Tigers Trade Overpaid Player for Valuable Player

Why the Tigers won the Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler trade

This week's Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder trade was the first megadeal of the offseason, a challenge trade that filled needs for both clubs. Kinsler and Fielder were the only two players involved in the trade, although the Tigers sent $30 million to the Rangers to help cover Fielders salary.

To evaluate this trade, I divided the analysis into four categories: personnel from the Tigers perspective, personnel from the Rangers perspective, finances from the Tigers perspective and finances from the Rangers perspective, to see the impact of the deal on both the field and budget for each team.

Personnel, Tigers

Prior to the trade, the Tigers had a hole at second base resulting from the departure of Omar Infante and a logjam of 1B/DH types due to the club’s desire to move Miguel Cabrera back to first base.

This trade addresses both concerns, as Cabrera will move back to first while Kinsler will take over at second. Victor Martinez will remain a full time DH and top prospect Nick Castellanos will move back to his original position of third base, where he will be a vast improvement over Cabrera defensively. Castellanos also plays outfield so it is conceivable that he could split time with Andy Dirks in left field while the Tigers pursue external options at third base.

Personnel, Rangers

The Rangers’ surplus of middle infielders has been well documented and Kinsler has long been rumored as the most likely to be traded, thus it should not come as a surprise that he was dealt to address other needs.

The departure of Nelson Cruz and David Murphy left the Ranger lineup lacking power apart from Adrian Beltre, but that concern is alleviated through the acquisition of Fielder. Prince will likely become the everyday first baseman with Mitch Moreland moving to DH (although I would prefer it the other way) and top prospect Jurickson Profar will be given a full time job at second base.

From a personnel perspective, this trade makes a lot of sense to the Rangers, who essentially upgraded the right side of their infield from Kinsler and Moreland to Profar and Fielder while also filling their vacant DH spot with Moreland (or trading him for something useful and signing a DH).

Finances, Tigers

This is the biggest win of the trade. Fielder’s contract is one of the worst in the game, and even though the Tigers are sending $30 million to the Rangers, escaping that contract is a huge win. Fielder has seven years and $168 million left on his contract, so after subtracting the $30 million the Tigers are relieved from paying Fielder $138 million over seven years.

Of course, Kinsler does not play for free and is owed $62 million over the next four years, so the bottom line for the Tigers’ savings is $76 million. That money does not simply go back into the pockets of owner Mike Ilitich, instead GM Dave Dombrowski now has $76 million to spend on an upgrade in left field, a new closer, an extension for Max Scherzer and/or an extension for Miguel Cabrera. This trade ought not to be viewed as Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder, instead this trade should be seen as Ian Kinsler and $76 million for Prince Fielder.

Finances, Rangers

This is where the deal is lost. Although this deal makes sense from a personnel perspective, this is a poor financial trade for the Rangers. Just as the Tigers save $76 million by trading Fielder, this trade costs the Rangers $76 million in future assets.

Of course, Fielder is a slightly better player and signed for more years than Kinsler, but the chance of Fielder justifying $138 million over the next seven years is very slim. The other principle to consider from the Rangers’ perspective is opportunity cost. In this scenario, opportunity cost means that by spending the extra $76 million on Fielder, they are not able to spend that $76 million elsewhere on players such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, and Brian McCann. The Rangers lineup is better today than it was before the trade but the price of the upgrade was too steep and will hinder their flexibility to make other moves.