By Ashley Dunkak
Former Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland never shied away from describing the 2013 Tigers as a boom-or-bust team. His successor Brad Ausmus will inherit a team that will have an entirely different look, and Leyland believes the Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade sets the stage well for another solid season.
“I really think it’s a win-win situation for everybody, I really do,” Leyland said on the MLB Network the morning after the late-night Wednesday trade. “It changes the Tigers’ look a little bit, it gives Texas the big power guy in a hitter-friendly park. I think Prince will do terrific over there, I think Kinsler will be a real good player for the Tigers and I think it probably gives the Tigers some flexibility to fool around with the DH, first base, and probably maybe the money situation later on for maybe a contract for whoever. So I think it’s a win-win situation for everybody.”
Just as Leyland expects the Ballpark at Arlington to help Fielder, with a jet stream that will help boost his opposite field power, he expects Comerica Park will benefit Kinsler.
“A lot of people say, ‘Well he won’t hit the home runs, maybe, that he hit in Texas,’ and I agree with that, but that ball park in Detroit is very conducive to hitting double and triples, and this guy can run, so I would expect him to hit some triples, doubles,” Leyland said. “He’s going to be an excellent player for the Detroit Tigers. He’s a hard-nosed, tough player. I’ve always really had the utmost respect for him. I think it’s a good choice for the Tigers.”
Kinsler will play second base, a position that was vacant for Detroit after Omar Infante became a free agent. With Fielder gone, first base is open. In Detroit, first was the original position for superstar Miguel Cabrera, who moved to third in 2012 to make room for Fielder at first. He could return to that old spot, but Leyland is not so certain.
“I think that’s real premature,” Leyland said. “I’m not really sure about that. I think everybody’s talking about that, I know that’s the natural thought right away, but I’m not really sure about that.”
For one, Leyland liked having Cabrera play third.
“He’s a good third baseman,” Leyland said.”There’s no question. That one little ball, that little slow chopper once in a while, but this guy’s got great hands, he’s got a great arm, and he loves to play third base. I think that this is something that people are going to talk about, you can think about it, but I loved Miguel Cabrera at third base.”
If Cabrera does stay at third, the Tigers could use Victor Martinez at first. Last year he primarily served as the designated hitter, but Martinez spent many years as a catcher and several at first base as well.
“Victor’s a good first baseman,” Leyland said. “As it turns out, it’s going to give you some flexibility with your DH. You can put a platoon guy in that DH role once in a while, you can rest Miggy once in a while more now.”
Though retired as manager, Leyland still has a role with the team, and general manager Dave Dombrowski called Leyland Wednesday and mentioned the possibility of trading Fielder.
“I did get a call from Dave yesterday, but this happened so fast,” Leyland said. “Dave’s very good at the fast ones. He’s unbelievable. The Cabrera thing was just under the radar, and this certainly was under the radar. I knew nothing about it. He called me yesterday, just briefly discussed it, but that was basically it. It happened so fast. I was sitting with my son last night and all of a sudden he said, ‘The Tigers traded Prince Fielder.’ I knew there was some talk, and Dave mentioned it a little bit, but certainly he’s the guy that does these trades.”
As highly as Leyland spoke of Kinsler, he said he thought the negative response to Fielder and his postseason performance was unwarranted. In the midst of baseball season, Fielder was also going through a divorce. Leyland said he did not talk to him about any marital issues but said Fielder did his job as a ball player.
“I don’t get in anybody’s personal business unless they make me part of it,” Leyland said. “Prince and I never really discussed anything like that. What I saw about him was he still knocked in a hundred runs.
“The one thing you got to remember here – we got Prince Fielder, let’s face it, to provide offense, and he did a pretty good job at that,” Leyland added. “People are focusing too much on the playoffs. I think that’s unfair. Prince Fielder knocked in over 100 runs both years we had him. We did go to the World Series, and we did win the Central Division this year, so I think it’s wrong to downplay the fact that he helped the Detroit Tigers. I don’t think there’s any question about that. Prince Fielder’s an offensive guy, and I think he’ll do very well there.”
Of course, Leyland expects the Tigers will fare well too.
“Remember, you’re talking about Dave Dombrowski here,” Leyland cautioned. “I would doubt very much whether the Tigers are done manuevering yet this winter, so I think the Tigers are going to be very, very good in 2014, and I think the manager’s going to do great.”