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KURT MENSCHING

Mensching: Tigers’ Kinsler deserves appreciation

Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News

This is going to come as a big surprise to you, and it might come as one to him. But Ian Kinsler is only a few months shy of his 35th birthday.

Nobody tell him.

When the idea was floated to me a couple of weeks ago by an SB Nation coworker to write about Kinsler as part of an appreciation of baseball’s elder statesmen, I made a double take.

Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler turns a double play to end the top of the eighth inning of a game last week against the Boston Red Sox.

Kinsler? An elder statesman? You’ve gotta be kidding me.

That’s another way of saying he’s old. Those are not words I would ever want to utter. Especially if he could hear me.

I’ve seen Kinsler play baseball. He takes feeds from Jose Iglesias and turns double plays with speed and precision. He finds ways to get on base, hits for a little power, and motors around the bases to make things happen when he gets there.

I looked it up. It turns out Kinsler is 34 years, 9 months and 19 days old. Elder statesman. The math checks out. But definitely not old.

If you look at Baseball Reference to find the best seasons by an active second baseman above the age of 30, you’ll find Kinsler’s name listed near the top for his 2014, 2015 and 2016 years.

So that’s pretty good. But those are just the old guys, er, elder statesmen.

If you look for the best seasons among active players of any age …well, hey there Ian Kinsler, nice to see you! His 2016 season (6.1 WAR) ranks fifth, 2015 season (6.0 WAR) ranks seventh, and his 2014 season (5.7 WAR) ranks ninth.

You’ll find Kinsler’s name nestled well within a group of seasons played by Jose Altuve, Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia.

Kinsler has actually put together a near Hall of Fame-caliber career. By JAWS score — a statistic created by Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffee “for measuring a candidate’s Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing him to the players at his position who are already enshrined” — he owns the 18th best career by a second baseman. That places him somewhat below the Hall of Fame average but safely within a range that will entitle him to close consideration.

And he shows no signs of slowing. Entering Monday’s game against the Red Sox, he’s batting .375 with a pair of extra-base hits, four runs and four RBIs. Add to that the statistical quirk of taking walks in nearly one in five plate appearances and you’ve got a player who doesn’t seem like he’s going to see a drop-off in his play any time soon.

Then mix in just what a character Kinsler is on top of it. When Miguel Cabrera rapped his first hit of the season on Sunday, Kinsler showed off his dance moves in the Tigers’ dugout.

When a few years ago White Sox starter Chris Sale (allegedly) accused the Tigers of stealing signs, Kinsler responded by miming pulling binoculars up to his eyes.

Or you might remember Kinsler telling an umpire to do his, er, “flipping” job after a bad call.

This might be a key season for all in Detroit who admire Kinsler, and that’s a frightening thought.

The Tigers have started out the season 3-2, good for second place in the division. But if they don’t get off to a good start, you begin to wonder about the idea the team could face a painful rebuild by the trade deadline.

If it does, trading Kinsler is a possibility due to his having a club-friendly contract that will pay him $11 million this year with an option to pay him $10 million next season.

It’s not quite that simple. Kinsler owns a no-trade clause that includes 10 teams, and over the offseason his agent told Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal he has no interest in waiving it without an extension.

That still leaves 19 teams that could trade for him should the Tigers decide to listen to offers. It’s complicated, but it’s not impossible.

So, the idea of appreciating Ian Kinsler isn’t particularly notable due to his age, elder statesman that he may be. But if things don’t go right for the Tigers — and with that bullpen, that might just be the case — his days in Detroit might be numbered.

Don’t let the opportunity pass to admire just what a fun and great player he is.

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