Hard-nosed Kinsler wants to finish career in Detroit
Detroit — Ian Kinsler’s focus, 100 percent, is on helping get the Tigers into the playoffs. If you don’t believe that, you haven’t been watching him play.
He lost a fingernail on his throwing hand to a 101 mph ground ball in Kansas City, yet still made the play, keeping the tying run at third base. He rubbed some dirt on it and finished the game.
His WAR is 5.3, highest on the team. He’s hit 25 home runs, scored 102 runs and played Gold Glove-worthy defense.
Before the game Monday, he was asked if he’d given any thought about his future, about whether he was playing on his final contract.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t,” Kinsler said. “I want to play baseball until the whole league says I can’t.”
Kinsler is 34. A youthful 34. He is under contract and will make $11 million in 2017. The Tigers hold a $10 million option on him for 2018 that would cost them $5 million to buy out.
Among several tough questions general manager Al Avila and his staff will have to ask themselves, perhaps as early as this offseason, is whether they should not only pick up Kinsler’s option for 2018, but perhaps offer him another year or two beyond 2018.
They don’t have to make that decision this offseason, obviously. But the question isn’t going to go away.
The Tigers presently do not have a second baseman in their system who projects to be ready to replace him in the next two-plus years — with the possible exception of shortstop Dixon Machado, who could transition to second base.
Kinsler would welcome the discussion.
“I’d like to finish my career here,” he said. “I really like it here. I’ve really enjoyed my time. If the organization is open to that, I’m definitely open to it. It’s kind of up to them but I am more than willing to try to end my career here.
“I don’t want to go play anywhere else.”
Kinsler will be 36 in 2018. Normally, that would preclude an organization from adding years onto a middle infielder’s contract. But Kinsler continues to play younger than his age.
Durability is not an issue. If he plays every game the rest of the season, which he expects to, he will play 157 games. That would mean, in his three seasons in Detroit, he'd miss 13 games.
And his production has been consistent the last three years.
“This is a good organization,” Kinsler said. “The front office is good. Ownership spends money and wants to win. The fan base is great. There’s really nothing else to ask for as a player. There’s always an opportunity to win here.
“And on top of that, I’ve really enjoyed my time here. There is nothing more I’d love to do than sign some sort of extension.”
The Tigers will have a couple more pressing decisions to make, though.
They hold options on both closer Francisco Rodriguez ($6 million or $2 million buyout) and center fielder Cameron Maybin ($9 million or $1 million buyout) for 2017.
Keeping Rodriguez for $6 million seems like a no-brainer. If right-hander Joe Jimenez is the closer-in-waiting, the Tigers have made it clear he’s not ready to be entrusted with that role yet.
The decision on Maybin is a little trickier. There isn’t a major league-ready center fielder in the system right now. The jury is still out on whether Anthony Gose can regain his status within the organization.
But Maybin, while ultra-productive and clearly an energizer for this team this season, has battled an assortment of injuries. He has missed 66 games to this point.
The Tigers will have to weigh paying $9 million to a center fielder who has played 137 or more games in just three out of his 10 big-league seasons.
The Tigers will also have to decide whether they want to re-sign catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the offseason. He will be a free agent. Again, the Tigers do not have a catcher in the system who is ready to play in the big leagues.
These are topics better left for a later date. For now, it's back to the playoff chase.