Who doesn't love a good, old-fashioned, winter blockbuster baseball trade?
OK, so technically it's not yet winter -- that won't arrive for another 31 days -- and Wednesday's pending swap between the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers was influenced as much by monetary as talent concerns -- we'll now await word of just how much cash the Tigers are sending the Rangers -- but there's so much to like about a trade with Prince Fielder and Ian Kinsler as principals.
Fielder moves to a hitters' heaven: Besides Colorado's Coors Field, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington might be the venue fantasy owners most wish their hitters could call home, despite its lowly rankings of 17th in runs and 19th in home runs on our 2013 Park Factors page. For a better illustration, however, Rangers left-handed hitters had a 12.8 home run/fly ball percentage, their opponents 11.1 percent, at Rangers Ballpark the past three seasons combined; the major league average was 9.9 during that time. Tigers lefties, meanwhile, had a 10.5 home run/fly ball percentage, their opponents 7.9 percent, at Comerica Park from 2011 to '13.
Fantasy owners are typically quick to look up a traded player's career statistics in his new venue -- in this case, Fielder is a .265/.373/.592 hitter in 13 games at Rangers Ballpark, only the slugging percentage significantly higher than his overall lifetime mark -- but that often has us relying on misleading sample sizes (as this one is). Instead, understand that the move from Detroit to Texas provides a noticeable boost to Fielder's power potential; this is the kind of switch that could vault him closer to the 22.4 home run/fly ball percentage he had in his final year in Milwaukee than his 13.1 percentage in Detroit in 2013. In sheer fantasy terms, that could spell the difference between a 30- and a 38-homer season.
It means enhanced prospects of a bounce-back 2014 campaign for a player who, despite his girth, has been the most durable player in baseball the past half-decade or so. In Fielder's defense, he batted .325 and slugged .513 in his final 30 games of 2013, and if he can tally another 162 games and 700-plus plate appearances, there's an outstanding chance he'll be a .290-hitting, 40-homer candidate and back in the discussion for top-10 status in fantasy baseball.
Originally my No. 15 player overall, Fielder moves up to 13th following the trade, directly ahead of new teammate Adrian Beltre, though he remains my No. 3 first baseman behind Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Davis.
Jurickson Profar gets a full-time job: It's taking a small leap, but a rational one, as Kinsler's departure frees up second base for the onetime top prospect in baseball Profar, though the Rangers might claim the rest of the winter that Profar will "need to earn the job during spring training." For fantasy purposes, it's a safe assumption Profar will man second base at least 150 times -- barring the less likely scenario of Elvis Andrus shifting there from shortstop -- and, yes, it's an even bigger deal than Kinsler in Detroit.
Profar disappointed during his first regular taste of the bigs in 2013, batting .234, slugging .336 (resulting in a miserable .101 isolated power) and getting caught on four of his six stolen-base chances, but in his defense, he was adapting to life at the game's most competitive level while making multiple starts at second base, third base, shortstop and left field, only one time all year making more than five consecutive starts. The ability to focus on one position, in a full-time capacity at that, might be good for him.
Remember, this was a player long touted as a batting average/power/speed type, a kind of "Mike Trout lite," and forecasts of future .290-15-homer/30-steal seasons are no less reasonable today than they were a year ago. That's his ceiling, potentially reachable as soon as 2014, the only frustration in fantasy that he fell two games shy of earning dual position eligibility at second base and shortstop. Despite that, he's still my No. 180 player overall, and No. 14 second baseman, following the deal; understand that his initial ranking already assumed that the Rangers would clear a spot for him.
Kinsler loses some of his ballpark edge: One of fantasy's more reliable second basemen for the past eight seasons, Kinsler might be commonly criticized for his steep home splits following his move to Detroit. Let's not hide them:
Home, 2011-13: .294/.380/.492, .377 wOBA, .198 ISO, 10.3 HR/FB%
Road, 2011-13: .231/.303/.387, .302 wOBA, .156 ISO, 8.1 HR/FB%
But before Kinsler's dynasty/keeper league owners panic, understand that the majority of hitters have some degree of home/road split, and that those who call extreme hitters' environments their homes sometimes experience wider splits. (See Rockies, Colorado.) Kinsler loses something in terms of power with the move to Comerica Park, meaning his days of 20-homer seasons might be in his past, but he'll still bat high in a potent lineup and no longer must deal with the Texas heat. Remember, in six of his eight seasons he has had a higher OPS before the All-Star break than after it, so perhaps the move will help him hold up slightly better over the 162-game schedule.
That said, there's a legitimate concern about his base stealing -- his 57.7 percent success rate in 2013 was a career worst -- and any loss there, coupled with the drop-off in power, could drive him to the back end of the top 10 second basemen. Following the trade, he drops behind Matt Carpenter (whom I've moved up three spots upon closer examination) to be the No. 5 second baseman and No. 67 player overall.
The Tigers' infield defense improves: Astute fantasy owners were surely aware that the Tigers' starting infielders for the bulk of 2012-13 weren't known for their gloves; as a team their infield totaled minus-26 defensive runs saved, a total that might've been worse if not for Ramon Santiago's 6 DRS at shortstop. The addition of shortstop Jose Iglesias, a defensive whiz, at last year's trade deadline was a significant boost, and if Fielder's departure means Miguel Cabrera moves back to first base, then the Tigers should take a substantial step forward defensively in 2014.
Cabrera, after all, would be a defensive upgrade at first base over Fielder (minus-13 DRS, minus-5.2 UZR, in 2013); he had minus-3 DRS and minus-4.7 UZR in his last full-time season at first. And anything the Tigers put at third base would be an upgrade over Cabrera, the worst regular third baseman defensively in the game last season (minus-18 DRS, minus-16.8 UZR).
Remember, the Tigers had two of the top four pitchers in terms of ground-ball percentage last season, Doug Fister (55.3) and Rick Porcello (54.8), and Anibal Sanchez (46.7) has typically been more of a ground-baller than fly-baller. Their ERA/WHIP numbers should all benefit from the move.
An opportunity created for Nick Castellanos: For nearly a year and a half, the Tigers had been dabbling with their top hitting prospect, Castellanos, in a corner outfield spot (first right field in 2012, then left field in 2013). With Fielder now gone and Cabrera perhaps headed to first base, Castellanos, drafted a third baseman, could be a candidate to return to the hot corner in 2014. If not, it's possible that the Tigers might pair him with another third base/left field partner, perhaps Jhonny Peralta?
Though Castellanos took a step backward in Triple-A ball last season, slashing .276/.343/.450 in 134 games for Toledo, he's generally regarded as a high-average, medium-pop hitter who would register on the radar in mixed leagues with regular at-bats. A .270 batting average and 15-18 home runs might be a reasonable rookie-year expectation, but with a strong spring he could be a more attractive late-round pick. For now, he's my No. 79 outfielder -- that's his initial position qualification for 2014 -- up two spots from my original rankings.
Max Scherzer's (and Cabrera's) chances of staying in Detroit: They've potentially improved as a result of the Tigers unloading some of the $168 million Fielder had remaining on his contract, as there's now more money to potentially address new deals for Scherzer and Cabrera, free agents after 2014 and 2015. Granted, 2015 might sound a long way away to redraft-league fantasy owners, but who wants to deal with the prospect of change in the near future? Scherzer in particular would benefit from remaining in the American League Central, with its somewhat lighter-hitting competition; he was 12-1 against division foes in 2013.