Detroit — These aren’t easy times for Ian Kinsler. His future with the Tigers is uncertain. He is a veteran player caught in the crosshairs of the organization’s full-on rebuilding plans. The team is scuffling, he’s scuffling and, along with Miguel Cabrera, he’s kind of like the last man on the island.
So, what’s he doing dancing a jig with rookie Jeimer Candelario in the dugout after his game-tying home run Wednesday night?
What’s he doing? He’s soldiering on. He’s trying to keep it loose, keep it fun. He’s leading.
“There’s still games left in the season; just try to win these games and try to play the right way,” he said after what ended up being another blowout loss. “Just try to add some intensity, and hopefully try to change the frame of mind.”
You never expected Kinsler to brood about things — about his personal struggles at the plate or the loss of elite teammates like Justin Verlander and his best friend on the team, Justin Upton. It’s simply not in his nature, nor is it the nature of the business.
“It’s hard not to look around and notice they’re gone, but at the same time, there are guys in this room who are getting ready to play a baseball game every day,” he said. “You don’t really have time in baseball to sit back and think about who your teammates were or who your teammates are now.
“You prepare yourself for a game with the guys that are in the lineup. That’s what we do and it’s every day.”
When he was in Texas, Kinsler was surrounded by veteran players and an established leadership circle. His job was just to show up and play — and given his druthers, that’s how he’d prefer it. But with the Tigers in 2015, after David Price and Yoenis Cespedes were traded away and things started going off the rails, he saw a leadership void and stepped up to fill it.
It was uncomfortable for him at first, but he’s grown into it and he’s been a vital part of the Tigers’ leadership circle.
But it’s tough to lead when you are under-performing and when your future status with the club is uncertain. None of that has stopped him. He’s been there for Candelario, for Dixon Machado; he went to the mound during Joe Jimenez’s rough outing Wednesday and delivered a stern lecture, the content of which he would not share afterward.
“It’s definitely my job (to lead),” he said. “All these guys know baseball. Whether they have questions or whether I see something — my job is to be vocal and let them know what I see. However they take it, that’s how they take it. But I’ve got to make sure I’m vocal and let them know what I’m seeing in the game.
“So far, so good.”
But, again, it’s not easy, and you can see Kinsler trying to fight off his own frustrations and maintain a positive front. He just missed a pitch in his first at-bat Wednesday and didn’t run out the fly ball to left. He self-checked and in his next at-bat, busted tail down the line to avoid a double play.
It’s a grind. He’s hitting .236 with a .389 slugging percentage and .704 OPS — all career lows.
“I’m not having a great year, but this last month I want to prove to myself that I can still play at a high level,” he said last week. “I know I can, but I’d like to see something happen.”
Kinsler has 526 plate appearances. If he averages four plate appearances over the last 23 games, he will surpass 600 — and that will trigger his vesting option for 2018. Which means he would have another season with the Tigers at $11 million.
If he doesn’t reach 600, the Tigers could buy him out for $5 million.
Either way, early indications are that the Tigers would exercise their option on Kinsler for 2018, regardless — even if it was with the intent of using him as a trade chip over the winter or before the trade deadline next season.
That became clear when he was claimed on revocable waivers last month and the Tigers pulled him back. If they didn’t have a plan for him, they would have just let him go.
“I’m here for a month,” Kinsler said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen beyond that.”
He was asked if, this late in his career, he wanted to be part of a rebuilding team.
“I have no problem being a part of a rebuilding team,” he said. “If that’s what the Tigers wish, but I don’t know what the Tigers wish. I don’t know if they want me to be a part of it or if they don’t.”
Truth is, the question isn’t that black and white. Certainly the organization values having his experience and leadership to mentor the younger players. But there are other issues that need to be worked out first.
Shortstop Jose Iglesias enters his third year of arbitration and he is earning $4.1 million this season. With Machado seemingly ready to play every day, they may choose to move or non-tender Iglesias.
If that happens, and with no other middle infield prospect in the system ready to step in, Kinsler could return as the everyday second baseman.
But, if they decide to keep Iglesias, then Machado likely would be given a chance to be the second baseman.
“You guys have this backwards,” Kinsler said. “It’s not my choice; it’s theirs. But if they want me here, I’m fine with it. I have no problem trying to pass my experience on as best I can to younger players and help in any way I can.
“But honestly, I don’t know what their plans are.”
On deck: Toronto Blue Jays
Series: Three-game series at Rogers Centre, Toronto
First pitch: Friday — 7:07 p.m.; Saturday — 4:07 p.m.; Sunday — 1:07 p.m.
TV/radio: All games are on Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
Probables:Friday — Tentative, LHP Brett Anderson (0-1, 3.09) vs. RHP Buck Farmer (3-2, 7.18); Saturday – Tentative, LHP J.A. Happ (7-10, 3.85) vs. LHP Chad Bell (0-2, 5.98); Sunday – Tentative, RHP Luis Santos (0-0, 1.69) vs. RHP Myles Jaye (1-0, 0.00).
■ Anderson, Blue Jays: The Jays rotation is unclear because of the uncertainty over Marcus Stroman, who was hit on the elbow by a line drive in his last start. He is having tests Thursday. Friday is his spot in the rotation, but he may be pushed back. This will be Anderson’s third start with the Jays.
■ Farmer, Tigers: There has been very little middle ground for Farmer at the big-league level. He has either been very good (three runs allowed total in his three wins) or really bad (18 runs allowed in his three other starts). He’s been at his best when he’s able to establish both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs.