I been gone a long time. Sorry, folks. Let’s break down some recent trades now that the stove hath been declared “hot.”
DET 1B Prince Fielder for TEX 2B Ian Kinsler
With the emergence of second baseman Jurickson Profar, the Rangers had a logjam in the middle infield, especially after extending Elvis Andrus‘ contract. Trading Kinsler was the solution, and any chatter about trading Profar to St. Louis for outfield prospect Oscar Taveras was promptly silenced. The Rangers will take on about $10 million more in salary per year, not to mention all the additional years at the tail end of Fielder’s contract, but will be able to replace the floundering Mitch Moreland at first base. Some analysts (and Detroit fans) have sworn off Fielder and declared his power decline already in motion. I’ll get to that.
The Tigers had more needs to fill. Infielders Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante are free agents, and both are coming off solid years and will likely test the market. Trading for Kinsler fills one of these needs, and quite soundly, too. Kinsler will bring veteran presence and skills to an already highly-talented team. Moreover, moving Fielder away from Detroit, where his (alleged) declining production, poor postseason performance and lukewarm-at-best fan relations have alienated him, frees up salary space to offer Cy Young pitcher Max Scherzer a long-term contract. The one thing I haven’t seen discussed much: two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera was plagued by nagging injuries the last month of the season. Moving him to first base will alleviate defensive problems, yes, but it will also give him a chance to heal at a less intensive defensive position. I don’t know who will play third base, but rookie Nick Castellanos played third base before the Tigers moved him to left field.
As for Fielder’s power and production, let’s do a simplistic blind resume.
Player A – .313, 30 HR, 82 R, 108 RBI
Player B – .279, 25 HR, 83 R, 106 RBI
Player B is Fielder in 2013; Player A is Fielder in 2012. The big difference? He hit fewer than 30 home runs for the first time in forever, and his on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) is way down. You can complain about the batting average, too, but the 2012 average is the anomaly here, not the 2013 average. Looking more deeply into his peripherals, though, Fielder his a boatload of line drives — 26 percent of all balls in play, in fact. Fielder’s average line drive percentage is 21 percent; the MLB average is 19 percent. He also put the most balls into play in his career with the lowest ratio of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB). Unless Fielder was trying to hit line drives all last year, which he likely wasn’t, I expect 32-or-so home runs from Fielder in 2014. My one concern is his depleted walk rate (although his on-base percentage is still very solid), but the dude also dealt with a divorce all year, too. I can’t say I’ve ever been divorced before, so I don’t know what it’s like, but I can’t imagine it’s always pretty.
I understand both sides of this trade, though, and hesitate to declare one team the winner over the other. Kinsler and Fielder are getting old, so declines in production should be expected. I think the winner of this trade will be decided in if Profar pans out and Scherzer lives up to his ace potential and reputation.
Winners: Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers
SF Giants sign SP Tim Hudson
Even as someone who doesn’t identify as an Atlanta Braves fan, it’s sad to see Hudson go. However, I don’t know how much good this does the Giants. Their farm system is weak and their rotation pitiful. Adding Hudson for a couple of years for back-end rotation help and veteran presence is not going to produce another championship. The team needs to focus on rebuilding, and shedding salary may be a good first step in doing so. Also, why didn’t the Braves re-sign him? Their rotation is very young with zero veteran presence. At least Hudson could fill up a back-end spot that would surely be better than what Paul Maholm could muster. Then again, they could probably turn me into a quality starting pitcher with the magic they evidently possess.
Winner: Tim Hudson
Loser: San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves
KC Royals sign SP Jason Vargas
Who considers this a major baseball-related announcement? Jokes aside, Vargas was probably the Angels’ most reliable pitcher and has been better than decent the past two or three years for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Seattle Mariners. For a team that’s working toward a postseason berth, this isn’t a bad play. Besides, who could be worse than Bruce Chen?
Winners: Kansas City Royals, Jason Vargas
STL 3B David Freese for LAA OFs Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk (AAA)
David Freese is an average third baseman who is widely (and incorrectly) perceived as an above-average player because of his postseason heroics. Freese is simply average, though, and shipping him to Anaheim makes it clear that the Angels are going to shop Mark Trumbo. It’s their best chance at getting some prospects, of which their depleted farm system has none.
Trading Freese allows the once-utility second baseman Matt Carpenter to move to third base in order to free up space for rookie Kolten Wong. With outfielder Carlos Beltran, a free agent, likely on the move, I expect to see über-prospect Oscar Taveras man center field while Matt Holliday and Allen Craig play left and right field, with Matt Adams at first base. Another scenario could see Taveras getting the call sometime in May or June and Bourjos manning center field until then. Yet another possibility — the least optimal of them — would see an outfield of Jon Jay, Bourjos and Holliday, with Craig at first base and Adams relegated to the bench.
Either way, the Cardinals are even more stacked than they were before the trade. Ridding of Freese was probably difficult, but it was necessary for progress. The Angels made a decent move in ridding of extra outfield pieces, but sending Randal Grichuk, the Angels No.-2 prospect, to a loaded St. Louis farm system (where Grichuk will likely rank no better than 10th) further guts the Angels minor league system. Rancho Cucamonga is a barren wasteland at this point. (Thank you, Cliff Clinton, for enlightening me as to who Grichuk is. Even as an Angels fan I sure as hell didn’t know.)
We’ll have to wait and see who the Angels get in return for Trumbo, but it won’t change the fact that they lost this trade.
Winner: St. Louis Cardinals
Loser: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Fan report: Dan Uggla has put his Atlanta home up for sale. (Thanks, Charles Henninger, for this tidbit.)
Let’s get his ass out of there. I’ll never forgive you, Dan, for singlehandedly losing me the 2012 fantasy baseball title.