Friday, November 22, 2013

The Tigers revamp their infield

Ian Kinsler has made three All-Star teams in his
eight major league seasons, all with the Texas Rangers.
The Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler deal, once it becomes official, essentially means a complete revamp of the Detroit Tigers infield.

Presumably the Tigers will return Miguel Cabrera to first base and install prospect Nick Castellanos at third base. Castellanos is just 21 (turns 22 during spring training) and spent 2013 playing left field in Triple A, but third is reckoned his best position.

It's possible, of course, that the Tigers will add a veteran corner infielder -- ESPN's Tim Kurkjian on Wednesday night specifically named former Twins first baseman Justin Morneau as a possibility -- but if they really regard Castellanos as a major piece of their future, I think they'll avoid blocking him.

And that would represent quite the transition for a team that has prioritized offense over defense.

2013 infield: Fielder at first, Omar Infante at second, Cabrera at third, Jhonny Peralta at shortstop

2014 infield: Cabrera at first, Kinsler at second, Castellanos at third, Jose Iglesias at short.

That's three new faces, with the one holdover shifting position.

Peralta and Infante are free agents. Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski had said early in the offseason that Peralta was unlikely to be re-signed; presumably the same is now true of Infante.

The Tigers traded for Iglesias in midseason just before Peralta was suspended 50 games for his involvement with Biogenesis. They are very different shortstops; Peralta has limited range but makes few mistakes and is a productive hitter. Iglesias is very rangy in the field but, despite a good set of rookie stats, is not expected to help at the plate.

Kinsler is Infante's superior in the field. Infante had the better 2013 at the plate, however, and Kinsler's numbers the past couple of years have not lived up to his peak production. Kinsler has benefited over his career from playing in Texas, a hitter's haven; his offense may well take a sharp drop between a less hospitable home park and advancing age. (Kinsler for his career in Texas: .304/.387/.511; elsewhere, .242/.312/.399.)

One wonders if the tradeoff of offense for defense is deliberate, or if it just happened as the Tigers sought more payroll flexibility. This projected 2014 infield wouldn't produce runs as the 2013 infield did, but the Tigers should be better with the glove at each position.

Jhonny Peralta isn't a particularly rangy shortstop,
but he's a better hitter than most shortstops.
I am far from convinced that the better defense will adequately compensate for the decrease in runs. I specifically doubt that Iglesias is a overall step up from Peralta (although he will be considerably less expensive, which will allow resources to be diverted to other needs).

Kinsler has been a top-of-the-order hitter for Texas; Infante hit at the bottom of the Tigers order. I'm curious about how new manager Brad Ausmus will handle this. The Tigers lost their cleanup hitter; will Ausmus move Torii Hunter out of the second slot to hit fourth or fifth and install Kinsler in the two-hole?

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