MLB Grade: B+
Players Considered: Ian Kinsler
For all the criticism of Ian Kinsler over the last couple of years, he has been a tremendous asset to the Tigers, and remains one of the best all-around second baseman in the game today. That said, decline is likely in his near future, though that decline may be mitigated by a broad skill set that plays at the plate, in the field, and on the bases. If Kinsler can defy the inevitable decline that comes with age, the Tigers will be in an excellent position over the next few years, owning a quality player on a below-market contract.
MLB-ready Depth Grade: D
Players Considered: JaCoby Jones
With the departure of Devon Travis – despite my modest projections for him – last off-season in exchange for Anthony Gose, the Tigers have precious little at the upper levels if Kinsler does falter. Without the trade deadline acquisition of Jones, this section would look completely barren; that said, Jones’ inclusion here is a bit credulous as he’s not a second baseman and given his actions at shortstop, he may not be able to play the position defensively every day. Without Jones, the Tigers will be forced to rely on someone like Andrew Romine, Josh Wilson, or another middling utility player should Kinsler suffer injury or decreased performance.
Pipeline Grade: C
Players Considered: Javier Betancourt, Harold Castro, Junnell Ledezma, Pat MacKenzie, Brett Pirtle, Aaron Sayers
Even factoring JaCoby Jones into this mix, the grade is unlikely to change much. Betancourt is still at least a year, maybe two away from the big leagues, which could coincide nicely with Kinsler’s current contract. Castro, MacKenzie, and Pirtle represent a trio of organizational players, none of which should see time in the big leagues at any point. Junnell Ledezma and Aaron Sayers are intriguing players for a variety of reasons, but neither has the pedigree to suggest they are budding big league regulars; compounded by the fact that they are several years from the upper minor leagues, let alone the big leagues. All told, the Tigers have almost nothing of substance at second base in the pipeline. Their best bet, Javier Betancourt, projects as more of a second division player than a true Ian Kinsler replacement, meaning the Tigers will be searching for their long-term solution at the position.
Short-Term Risk: Moderate
Long-Term Risk: High
Though Kinsler carries inherent risk because of his age and potential for decline, the Tigers are in good shape over the short term. Kinsler offers a blend of skills that will keep him relevant and in productive over the next two to three seasons, meaning the Tigers have time to sort out a solution for the long-term.
The Path Forward
For all the talk among fans of flipping Kinsler to create payroll flexibility, that concept is completely farfetched in my view. Kinsler has a below-market contract going forward, is still producing at a high level, and he helps solidify the middle of the infield and top of the order. The Tigers are going to have enough turmoil on the roster over the next six months, adding Kinsler to that is just foolish. In reality, Kinsler will finish out his contract in Detroit, at which point the Tigers have to hope one of their prospects like JaCoby Jones or Javier Betancourt takes an unexpected developmental step forward, or they go out and find the heir apparent via other mechanisms.