I’m no Prince Fielder hater – I like the guy, have no problems with how he handled the end of the season, and was sad to see him go – but the Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler swap always made sense for the Detroit Tigers. They could scrap the three DH defense, save money both now and in the future, and add back in an equally productive player all at the same time.
The only problem is they haven’t been equally productive so far.
I mean, that’s not been a problem for the Tigers as much as it has been for the Texas Rangers. Kinsler has been the most productive position player on the team thus far (an .845 OPS to go with solid defense and plus base running) while Fielder has struggled mightily at the plate (a .688 OPS with no secondary defensive or base running value).
According to FanGraphs’ calculation of WAR (wins above replacement), Kinsler has been worth 0.7 WAR. According to Baseball-Reference, he’s been worth 0.9 WAR. Fielder, on the other hand, is currently listed at negative 0.4 WAR by both websites. That difference – 1.1 WAR or 1.3 WAR depending on your taste (not that the difference is significant) – is roughly equivalent to what Andrew McCutchen (last year’s NL MVP, and a Top-10 MLB player thus far in 2014) has produced on the year.
Standard early-season small sample size caveats abound – Kinsler likely won’t continue to be this good and Fielder likely won’t be this bad – but their respective to-date values are already in the proverbial bank. And at a rough valuation of $6 million per WAR, Kinsler’s production above Fielder’s has been worth something like $7.2 million to the Tigers already.
The Tigers are paying $20.3 million for Kinsler in 2014 – if you count his $16M plus the $4.3M annualized value of the $30M the Tigers are sending to Texas (though they’re not really sending any money until 2016) – so he needs to post a 3.4 WAR for the year (or about 2.6 more WAR) to be “worth it” in a general sense. But in a more specific you-or-him sense, he could end the season 0.6 WAR worse than Fielder and still make the trade push for 2014 (taking the $24M they would have owed Prince minus the $20.4M they are effectively paying for Kinsler divided by $6M per WAR).
If fielder matches his 2013 output the rest of the way (2.2 WAR, giving him 1.8 WAR for the season), then Kinsler will need to only produce about one more win to make the trade worth it for the Tigers (for this season). And that’s before considering the added value of allowing Miguel Cabrera to move back to first base and Nick Castellanos to take over at third.
We obviously won’t be able to close the book on 2014 until the fall – and won’t be able to close the book on the trade for about seven more years – but the earliest of return suggest that Dave Dombrowksi and the Tigers made themselves one heckuva deal here.
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