DALLAS — The Texas Rangers went into the offseason with two priorities: Add a big left-handed power bat and unclog their middle infield logjam.
On Wednesday night, with the kind of swift and decisive move that seemed to elude them last offseason, the Rangers stood on threshold of accomplishing both.
And there is still a week to go before Thanksgiving.
The Rangers agreed to send second baseman Ian Kinsler to Detroit in exchange for Prince Fielder and $30 million in cash. The cash transfer must be approved by Commissioner Bud Selig. That and standard physicals are the only thing standing in the way of the deal being completed.
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels declined to comment on the deal Wednesday night. Kinsler, who was sharing family vacations in Hawaii with Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre, did not respond to text messages.
Fielder, who had the ability to block a trade to 20 of 30 teams, agreed to waive his no-trade clause in exchange for financial considerations from the Tigers. Kinsler has limited no-trade protection, but the Tigers were not among the teams to which he could block a trade.
The deal, at least in theory, solves the Rangers’ most pressing issues. Fielder, who had hit 25 or more homers in each of his eight full major league seasons, will hit fourth for the Rangers behind Adrian Beltre just as he did in Detroit behind Miguel Cabrera. Jurickson Profar, the club’s top prospect, will become the full-time second baseman. And the cash the Rangers are receiving will offset the difference in salaries between Kinsler ($16 million) and Fielder ($24 million) for 2014 and could also give the Rangers more money to spend on this winter’s free agent/trade market, if so needed.
Beyond 2014, the Rangers will be receiving more cash from their new TV deal to help make up the difference in salaries. Fielder is owed a total of $168 million over the next seven seasons as opposed to Kinsler, who is due $62 million over the next four years.
The deal gives the Rangers a base for the offseason, which is something they lacked last winter while trying to juggle multiple scenarios. They ended up with none of their primary targets and ended up scrambling to sign catcher A.J. Pierzynski and DH Lance Berkman.
Wednesday’s deal gives them a foundation upon which to further build this offseason, but does raise its own set of questions. Among them:
• Who’s on first? Fielder is a first baseman by trade, but is considered a defensive liability there. He ranked last in the majors in 2013 among 19 qualifying first baseman, according to a www.fangraphs.com defensive metric. Mitch Moreland ranked ninth. The Rangers could keep Moreland, play him at first most of the time and platoon him with a right-handed hitter to keep the defense strong. Spending most of the summer at DH might also work well for the 275-pound Fielder, who has been among baseball’s most durable players during his career. He’s played at least 157 games in all eight of his full major league seasons.
• Who’s next? The Rangers went into the offseason targeting catcher Brian McCann as a catcher/DH possibility. If the club opts to use Fielder primarily as a DH, it might make McCann less of a priority and put more emphasis on a corner outfielder such as Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury. Having acquired the left-handed bat they desperately needed, the Rangers might be able to consider a right-handed corner outfielder more seriously, which might put re-signing Nelson Cruz more squarely in their sights.
• Who hits leadoff? Another reason for Choo or Ellsbury to appeal even more to the Rangers is the potential hole at the leadoff spot. Both are accomplished leadoff men with high on-base percentages. Choo saw 4.23 pitches per plate appearance on the way to a .423 on-base percentage. Ellsbury had a .355 on-base percentage, but stole 52 bases in 2013 and has a 30-homer, 30-steal season on his resume.
The other option would be to put either Leonys Martin or Profar in the leadoff spot, but manager Ron Washington is reticent to put younger, inexperienced players into high-leverage roles.
There are certainly more dominoes that must fall for the Rangers this winter as they try to remake their team. On Wednesday, they got a big one to fall early, which makes it much easier to make others fall as the winter unfolds.