Ian Kinsler, 31, is the obvious choice for the Tigers at second base -- for now. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — Ian Kinsler. You might remember he was traded to the Tigers in a November deal that not for a moment was about Kinsler.
It was about Prince Fielder. Specifically, it was about emancipating the Tigers from what could yet become the worst contract in baseball.
Kinsler, well, yes, the Tigers had an opening at second base, and they could very easily have another vacancy at second, all because Kinsler’s future in Detroit could be as short as two seasons — or two hours.
He is the most dispensable of the Tigers players allegedly slated for everyday work in 2014.
Explanations are simple and sensible. The Tigers have a glut of middle infielders moving closer to the big leagues. Hernan Perez will play in Detroit in 2014, while Eugenio Suarez is probably a year from his initiation.
Beneath those two are Harold Castro, Devon Travis, Steven Fuentes, and Javier Betancourt, all of whom are in various phases of their supposed big-league apprenticeship.
It brings us to Kinsler, who is 31, and who — today — is the obvious choice to work as new manager Brad Ausmus’ man at second base.
Kinsler, though, is not as integral to Detroit’s plans as it might seem. Not when the Tigers believe Perez, once he develops more maturity at the plate, will become a solid and similar player to Kinsler, whose relatively long and expensive contract ($62 million, minimally, through 2017) made possible the dump-truck departure of Fielder and his remaining $168 million in paydays.
The Tigers did not escape cleanly from the Fielder incarceration. They will pay the Rangers an indemnity of $30 million as a peace offering for liberating them from Fielder’s obligations.
Even with the payoff to the Rangers, and with the absorption of Kinsler’s deal, the trade of Fielder remains an exercise in disbelief. The Rangers and Fielder may prove otherwise as Fielder’s career evolves. But, in this view, jettisoning Fielder and his debt service was the most improbable trade in Tigers history. The money owed stood to be that bad, that constraining, to the Tigers for the next seven years had they been forced to retain Fielder and his incredibly oversized cash commitment.
The Tigers, though, are not finished with this deal or with its ramifications. Kinsler will someday be dealt. And do not be surprised at that time if the Tigers likewise consume some of his remaining pay.
A team freed from Fielder will still be ahead of the game by $50-million-plus, and could pick up a half-decent return on Kinsler in the process.
Look at it this way:
If the Tigers were serious about finding a second baseman to protect them against Perez and his youth, they could more easily, less expensively, and more effectively, have re-signed their resident second baseman since July of 2012, Omar Infante.
Infante, though, would not have provided the greatest value the Tigers achieve with Kinsler: no more Fielder paychecks.
Kinsler is no slouch. He can bat at the top of the order. He can run the bases. He can make some nice plays. He has been a very good second baseman for the Rangers and for a long time.
For those irrefutable reasons, he remains a player with reasonable trade value, even with a contract on the pudgy side.
Dealing not done
The Tigers have backed away thus far from expensive, draft-pick-sucking free agents. But they never for a moment have said they were done dealing for lineup help.
It is conceivable the Tigers could yet flip Kinsler as part of a package for a heavier stick, which is where the Dodgers and Matt Kemp enter the picture.
It’s not a likely deal, perhaps because the Tigers don’t trust Kemp’s health when he, too, has a warehouse full of paychecks owed him during these ensuing years.
But it represents the range of opportunities the Tigers will confront as they think about their future, and about second basemen waiting to play in Detroit who probably offer more efficiency and potential production than Kinsler promises.
If you are a betting person, Kinsler at second base on Opening Day at Comerica Park is probably as safe as wagers go.
But if you like to throw a nickel or two on a long-shot, bet on Kinsler being shipped elsewhere. If it doesn’t happen during or before 2014, it is destined to go down not long afterward.