The MLB offseason is here, and there are 126 days until Opening Day. Luckily, there’s no shortage of things for us to talk about, as free agency has kicked off and the past couple days have already given us several big names changing area codes.
Let’s take a look at who came out on top for each of the teams involved in the trades to this point.
I don’t think anybody predicted this, though. Prince Fielder’s 9-year, $214 million contract was one that seemed impossible to move, but lo and behold, the Tigers turned that monstrosity into Ian Kinsler and over $70 million in savings.
The move gives the Tigers the freedom to lock up Scherzer long-term, but the benefits go much further than that. Miguel Cabrera can now return to his natural position of first base, a move which, by default, dramatically improves the Tigers’ infield defense. This allows Detroit to get creative at third base, whether by returning top prospect Nick Castellanos there or exploring trade options for a player like Chase Headley.
Straight-up, Fielder to Kinsler is probably a bit of a downgrade. Kinsler is two years older and, while cheaper, is a bit more clearly in decline. When you factor in everything else, though, it’s hard to label this as anything other than a win for the Tigers.
As for the Rangers, well, the benefits are less obvious.
Texas has been desperate for a power bat since Josh Hamilton departed in free agency, and Fielder is now their guy, even if they had to overpay to get him. The Tigers are sending $30 million as part of the deal, but even 7 years for $138 million is steep when you consider Fielder’s 2013 production, a season in which he posted the lowest isolated power rating of his career and his lowest wOBA since 2006.
A redemption year for Fielder is not out of the question, however. Arlington has always been a very hitter-friendly park, and if Fielder’s power is not truly gone, unleashing him on that ballpark could result in some fireworks. He’ll always be a defensive minus, but one has to assume he’ll eventually find his way into the DH role down the road, helping him maintain some value late in that monstrous contract.
The move also solves a logjam in the Texas middle infield, however, as Kinsler’s departure would appear to free up second base for super prospect Jurickson Profar, who racked up only 324 plate appearances last season while blocked at second by Kinsler and short by Elvis Andrus. If Profar begins to show some of the potential we think he has, this becomes a watershed trade for the Rangers.
Overall, the Tigers came out of this one noticeably improved, and while the Rangers might not look immediately better off, improved play from Prince and an emergence from the 21-year-old Profar could make this a positive deal from them, as well.
In typical St. Louis fashion, the Cardinals managed to land some forgotten talent in this deal without losing all that much in return. Bourjos is a big-time defensive centerfielder – freeing them from the Jon Jay Experience – with positive baserunning and a little bit of on-base ability. The Cardinals are losing Carlos Beltran to free agency, and instead of replacing his bat with more offense, they’re taking the defensive approach, with Jay hopefully providing a better fit in right field than he did in center.
The biggest concern regarding Bourjos is health, as he’s played only 156 games in the past two seasons. If he can stay on the field, this is a steal for the Cardinals, but if he can’t, they may have just given away Freese for nothing.
The trade is a little more difficult to understand from the Angels’ perspective. Freese is an upgrade from what they were trotting out their last year, but his ineffectiveness against righties (.689 OPS against RHP last season) and high strikeout rates seem to cap his upside. He was also a disaster at third by most defensive metrics last season, after providing solid – if unspectacular – defense the two seasons before.
The 2011 World Series MVP looked like a potential star just a year ago, but now it seems his ceiling is closer to that of an average third baseman. While “average” is not without value, the price may have been too high. Peter Bourjos is a very good player, and also packaged in the deal was 21-year-old outfielder Randal Grichuk, considered by some the second-best prospect in Los Angeles’s depleted farm system.
I was never a fan of the Angels’ “spend, spend, spend” approach, and dealing two assets for essentially a league-average third baseman while draining the farm system even further. The move shows a lack of direction from the Los Angeles front office, and time is running out on this roster’s chances of making a playoff run any time soon.
There’s still a long way to go in this offseason and Ben Cherington has thus far been biding his time. Hopefully we’ll soon have some Red Sox acquisitions to break down, but for the time being, let’s sit back and enjoy the action while counting down the days to the games that count.