Fielder-Kinsler deal reflects GMs’ bold thinking

Matt Kemp isn't in a rush to get back. Not this time. (Reed Saxon/AP)

One of the most intriguing bits of industry chatter generated by the Prince Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler stunner pulled off by the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers is that there may be another blockbuster or two out there waiting to happen.

Big names are being tossed around this off-season—more than usual, some sources suggest, although others argue it’s only rumours that are on the rise—and with a relatively thin free agent class inflated by a spike in national TV money, teams may be more motivated to trade rather than shop the open market.

The beauty in Wednesday night’s move is that it’s a talent-for-talent baseball trade, and while there were financial elements in the deal (the Rangers get $30 million to subsidize the back end of Fielder’s contract while the Tigers freed up money to potentially extend Max Scherzer), this wasn’t the type of salary dump or franchise rebuild move in which stars are more typically dealt.

Instead, it was an exchange between two clubs looking to switch up their internal mix in the midst of successful but championship-less competitive windows. And there are other teams looking to make changes without taking a step backwards at the big-league level.

Take the Toronto Blue Jays, for example. Having struggled badly following last year’s buildup, they’re in the market for a starting pitcher or two, a catcher and perhaps a second baseman. Yet during the winter meetings, the Los Angeles Dodgers discussed outfielder Matt Kemp with them, according to sources. The idea isn’t believed to have gained any traction at all—Kemp has six seasons remaining on his $160-million, eight-year deal, which is beyond the Blue Jays’ maximum of five-year commitments—but that it was raised at all indicates the kind of bold thinking GMs are engaging in right now.

Still, while many potential trades get talked about, very few end up happening. The risk inherent to such deals can paralyze many a general manager. Which is what makes the Fielder-Kinsler exchange all the more remarkable That it got done in the span of roughly a day tells you how much each team believed the move made sense for them.

The gold standard in such talent-for-talent trades remains the Dec. 5, 1990, blockbuster in which the Blue Jays acquired Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter from the San Diego Padres for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez, a deal that blew people away because of the calibre of players involved. Though it appeared balanced at the time, the Blue Jays came away clear winners as Alomar and Carter played integral roles in consecutive World Series championships, while the Padres twice finished third in the NL West with McGriff and Fernandez, before trading both for prospects that never amounted to much.

Similarly, final judgment of the Tigers-Rangers deal will take years, and the domino effect on both teams must also be taken into account. Colleague Ben Nicholson-Smith took an interesting look at some of the spin-offs in play.

Risks and all, making a trade may be the better route this winter for certain teams looking to shake things up, as they can move some money while addressing needs instead of adding payroll through free agency.

Speculation about which clubs may want to make changes this way includes the Dodgers (aside from Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford might be up for grabs); Cincinnati Reds (Brandon Phillips’s name is out there, but what about Homer Bailey or Johnny Cueto?); and St. Louis Cardinals (could they move one of their young starters for a shortstop?).

Similar thinking has led to Jose Bautista’s name circulating in trade rumours, but at this point, indications are the Blue Jays have little to no interest in moving him. Though some fans may be expecting Alex Anthopoulos to make another big strike like the one they saw last November, the GM may opt for a series of smaller deals.

With Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers, Dustin McGowan, Brad Lincoln, Luis Perez and Jeremy Jeffress all out of options, the Blue Jays have a surplus of relievers they’ll need to deal. Certainly Casey Janssen, who’s been a lights-out closer the past two seasons and is due a tidy $4 million in 2014, should be able to fetch a princely return, especially given the need for closers and where free agent relief prices are headed.

Catcher J.P. Arencibia may very well be moved as a complementary piece in a trade, and teams seeking an impact centre-fielder are sure to show some interest in Colby Rasmus.

But as the Rangers and Tigers showed, one phone call can change everything, and big trades can happen fast. Even if Fielder-Kinsler is the only blockbuster of the off-season, it’s one sure to be debated for years to come. And if it happens to set off a wild few weeks of wheeling and dealing, even better.

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