Offseason news that the Texas Rangers had traded Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder surprised most fans in Texas, especially, alas, a certain 7 year old in my house.
Driving to school that next day, I delivered the bad news that seemed to have unfairly unfolded while he slept: his favorite player was now a Detroit Tiger.
“Why!?” was all he could muster.
Man, fathers hate trying to explain stuff like this. Last summer I fumbled with the words “Nelson Cruz,” “performance enhancing drugs” and “50 game suspensions.” It gave me an awful feeling to even have to try. What has happened to the game, I wondered. (Then again, I realized, perhaps the game always had its troubles but, like lots of fans growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I was just oblivious to them.)
In fact, I’ve discovered that when it comes to trying to explain various angles of professional sports to my son I much prefer a classic like, “Why is the sky blue?” or even a Minecraft quandary:
“Dad, what’s better? Meat or arrows?”
“Well, what kind of meat? I mean, are we talking about brisket here or…?”
“What? No! I don’t know!”
“In that case, I’d say arrows are definitely better. The way I see it, if you get yourself some arrows you can get all the meat you want.”
As far as Kinsler for Fielder, I had not yet had the chance to study the trade. I understood, though, my son’s question dripping with disappointment and betrayal. When you are 7 years old, thankfully, baseball isn’t about the numbers, it’s about the friendly second baseman who miraculously, threw not one, but two baseballs up over the dugout to you. It’s about the funny TV commercials and the Ian Kinsler Reading Club that provided a rare summer break from video games and Disney shows (thank you, Ian). It’s about baseball fate having given you the same little league number (5) as the guy who leads off most of the games.
But even without any statistical help I knew about the challenge the Rangers organization faced with the number four, as in four outstanding infielders for only three spots: Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar. Unfortunately, it seemed, none of them would be moved to first base and something – or someone – had to give.
Then, reluctantly, I looked on MLB.com at both players’ statistics over a five-year span. I couldn’t help but conclude that Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels had made a good move. At some level, of course, Kinsler and Fielder are apples and oranges (and not meat or arrows): the second baseman led off many games or batted second, while Fielder, for the past two years, batted in the heart of the order right after Miguel Cabrera, the modern-day equivalent of Hank Aaron. They have generally filled different roles on a ball club.
Over the last five years, though, Fielder has had more hits (an average of 170.8 per season) than Kinsler every year. (Although injuries limited Kinsler to just 391 ABs in 2010). Fielder’s power is undeniable – he has averaged over 34 home runs over that span). Kinsler hit 32 in 2011, but hit just 19 in 2012 and just 13 in 2013.
In fact, Fielder appears to be statistically superior to Kinsler in nearly every offensive category – except, of course, in the one that most would predict: Fielder stole two bases in 2009 and has been a model of consistency in that regard over the last four years, stealing exactly one base per year. To me, the Rangers have plenty of speed to replace Kinsler’s and defensively there is little doubt that Profar will excel if given a full-time chance.
My son and I watched on MLB.com as Fielder donned his new jersey last November – he took the number 84 in honor of the year of his birth. We listened as Fielder, flanked by Daniels and Rangers manager Ron Washington, patiently answered all the usual questions as if Crash Davis of the Durham Bulls had prepped him with the usual clichés. He even downplayed a logical concern about how he would deal with the blazing summer.
“I’ll be alright,” the portly Prince said with a grin, “It’s gonna be hot, so there’s nothing really you can do about it – just be hot with it.”
I can understand why the Rangers made the deal and told my son as much. As we watched, though, he sat on my lap and shook his head in continued disbelief. Yet, he perked up and laughed and when the camera panned out and Fielder’s two young sons, also wearing number 84 jerseys, posed for the press. They looked as if they were just a little bit older than my son and, as one would imagine, mighty proud of their papa.
In time, I know that he and thousands of other Rangers fans will get over Kinsler’s departure. It will sure help, though, if Prince throws a ball up to him before we scurry up to our cheap seats. And hopefully we will be there for many majestic home runs – and that one annual stolen base.