The Rangers' acquisition of Fielder answers some questions but opens up several other offseason opportunities.
The unexpected blockbuster trade that has first baseman Prince Fielder and $30 million going to the Texas Rangers and second baseman Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers is expected to set off a chain reaction, not only to the rosters of the Rangers and Tigers, but around the entire league as well.
While Fielder's name wasn't part of any early offseason rumors, the trade became a reality rather quickly after Jon Heyman of CBS Sports first reported it could happen Wednesday evening.
For those of us that didn't see this one coming—and by that, I mean every single one of us that follow the baseball offseason closely—this trade is sure to shake up our board of predictions and expectations.
With that said, here's a new set of predictions and expectations that come as a direct result of this trade.
Ian Kinsler being traded isn't that big of a shocker. The Rangers needed to clear a spot at second base or shortstop for Jurickson Profar (pictured), who was widely regarded as the one of the top prospects in baseball coming into the 2013 season, and either Kinsler or Elvis Andrus was likely to go.
Now that Kinsler is out of the picture, the 20-year-old Profar has a clear path to being the leadoff hitter and second baseman when the Rangers take on the Philadelphia Phillies on Opening Day of 2014, according to MLBDepthCharts.com.
He'll have some big shoes to fill, though. In eight seasons with the club, Kinsler posted an .804 OPS with an average of 20 homers, 31 doubles, 22 stolen bases and 94 runs per season. The three-time All-Star also had 30-30 seasons (at least 30 homers, at least 30 stolen bases) in 2009 and 2011.
The switch-hitting Profar won't provide that kind of speed or power, although he's no slouch in either category. He'll also be much better defensively and is capable of hitting over .300.
Great job by general manager Jon Daniels to take care of two offseason priorities in one deal by paving the way for Profar and adding a big left-handed power bat to hit in the middle of a lineup, possibly between the right-handed hitting Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios.
Even before saving $76 million in the Fielder-Kinsler trade, the big-market Tigers couldn't be counted out of the mix for any of the big-name free agents available on the market. And while you can probably cross second baseman Robinson Cano off the list, it's now even more likely they go after a big bat to help replace Fielder's production in the lineup.
With Miguel Cabrera likely moving over to first base, the Tigers could have a tough time finding much production at the hot corner in a very weak market for third basemen. Instead, the best bet is to pursue one of the several impact outfielders to take a regular spot from left fielder Andy Dirks, who struggled throughout 2013.
Carlos Beltran, Nelson Cruz and Curtis Granderson would each fit the team's need in the middle of the lineup, while Shin-Soo Choo (pictured) would give the Tigers an option at either of the top three spots in the order.
Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury could also be an option with Austin Jackson moving over to a corner spot. Ellsbury, Jackson and Torii Hunter would cover a ton of ground in the spacious outfield of Comerica Park.
A reunion between the Rangers and Mike Napoli (pictured) is now highly doubtful, although it's possible the 32-year-old slugger could sign on as the team's designated hitter. It's more likely, though, that the Rangers invest in a catcher or outfielder and Napoli will land elsewhere.
Texas may have been the Red Sox's main competition for Napoli, so their acquisition of Fielder should help the World Series champs in their quest to retain the power-hitting first baseman. The Rockies could jump into the bidding, although Napoli's degenerative hip condition could be a bigger concern for National League teams that cannot utilize him in the designated hitter spot if it becomes difficult for him to play defense regularly.
While the trade likely won't hurt Napoli's earning power for his next contract, which should cover at least the next two seasons, there is now one less team—the Rangers—in search of first base help. James Loney and Kendrys Morales should still find starting gigs. Corey Hart, if healthy, will also find a regular job.
But those free agent first baseman further down the list, including Paul Konerko, Justin Morneau and Michael Morse, weren't done any favors when Fielder was shipped to Texas and Detroit filled their first base spot with Miguel Cabrera.
Teams that can afford to even think about signing Robinson Cano (pictured) are few and far between. The Tigers were one of those teams—emphasis on "were."
With the 31-year-old star expected to ask for a deal in the neighborhood of $300 million and the Tigers no longer an option, the Yankees appear to have terrific leverage in negotiations. They also could have a decent "Plan B" in the next-best second baseman on the free agent market, Omar Infante, who won't be returning to Detroit with Kinsler in town.
The Kinsler deal, which results in one less starting second base opening, could also make it more difficult for free agents Mark Ellis and Brian Roberts to find starting jobs and for the Angels and Brewers to shop Howie Kendrick and Rickie Weeks, respectively.
Without any other options, the Tigers continued to go with strikeout-prone center fielder Austin Jackson (pictured) as their leadoff hitter in 2013. His 134 strikeouts in 2012 were more acceptable because of his well above-average .377 on-base percentage, but his 129 strikeouts in 2013 look much worse when coupled with an on-base percentage 40 points lower (.337).
While that's not a terrible mark, the Tigers could now experiment with moving Jackson down somewhere between the 5th and 7th spots in the order while going with an experienced leadoff man in Kinsler, who struck out just 59 times in 2013 and has a career on-base percentage of .349.
If the 26-year-old Jackson, who has 42 homers in his four-year career, feels less pressure to take pitches and strike out less, his power totals could increase.
More lineup shuffling could result in top prospect Nick Castellanos moving back to third base after playing exclusively in the outfield in 2013. The 21-year-old wasn't moved off the position because of poor defense. The move was made because his path to the majors was much clearer as a corner outfielder.
But with Cabrera no longer entrenched at third base and limited options available at the hot corner this offseason, the Tigers should give Castellanos serious consideration to be their starting third baseman on Opening Day of 2014.
If anything, a few month stop-gap, such as Michael Young, would allow Castellanos to get re-acclimated with the position down in Triple-A.
The Rangers are still looking to add a bat, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, and catcher Brian McCann (pictured) could still be a prime target.
But with Fielder, a poor defensive first baseman who will likely have to be used at designated hitter more often than not later in his career—he's signed through 2020—now in the mix, the best investment might not be in a catcher who won't be worth the likely $100 million contract he's seeking unless he can serve as the designated hitter on the days he isn't catching.
And as McCann approaches his mid-30's a few years into his contract—he'll be 30 in February—it's likely that he'll catch less often to keep him fresh and to keep him healthy. Fielder and McCann on the same roster probably isn't a great fit after 2015.
On the other hand, signing Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Dioner Navarro to a much more affordable contract could also give them the necessary payroll space for an impact hitter in the outfield—possibly bringing back Nelson Cruz or signing Curtis Granderson.
If McCann isn't a fit in Texas, the Yankees and Red Sox could end up being the most aggressive suitors.
While the trade removes a potential starting first base and starting second base vacancy, there could be a job opening for a third baseman.
Unless the Tigers feel that 21-year-old prospect Nick Castellanos can make a successful return to the hot corner, where he had played before the Tigers converted him to the outfield last season, and handle major league pitching in 2014, they could be in the market for a third baseman with Miguel Cabrera expected to move across the diamond to first base.
They could sign Michael Young or Kevin Youkilis to a one-year deal to help bridge the gap or possibly ink Juan Uribe, who will likely command a two-year deal.
While those aren't big names, there are several other teams seeking help at the hot corner and options are already very limited. The trade market could be a better place to shop, although the Tigers probably don't have the minor league talent to land Chase Headley (pictured) of the San Diego Padres or David Freese of the St. Louis Cardinals.
But if a team like the Dodgers or Yankees, for example, can't land an inexpensive stop-gap veteran because of the crowded list of suitors, their pursuit of a player like Headley, who has one year left of club control, could intensify.