything more in his first month on the job.
This trade speaks to the ambition of two frustrated organizations that have won four of the last eight AL pennants but gone a combined 5-16 in World Series games. You wonder how different life would be for both franchises had the Rangers finished off the Cardinals in 2011 or Verlander won Game 1 and started the Tigers on a roll to a parade in '12.
While no one seemed to see this deal coming, the teams are good partners. Both are able to reconfigure their infields, working into the mix young studs who were otherwise blocked.
The Rangers had made it clear that one of their middle infielders was going to be traded, as Kinsler's reluctance to move to left field meant manager Ron Washington had to be creative in using Jurickson Profar last season. Now, all Washington will have to decide is who moves into Kinsler's spot at second base -- Elvis Andrus or, more likely, Profar. Fielder can switch between first base and designated hitter, with the expectation that he'll play 160 games, as he always does, and deliver 35-plus home runs and 110-plus RBIs.
This might be an even bigger deal in Detroit, however, as it clears the deck for two-time reigning AL Most Valuable Player Award winner Miguel Cabrera to move back to first base. Cabrera showed tremendous spirit and surprising agility while playing third base, but the hot corner took a toll on him physically. He'll be better off at first base. And, by all accounts, Nick Castellanos, the organization's top prospect, should be fine at third, his natural position.
Kinsler's total of stolen bases and runs scored has dropped each of the last two seasons, and he has even seemed skittish on the bases at times. But with Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter hitting behind him, Kinsler is a strong bet to score 100-plus runs again in 2014.
For those counting the millions at home, Fielder is owed $168 million over the next seven years, Kinsler $62 million over four years. The Tigers are reportedly including $30 million in the deal, which means Texas is on the hook for $138 million over seven years.
To take on an additional commitment of $76 million goes to show just how badly the Rangers feel they are strapped for power after losing Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and, unless they find a way to bring him back, Nelson Cruz over the last two seasons.
Now, they have to hope that the chance to hit at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington will turn Fielder back into a monster, which, according to WAR, he hasn't really been since 2009, when he was based at Miller Park with the Brewers.
Fielder's WAR was 6.3 that season, but he has averaged 3.2 the last four years, including an alarmingly low 1.7 this past season. Fielder and Cabrera looked ferocious hitting back to back for former Detroit manager Jim Leyland, but the results weren't as striking as had been expected, especially in October.
That's a huge burden that Fielder carries with him when he goes to Arlington. His lack of production played a major role in the Tigers' AL Championship Series defeat last month. Fielder was 4-for-22 in those six games, which looked a lot like his 1-for-14 showing in the Giants' World Series sweep in 2012. He is a .194 hitter with a .620 on-base plus slugging percentage in 39 career postseason games.
Kinsler (.422 OBP in 34 playoff games) was never the reason Texas came up short in October. The problems always lay elsewhere. Yet the Rangers can't afford to take October for granted anymore. That ship has sailed.
After losing the AL Wild Card Game to the Orioles in 2012 and a tiebreaker game to the Rays this past season, the Rangers needed a dramatic move to extend their window to build off the momentum they created when guys like Hamilton, Napoli, Michael Young and Cruz were in their lineup.
Neither the Rangers nor the Tigers are done adding parts. Texas will continue talking to free-agent outfielders like Carlos Beltran and Cruz, and Detroit will not only continue shopping for a proven closer but will need a left fielder if it moves Castellanos to third base.
One footnote on the Tigers: One has to wonder whether they would love to still have Avisail Garcia, whom they traded to get shortstop Jose Iglesias during Jhonny Peralta's suspension. Iglesias is a terrific player, and Dombrowski was properly praised for making the proactive move to get him. But what is it going to take for the stars to finally align over Comerica Park?
The Twin Terrors couldn't get it done, so Dombrowski is shaking things up. You've got to admire his resilience.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.