Earlier this week, my thoughts were, well the hot stove league is picking up. Then things really did kick into gear with the Ian Kinsler/Prince Fielder deal. Breaking the deal down from a fantasy perspective, let’s first tackle the internal roster impacts for both organizations.
For the Tigers, the shift is simple and makes a great deal of sense considering Miguel Cabrera’s defensive deficiencies. Miggy was struggling even prior to even playing through injuries this season and the swap allows the AL MVP to move across the diamond to the less demanding first base slot. Top prospect Nick Castellanos will move over to his original position of third base where the job will be his to lose in spring training. It should be noted that Castellanos’ bat plays much better at third rather than left field. As a potential .280/20-plus HR hitter, he moves from being a mediocre/average regular outfielder to one of the better third basemen in a rather thin talent pool. Kinsler fills the void created by Omar Infante’s free agency while Andy Dirks will stay in left field provided the Tigers are done tinkering with their lineup.
Over in Texas, much like Castellanos, Jurickson Profar will take over the vacated position of second base while Fielder will primarily DH and receive occasional starts at 1B. The Rangers, unlike the Tigers, still look like a team that needs to make a few moves as they are still without a primary catcher or left fielder with the departure of David Murphy and free agency of A.J. Pierzynski.
On the performance side of things, as has been well documented, Fielder moves to a park that heavily favors left-handed power hitters. At first glance, Fielder appears to have been in a three-year power decline, managing just 25 homers in 2013. The change is not really in the amount of fly balls Fielder is hitting, but certainly in the amount of fly balls turning into homers, dropping almost 8% over those three seasons. Fielder is still a disciplined hitter who makes remarkable contact for a power hitter, and at 29 years of age, it seems a bit early to call him washed up.
Ian Kinsler‘s recent performance raises a few more red flags. Yes, Kinsler should be one of the more valuable second basemen heading into 2014 as a good hitter with some pop, speed and very good plate discipline skills, but his overall package has shown some notable signs of decline. Kinsler's power production was not all that different from his 2012 campaign in which he received 100 more plate appearances, but he appears to have now transitioned to a teens HR hitter rather than the 20, if not 30-HR threat he once was. The shift from Texas to Detroit will not make a rebound any easier. The other issue is a decline in overall speed and increasing caught-stealing rates. Whilenew skipper Brad Ausmus, a smart base runner known to steal a few bags during his own career, is likely to encourage his players to run, Kinsler will not get the green light if he cannot do better than a 58% success rate.
In a more surprising fashion than the Ian Kinsler trade, the Royals signed Jason Vargas to a four-year deal. It is not surprising that Vargas got a multi-year deal: just the length of it. The move fills the void created by the likely departure of Ervin Santana via free agency and shifts Wade Davis back to the bullpen, giving rotation opportunities to Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. Davis proved in 2012 that he could be a dominant bullpen arm and showed signs of it again last year when he was moved out of the rotation.
Over the past several seasons, Vargas has been fairly reliable showing his trademark control. A soft-tosser, Vargas somehow improved his strikeout rates above the 6-plus threshold in 2013 despite throwing softer and showing no real change in pitch selection or skill. It has the stink of an outlier and regression should be expected. It should also be noted that Vargas has been a fly-ball pitcher throughout his career and had been shielded for the last several years by playing in the cozy confines of Safeco Field, not to mention Angel Stadium, which has been even more home run friendly for pitchers. Vargas fills a void in the Royals rotation, but does so beside Jeremy Guthrie as a capable, but unspectacular innings eater. Keep you ERA expectations in the mid 4’s for Vargas and you might earn a profit should you decide to draft him.
Murphy to Cleveland
David Murphy, 32, signed a two-year pact with the Tribe, where he is penciled in as their right fielder. Murphy frustrated many a fantasy owner and Ranger fan alike last year with his dismal performance. That said, the skills he showed were not all that different from years past as Murphy once again hit the low to mid-double digits in home runs while demonstrating a disciplined approach at the plate. A .227 BABIP contrasted against his .302 career mark was a significant culprit for that line and a rebound is quite possible, though of course Murphy has never been a particularly high ceiling player anyway and is now moving into the latter stages of his career.
It should be noted that Murphy has had some fairly wide platoon splits with respect to lefties and should not be expected to top the 500 plate appearance mark like he did with Texas in 2012. Even though he has been technically listed as the starting right fielder, it is more likely that he platoons with the right-handed Ryan Raburn. For now, expect 450 to 470 plate appearances with a .270/.335 line along with 12 to 15 home runs. In recent seasons, Murphy had been good for 10-plus steals, but he has not been a high percentage stealer since 2010 and was successful in only 1 of 4 attempts in 2013. That part of Murphy’s game may have dried up and any steals can be seen as a bonus. I would not be surprised to see Murphy reduced to more of a fourth outfielder capacity in the second year of this deal as the Indians look to upgrade their offense.