By NOAH TRISTER/AP Baseball Writer
DETROIT (AP) – There won’t be much talk about Ian Kinsler filling Prince Fielder’s shoes in Detroit.
Different players, different positions – and different expectations.
Still, Kinsler will be in the spotlight after he was traded to the Tigers from Texas in last week’s blockbuster that sent Fielder to the Rangers. Detroit parted ways with its slugging first baseman to bring in a well-rounded middle infielder and give the franchise more financial flexibility.
“It’s going to be a new journey for me, but as far as the organization that I got traded to, I’m extremely excited,” Kinsler said in a conference call Monday. “You can tell that they’re in a win-now mode.”
That’s for sure. Detroit has won three straight AL Central titles and an American League pennant in 2012. The Tigers could have brought back a similar roster and probably been favored for another division championship next year, but they shook things up by sending Fielder and his massive contract to the Rangers.
Fielder signed a $214 million, nine-year deal with Detroit before the 2012 season.
Kinsler, who makes plenty of money himself, won’t necessarily be asked to replace Fielder’s power, but the 31-year-old second baseman can provide a consistent bat and more speed than the Tigers have had in recent years.
Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter hit 1-2 for Detroit last season in front of AL MVP Miguel Cabrera. Jackson struggled in the postseason and was eventually dropped in the order.
“Miguel – he’s had everything in the world said about him,” Kinsler said. “I don’t know what I could say that no one else has said. If I have the opportunity to hit in front of him, I’m going to try to take advantage.”
Kinsler’s .344 on-base percentage from last season was higher than both Jackson’s (.337) and Hunter’s (.334) – and his 15 steals would have led the Tigers easily.
Kinsler, a 30-30 player in 2009 and 2011, would love to get back to that level of production. He was caught stealing a career-high 11 times last season, although he said that was at least in part because of some botched hit-and-run plays.
Detroit seems almost certain to make additional moves this offseason, especially now that the Tigers have saved significant money long term with the trade. Kinsler just finished the first season of a $75 million, five-year contract.
Kinsler is already looking forward to playing alongside young shortstop Jose Iglesias, whose smooth fielding turned him into a bit of a favorite among Tigers fans after he came over in a midseason trade from Boston this year.
“I’ve heard a lot of things about his defensive ability,” Kinsler said. “I saw him in the playoffs this year on TV, and defensively, he’s outstanding.”
Kinsler batted .277 with 13 homers this year. The three-time All-Star was limited to 136 games because of injuries to his ribs and right side.
By trading him, the Rangers resolved a logjam in the middle of their infield. Jurickson Profar, a highly touted 20-year-old prospect, appeared to be blocked by Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus. Now, Profar should have a chance to play regularly.
“There was definitely some expectation to be traded,” Kinsler said. “It’s very rare to have a player that stays with one team his whole career. … I knew this was definitely something that was possible this offseason.”
NOTES: Detroit also announced that Darnell Coles will be the team’s assistant hitting coach.
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