And here I was thinking the Javier Lopez signing was big news. It was, in a way — Lopez at $4 million AAV for three years is a pretty fantastic deal for the Giants, all things considered — but everyone’s talking about the challenge trade of the offseason: second baseman Ian Kinsler, formerly of the Texas Rangers, for first baseman/designated hitter Prince Fielder, formerly of the Detroit Tigers.
In a deal that’s just begging for a Detroit/Texas ALCS in 2014, the Tigers in one fell swoop moved themselves out of any imagined participation in the Cano sweepstakes, signaled that Omar Infante will likely be finding other employment this winter, secured a new position for back-to-back American League MVP Miguel Cabrera across the diamond at first base (where he should have been all along) and perhaps heralded the return of top prospect Nick Castellanos to third base. It moves one of the three designated hitters that Detroit has on its roster for an asset at a position of need (aging and possibly overpaid though he may be), and it allows one of the other designated hitters to move leftward on the defensive spectrum. Makes sense from Detroit’s side, as long as Kinsler keeps producing.
Meanwhile, in Texas, the middle infield logjam is suddenly wide open. Jurickson Profar will play second, Elvis Andrus will play short, Prince Fielder is the new first baseman/designated hitter, and the Rangers have the impact power bat that some (including me) have been agitating for them to add for about 18 months. Losing Kinsler’s bat hurts, but Profar needs a spot to play. Kinsler’s numbers aren’t anywhere near as pretty from a first baseman or left fielder (where the Rangers could have moved him) as they are from a second baseman. Moving Elvis Andrus’ contract is dubious, even if Texas were interested in trading him, so Kinsler realistically was the odd man out in that middle infield, unless Profar suddenly was going to learn how to play center. This trade is a much better solution to the Rangers’ problem, considering that media reports have the Tigers kicking in around $30 million to cover part of the payroll difference. Makes perfect sense from Texas’ side, as long as Prince Fielder — whose “down year” was a 120 OPS+ — continues to produce.
That’s why it’s such a fantastic challenge trade – need for need, straight up, and we get to see who performs better over the life of the deal. Like all great challenge trades, the crucial thing is that both sides can win.