The immediate reaction is that the first domino has fallen, that in completing a deal that sends Prince Fielder and $30-million to the Texas Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler, the Rangers and Detroit Tigers have kick-started the off-season player movement market.
This is, of course, of major interest to the Toronto Blue Jays, who are faced with the task of addressing several pressing issues in a market flush with cash but lean on impact free agents. Not in the sense of any interest the Blue Jays might have had in either player – second base is third on general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s list of priorities, and Fielder was a pie-in-the-sky talking point for Blue Jays fans when he was a free agent – but for the fallout from the deal itself.
On the surface, getting rid of Fielder’s remaining years and money (seven years, $168-million) gives the Tigers from financial flexibility to re-sign Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and keep the two-headed pitching beast of Scherzer and Justin Verlandeer together. It will also make it easier to re-sign Miguel Cabrera, who has two years remaining on his deal, while expediting a move to first base that ought to save some wear and tear on Cabrera compared to a regular turn at third base.
Anthopoulos has said publicly that the free agent market has been slow developing this season and by extension so, too, has the trade market. This is understandable; a new network television deal means that each Major League team will receive an extra $32-million and the 2013 season saw the advancement to the cusp of traditional bottom-feeders such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals. The Pirates made the playoffs; the Royals flirted with the playoffs through a big off-season leap of faith, acquiring pitcher James Shields from the Tampa Bay Rays - so no wonder every team in the game thinks it has a shot at least at a one-game wild-card.
Every team needs starting pitching, but few teams can point to that commodity as 90 per cent of the reason they finished in last place – except for the Blue Jays. In Anthopoulos’s perfect world, he’d be able to trade for a front of the rotation starter, sign another through free agency, and go into spring training with R.A. Dickey and Mark Buerhle while keeping his fingers crossed that Brandon Morrow comes back healthy. There remains a chance, industry sources believe, that Buehrle might be moved if the pitching market really heats up although that would seem to be dependent on Anthopoulos making hay in the free agency.
Anthopoulos prefers to make moves outside the winter meetings, but with so many teams waiting for a resolution to the Japanese posting system – Major League Baseball wants to change the way in which Japanese players are put up for auction, but it has had difficulty internally coming to a big market/small-market consensus and baseball officials in Japan have taken what baseball sees as an overly-deliberate approach – and the implications that will have on the availability of Masahiro Tanaka, the pitching market has been slow to establish itself. There is a trickle-down effect even for teams not interested in exploring free-agent pitching options, since teams are often reluctant to discuss trades until they have a better sense of what the free-agent market will bear.
There will be a urge to paint the Kinsler-Fielder deal as an old-time baseball trade. It wasn’t; it was about the Tigers making themselves a little lighter on their feet, and in point of fact by itself the deal brings neither team closer to a World Series. The names are big, but the most significant aspect of this deal is how it structures the player market going forward and there can be no more interested observer than Anthopoulos.