For Rangers, Fielder blockbuster worth gamble

Slugger, at 29, can be impact bat as Texas seeks postseason return

November 20th, 2013

This has the potential to be a very good trade for the Texas Rangers. There's still work to be done on the roster, but this appears to be a nice step in the right direction. Are there risks? Absolutely.

For one thing, Prince Fielder just might have a monster 2014 season with his new team. Just wait and see. Yes, he's coming off probably the worst year of his career. Yes, Fielder has the kind of body that could age quickly.

That said, power is the hardest offensive commodity to acquire, and Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has given manager Ron Washington the chance to pencil one of the best power hitters in the game into his lineup 162 times next season. (Fielder has missed one game the last five years.)

Even in a tough 2013 season, Fielder had 36 doubles, 25 home runs, 73 walks and an .831 OPS. Just the move from Comerica Park to Rangers Ballpark should increase those numbers.

Given that the guy Fielder was acquired for, Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, was popular and productive, there's some risk on both sides, and that's the best kind of trade.

Don't be fooled by Fielder's laid-back personality. He's a gentle soul who sometimes gives the impression he doesn't care. Some of the people who know Fielder best will tell you otherwise, that he cares deeply, about both his team and his own performance.

It's reasonable to have doubts about the deal because Fielder's numbers during two seasons with the Tigers were down from his last five with the Brewers. For whatever reason, he never seemed as comfortable as he had been.

Still, at 29, Fielder is young enough to change the storyline. He's a .196 hitter in the postseason, but the Rangers will be thrilled to give him another shot.

There are very few perfect players, and they almost never get traded. The Rangers are hoping a change of scenery will do wonders for Fielder, and it's a gamble worth taking.

Fielder is going to love playing for Washington and is going to be motivated to jump-start his career. The Rangers pursued him in free agency two years ago, so there's some familiarity on both sides.

He's not a good defensive first baseman, but depending on what else the Rangers do, there'll be the option of using him as the designated hitter.

Does the addition of Fielder make up for Texas' loss of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli a year ago? Of course not, but it's a start.

Third baseman Adrian Beltre is going to benefit from Fielder's presence, and Daniels hopes to add another impact bat to the middle of his lineup. Catcher Brian McCann and outfielder Nelson Cruz seem to be at the top of his wish list, but both are hot commodities in free agency. If Daniels landed one of them, the Rangers suddenly would have a dramatically different look.

Two kid outfielders -- Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin -- were very good down the stretch. Both have the skill set of a Jacoby Ellsbury, and if the Rangers somehow add Fielder, Cruz and McCann, they might feel more comfortable putting Gentry and Martin in left field and center.

Perhaps the key to the deal is Jurickson Profar, Texas' 20-year-old former top prospect who will (likely) take over for Kinsler at second base. He hit .234 in 286 at-bats last season, but the Rangers are hoping that playing regularly in one spot will allow him to take off.

So the Rangers are a work in progress. Fielder is one brick in the wall, and because their pitching staff is so deep and so good, they might be good enough to make the playoffs without making another move.

But Daniels would like to add at least one more bat to support all that pitching. As he showed with the Fielder trade, he's willing to add to his payroll.

Ah, money.

Yes, it's important, too.

Texas apparently is taking on around $138 million of Fielder's contract over the next seven years. Meanwhile, they're sending Kinsler's remaining $62 million to Detroit.

So Daniels added around $76 million. Those who analyze the trade in terms of money will declare the Tigers the winner.

That's not how the Rangers will see it. If Fielder helps gets them back to the postseason, if they can play deep into October for the first time since 2011, the Rangers will have gotten what they hoped to get out of it.

They were bitterly disappointed at how the last two seasons ended. After back-to-back trips to the World Series, they lost the American League Wild Card Game in 2012 and failed to make the postseason in 2013.

Daniels has been upfront that his club has needs it can't fill internally. But he has a tremendous pitching staff, a deep farm system, a packed ballpark, a new television deal and ownership with deep pockets. This trade is about getting back to the postseason in 2014. Nothing else matters.

If Fielder's contract eventually becomes burdensome -- he'll be making $24 million a year through 2020 -- so be it. This trade is about now.