By: Will Burchfield
Ian Kinsler is driven first and foremost by winning, and this year’s Tigers have done a lot of losing.
They are 62-90 with 10 meaningless games to play. They’ve been below .500 since early June. They’ve been out of the hunt since July.
For a team with playoff aspirations back in March, the last six months have been a disaster.
The losing cast a pall over a prideful group of players, none more so than Kinsler. He told MLB.com’s Jon Morosi earlier this week that his “focus drifted” amid the team’s dour results.
Coincidentally or not, Kinsler has had the worst season of his 12-year career. The four-time All-Star is hitting .236 with a .724 OPS, both career lows.
His superb defense and solid — if sometimes careless — base-running still made him an asset for the Tigers, but one has to wonder how much his drifting focus affected him at the plate.
Brad Ausmus stood behind Kinsler when told of his remarks on Wednesday.
“First of all, Kins plays every day. If he says (his focus) drifted due to losing I understand it, but he goes out there and posts every day,” Ausmus said. “I think, more than anything, Kins wants to win. For a manager, that’s the only stat you care about. For players there’s a lot of other things that are involved — it’s their career, they’re trying to make money for the family, they want to win — but Kins is truly a guy who winning is the priority.
“He’s played a long time, he’s made plenty of money, he’s been an All-Star a number of times and, especially at this point in his career, he just wants to win. So I completely understand where he’s coming from.”
Kinsler’s disappointing 2017 is all the more surprising given how terrific he was last year — 28 homers, 83 RBI and a 4.8 offensive-WAR. Some regression was likely in order, but not to such a stark degree. His offensive-WAR has dipped to 1.5 in 2017.
“Players have down years,” said Ausmus. “I think the one big aberration is he’s got 20 homers and 19 of them are solo home runs. That, to me, is a huge aberration. It’s freakish, really, and I think that affects his RBIs quite a bit.”
On the first day of this month, Kinsler said his goal for the rest of the season was to finish strong.
“I’m obviously not having a great year, and I think this last month I want to prove to myself that I can continue to play baseball at a high level. I know I can, but I would like to see something happen,” he said.
He’s done that to an extent, knocking six home runs and showing some of the extra-base pop he lacked for much of the year.
“Yeah, I think I’ve played better,” Kinsler said on Wednesday. “I didn’t want to prove to myself I could still hit, I just wanted to see results. I’m seeing better results as of late. Could it always get better? Absolutely. But there’s not that many games left and I’d like to continue to play well. I know I have a lot of baseball left in me, a lot of baseball to give.”
Kinsler, who made $11 million this season, is likely in his final days as a Tiger. The team figures to pick up his $10 million option and then trade him this winter. Kinsler told Morosi he plans to meet with general manager Al Avila soon to discuss his future in Detroit, but it’s clear the 35-year-old no longer fits in the Tigers’ plans.
“I want to know what he knows,” Kinsler said of Avila. “I want to know what his thoughts are for me as part of this organization. That’s really it. I don’t really need to know anything else, it’s not really my business to know anything else.”
Kinsler suggested he’ll waive his limited no-trade clause if he gets the sense from Avila that the Tigers aren’t going to contend next year. They aren’t, of course. Avila has already spelled that out.
Where Kinsler lands next remains to be seen. But it’s safe to say he’ll be remembered by his teammates and coaches in Detroit as a first-rate ballplayer.
“I think it’s just been a season where he really didn’t hit his streak until recently. I never had any doubts that he could hit. That’s why I kept putting him out there,” said Ausmus. “Sometimes players want to prove something to themselves, but I’ve never doubted Ian Kinsler. If I doubted him I wouldn’t have been sticking him in the leadoff spot every day.”