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Why Red Sox fans should care about Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler swap

11.21.13 at 8:08 am ET
By
Mike Napoli (AP)

Mike Napoli (AP)

Here’s the deal …

In the short term, Wednesday night’s trade between the the Rangers and Tigers might be a good thing for the Red Sox. Longer term, it might have presented some challenges.

The first thing to know about the Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler deal is that Mike Napoli‘s path to returning to the Red Sox seemingly just became clearer.

The Rangers were considered the Sox’ chief competitors for the first baseman’s services, having been finalists for Napoli last offseason — both before the three-year agreement, and then the subsequent one-year arrangement. This time around there also was a fit, with the Rangers needing a big bat and a first baseman. Now, with Prince Fielder, they got both.

The Rangers are still going to be looking for another big bat, and they seemingly have a spot open at designated hitter (where their .700 OPS at the position was in the second tier of the American League in 2013). Mitch Moreland — their first baseman from a year ago who hit 23 home runs, but with just a .232 batting average — is still around, but Texas might want to be looking for an upgrade. So Napoli could feasibly be a candidate to join his old team as a DH, especially if it wants to give Fielder some time off his feet.

But it still appears as though Brian McCann is the Rangers’ preference for their next big acquisition. If they do lock up McCann, he is a guy who could morph into that rotating first baseman/DH slot down in the final years of what would figure to be a four-to-five-year deal.

The Mariners have to still be considered a suitor for Napoli, having expressed interest in the slugger last offseason and seemingly on the hunt for some big bats. Right now Seattle has the underachieving Justin Smoak at first, and a question mark at DH. (Go to the depth chart on MLB.com and it literally posts a “?” at the designated hitter position.)

Still, with the Rangers’ first base spot having been readjusted, the chances of Napoli returning to the Red Sox undeniably improved Wednesday night.

So why was the Texas-Detroit deal potentially challenging for the Red Sox down the road? In a nutshell, because the chances of Max Scherzer coming off the market just got a bunch better.

Scherzer is scheduled to join Jon Lester as the top free agent pitchers after the ’14 season. But now that Detroit has freed up $76 million in the deal, it seemingly is in position to make a legitimate attempt at not allowing the ’13 American League Cy Young award winner to reach free agency. (Although Scherzer is a Scott Boras client and might prefer to wait for the free agency experience.)

If Scherzer signs, Lester stands alone. Assuming the lefty turns in a similar season as ’13, there won’t be a free agent starter close to what the Red Sox starter’s value will stand at.

The Red Sox haven’t started extension talks with Lester, but they figure to once spring training rolls around. Now, they might want to prioritize beating Detroit to the punch when it comes to locking up their ace.

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