July 14, 2014 at 1:00 am

Kurt Mensching

Tigers can count their blessings, and dollars, with Kinsler in, Fielder out

Ian Kinsler lands at third with a triple in a game last month against Toronto. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

The best second baseman in baseball this season plays for the Tigers. And all they had to do to bring him to Detroit was trade away the awful contract of Prince Fielder. Pretty simple, huh?

That trade last November seems like the Tigersí best deal this past offseason.

Ian Kinsler may not have the best offensive production of any second baseman -- thatís still Robinson Cano, signed this offseason by the Seattle Mariners for a 10-year, $240 million contract -- but heís proven to be the best all-around player.

Batting .303 with 11 home runs and an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) of .807, Kinsler has been one of the more consistent Tigers at the plate. Heís also been arguably the best Tiger on the basepaths, successfully stealing bases and taking the extra bag on a hit at even better rates than Rajai Davis.

Kinsler also rates as one of the best defensive second basemen in the game by whichever advanced metric you prefer, or even a simpler one like fielding percentage.

If WAR (wins above replacement) is your stat of choice, Kinsler edges Cano in both Fangraphsí and Baseball-Referenceís versions.

Itís easy to see why Kinsler was named to the American League All-Star roster for a fourth time in his career: Heís the total package. Even better for the Tigers, heís in the second year of a five-year, $75 million deal with a $10 million option for a sixth season.

In short, Kinsler is pretty much everything Fielder isnít -- versatile and affordable.

Fielder, who will miss the rest of the 2014 season recovering from surgery in May to fix a neck issue, showed less power in Detroit than expected. He was among the worst-fielding first baseman in the game. And no one would confuse him as a threat on the base paths.

All that comes in at a cost of $24 million per season through 2020.

Even when you factor in the cash the Tigers are sending the Rangers, Detroit manages to save $76 million over the life of Fielderís contract while upgrading to a better player in Kinsler.

Thank goodness for that, because the deal given to Fielder in January 2012 certainly ranks as one of the worst of that offseason, or any recent offseason for that matter. If itís already beginning to look bad when heís 30 years old, imagine how it will look when Fielder is age 36.

Just getting out from underneath that was accomplishment enough for Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski. To bring a player of Kinslerís caliber in return only makes it better.

Meanwhile with Fielder out of the way, the deal has paid dividends. Miguel Cabrera has moved back to first base, where heís an average defender, compared to third base, where he was notably sub-par.

Nick Castellanos does play a bit inconsistently at third base. The rust after spending his previous two minor league seasons in the outfield was apparent, though he appears to be getting better. Getting used to major league pitching has tested Castellanos, too. At the end of May, he was hitting .233 with .637 OPS. Things began to click for Castellanos in June, when he he batted .337 with .886 OPS.

Although he has struggled at times heading into the All-Star break, Castellanos has shown enough to remain excited about his future -- and itís a cost efficient one.

Without trading Fielder, the Tigers could be looking at a logjam in the outfield even worse than they already have, or maybe they donít even pursue a player like J.D. Martinez in the first place.

Itís hard to imagine where the Tigers would be with Fielder, rather than Kinsler, with the team today.

Kurt Mensching is editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.

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