I, like many of you reading this, have been of the belief that the Red Sox should be looking for a second baseman ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline. They have gotten virtually no production from that position, and while Brock Holt has shown flashes this year and Eduardo Núñez is heating up at the plate, neither are guys you want playing every day in an ideal scenario. That’s not even mentioning that both are below-average with the glove at the keystone position, and for Núñez that’s probably being kind.
Despite all of that, it hasn’t seemed as if the Red Sox were all that interested in adding to the position. The only rumors had connected them to third basemen, and the front office appeared to be too optimistic about a possible return from Dustin Pedroia. Well, that was apparently all GM speak as Dave Dombrowski and company went out and got one of the best rentals on the market in Ian Kinsler, and they didn’t give up much to do. Now, thats not to say Ty Buttrey and William Jerez are nothing — they are good — but the Red Sox have plenty of relief depth on that level and they have guys like Travis Lakins and Durbin Feltman who can move up the ladder to take those spots in short order. The depth is even more encouraging if you, like me, assume they will add another reliever before Tuesday’s deadline.
As for Kinsler, well, he is frankly a perfect fit for this roster and an incredibly shrewd addition for Dombrowski. Most of the focus (from me, too) has been on Brian Dozier as far as the second base market goes, but I don’t know how much that was because of skill. I think it was more a product that he was more obviously available on an obvious seller whereas the Angels are kind of in the middle of the pack and have been relatively quiet in the rumor mill this month. Dozier also has more upside, at least with the bat in his hands. That being said, Kinsler is the better fit for this Red Sox team.
The biggest reason for this, and the biggest way in which Kinsler separates himself from Dozier, is defense. The second baseman has long been one of the very best defensive second basemen in the game, and while he’s on the back-end of his career he still flashes an outstanding glove at the position. Dozier, meanwhile, is fine there but he is below-average and not close to Kinsler’s level. When you consider what the Red Sox have gotten at the position this year — like I said above, Holt is below-average and Núñez is flat-out bad — the defensive upgrade alone makes this worth it. It’s also worth noting that this deal should allow Núñez to see the majority of his playing time at third base the rest of the year. He’s not great there either, but he’s infinitely better at the hot corner and at least passable there.
While the defense is the big selling point of this trade in this writer’s opinion, Kinsler is far from a zero on offense. At his peak he was a legitimate weapon at the plate — his career has been closer to Hall of Fame-level than he gets credit for — but these days he’s merely fine. The thing is, that’s also a huge upgrade over what Boston has gotten from second basemen this year. Through 91 games and 391 plate appearances, the veteran infielder is hitting .239/.304/.406. That’s not great, but consider that he’s playing in a pitcher’s park for the Angels. It’s because of this fact that his wRC+ (which is adjusted for park factors) is only slightly below-average at 97. For context, Red Sox second baseman have a mark of 85 on the year.
Getting more specific, Kinsler should fit in well with this lineup as a guy who will put the ball in play and make things happen. He’s ever been a big strikeout hitter, and this season he has only gone down by way of the K 10 percent of the time. He doesn’t pair that with a huge walk rate, but at 7.7 percent on the year and 8.4 percent for his career, he’s more than fine. All of this has generally made him a good on-base guy, though he’s suffered from low batting averages on balls in play the last couple of years. Kinsler also has more power than you generally expect from second basemen, though he’s past his prime in that regard too. This season he sports a .166 Isolated Power, though again he’s in a pitcher’s park. Don’t be surprised at all if that rises as he travels east.
It is also worth noting that, while Kinsler’s season-long numbers aren’t super impressive, he’s been getting better as the year has gone along. Here are his month-by-month wRC+’s: 66, 76, 102, 143. That’s exactly the type of trend you want to see, and the spark of joining a winning club should only help maintain that trend.
As far as how he fits into the lineup, Dombrowski has already said Kinsler will serve as an everyday option at second base. This is far from a surprise, but I’m very curious about how often he’ll play. They’ll still want to get Holt and Núñez (though, as I said about, I expect most of the latter’s time to be at third base), some time, so Kinsler could sit more than we expect. That being said, he should play against righties and lefties. The veteran has struggled against southpaws this year (43 wRC+) but that’s an aberration relative to his career (129 wRC+). I’d expect him to slot in as the number six hitter behind Xander Bogaerts and the day’s first baseman.
The final point with Kinsler I want to make is that he will not be overwhelmed by being part of a postseason race nor the postseason itself. He has been a part of this many times in his career with the Rangers and Tigers, and he has 161 plate appearances in the postseason. That includes two runs to the World Series. In that time, he’s hit .291/.400/.448. I don’t buy that we should be overly worried with other Red Sox players’ past postseason numbers, but it can’t hurt to have someone with that kind of success in October.
Before we go, I do want to take a quick look at how this affects the minor leagues. As I said, Buttrey and Jerez are good pitchers and while they are replaceable, there are ripple effects here. I would expect Lakins to be up to Pawtucket very soon, possibly even on Tuesday. What I’m really curious about is Feltman. He shouldn’t be in Greenville much longer, and I’d really be intrigued to see him get jumped immediately to Portland for the rest of the year. There’s also Brandon Phillips, who will presumably leave the organization after this deal. Kinsler clearly represents a major roadblock in his quest back to the majors, and I’d expect the Red Sox to allow him to leave even if he doesn’t have an opt-out coming up.
So, in the end, this is a great move. Kinsler is a massive upgrade on the defense alone, and his bat is going to be a huge help. Dave Dombrowski has made a habit of making low-key, shrewd moves in July. This isn’t exactly low-key, but it should have a massive impact on the rest of the year as well as the postseason.