The Pittsburgh Pirates seem set at most spots in their everyday lineup, but that does not preclude them from upgrading where they can.
Though they seem set at most positions in their everyday lineup, the Pittsburgh Pirates will undoubtedly explore many angles in the hopes to improve their club. Enter the Detroit Tigers, who are looking to shed payroll and get younger. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Tigers will be open to offers on any player, even Justin Verlander or Miguel Cabrera.
To that end, a fine trade chip may be available in the form of second baseman Ian Kinsler. The Pirates could conceivably put together a nice package that would ship Harrison to the Tigers in exchange for the veteran.
A second baseman, Kinsler’s reputation as a solid, productive everyday player is well-deserved. The 11-year veteran has put together a season that most second baseman would be envious of.
|162 Game Avg.||162||726||647||112||179||37||22||83||22||61||89||.277||.344||.451||.795|
Kinsler puts up these kinds of numbers mainly through patient hitting. For his career, Kinsler strikes out at just a 14.1 percent rate. He hovers around a seven percent walk rate as well, showing a preference to put the ball in play when he can. When he does, he is not aided by BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in the slightest. His career rate in that regard is a paltry .289, and in his All-Star 2014 season, he was able to collect 92 RBI and score 100 runs despite a BABIP of .288.
The stats speak for themselves, but there are other reasons the Pittsburgh Pirates should seriously explore the idea of acquiring Kinsler. Here now are the cases for and against such a move.
The Case For Kinsler
We mentioned above how Kinsler’s offensive production speaks for itself, but when placed against incumbent Pittsburgh Pirates 2B Josh Harrison, the production that Kinsler provides becomes magnified.
Kinsler and Harrison are alike in that both have a low strikeout rate coupled with a low walk rate. That is where the comparisons likely end, as Kinsler is on another level offensively than Harrison. Harrison’s ceiling was on full display in 2014, when he nearly took the NL batting title with a .317 average. In that year, he hit 13 home runs and racked up 52 RBI.
Kinsler spent all but seven plate appearances in 2016 in the Tiger’s leadoff spot. The Pittsburgh Pirates seemed lost last year in trying to find a dependable leadoff hitter. Kinsler provides that, and can give this already-intriguing offense a serious injection of talent.
For his part, Harrison parlayed his carer year into an extension signed before the 2015 season began. At this point, just two seasons removed from his peak, it is entirely fair to wonder if the Pirates are getting fair value. Here now is a look at both Harrison’s and Kinsler’s contracts:
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*-denotes team option
As we can see here, Kinsler is locked up at a very affordable rate considering the production he provides. Despite his flaws, Harrison has some value at his 2017 salary, but in 2018 the contract becomes somewhat of an albatross. Kinsler’s, on the other hand, provides the Pittsburgh Pirates flexibility after the 2018 season. By that time, Adam Frazier may be able to take over everyday second baseman duties – should his defense pick up at that position – allowing the Pirates to enjoy the tail end of Kinsler’s prime without having to pay for past production.
From a strictly on the field lens, there is absolutely no reason that the Pirates would not upgrade with Kinsler over Harrison.
Of course, there are off-the-field factors as well.
The Case against Kinsler
Though Kinsler’s rate is attractive over the next two years, it would still represent nearly $5 million more in salary than what the Pittsburgh Pirates would be paying Harrison. With the Tigers looking to shed some payroll, it would not be likely that they would eat any of Kinsler’s contract.
Additionally, should the Pirates balk at the money owed to Kinsler in 2018, the $5 million buyout is prohibitive. The Pirates could get creative, asking the Tigers to cover the buyout should the club decide to utilize it, but that would be counter productive to acquiring Kinsler in the first place.
Would the Tigers do this deal just to save $5 million over the next two years? If not, the Pirates might be asked to pick up some of Harrison’s contract over the next two years, and that may be a deal breaker.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Kinsler’s offensive production speaks for itself[/perfectpullquote]
Many liken what the Tigers are trying to do to what the Yankees did in 2016. However, that is not a fair comparison. The Yankees were motivated in part by clearing room for prospects such as Gary Sanchez. The Tigers’ cupboards are a bit more barren than the Yankees’ were, and as such will likely require a prospect – likely an infielder – in the deal. The Pirates have done a masterful job of crafting waves of prospects to this point, and would have to come to an inflection point if the Tigers asked for a top 30-like prospect.
No one would expect the Pirates to trade Austin Meadows or Josh Bell for Kinsler, but the next tier of prospects has some names that might make the Tigers a little bit greedy. Kevin Newman seems to have all the tools that a major league shortstop would need. At the 2016 trade deadline, the Pirates were hesitant to include him in any potential deals, even for controllable starting pitching. It is safe to say that he would not be offered in any deal.
Thus, it could take a Cole Tucker, Will Craig or Ke’Bryan Hayes to make a deal happen. All would be hard to part with, each high round picks. Craig and Hayes play premium positions at third base, with Craig adding some first base eligibility. Tucker has been lapped by Newman, but his recent injury struggles may have tainted his trade value somewhat.
Lastly, it would be entirely fair to wonder why the Pirates would be pursuing offensive talent when the clear deficiency in 2016 was starting pitching.
The Detroit Tigers have an abundance of talent at the major league level. By getting word out that the team is looking to re-shape itself, Tigers brass may have swung open the barn door for teams to come calling. The Pittsburgh Pirates can’t get into a bidding war with other clubs, but they would be well advised to take a hard look at Kinsler. The deal would have to be an intricate one, but the thought of what Kinsler can do for this Pirates lineup might just be worth the asking price.
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