Peter Gammons: Ian Kinsler’s glove, Yankees rebuild, and the Gourriel brothers

Ian Kinsler

LAKELAND, Fla.—Then when the American League Gold Glove winners were announced, one of them wasn’t Ian Kinsler, it was Jose Altuve. It’s almost always been someone other than Kinsler.

In the prime of his career, it was Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano. “They earned and deserved everything they got,” says Kinsler. “They are great players.” But they also played major roles in the popular reality series “Red Sox-Yankees: The Rivalry,” on what seems like every third Sunday night. Kinsler was in Texas, where the Rangers were winning and making the World Series, but he was an afterthought.

The Rangers scouting and development brought them Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor and big promises, so when the opportunity came to bring Prince Fielder to Arlington, they felt it was all right to move Kinsler as he passed the age 30 floor. Prince has been terrific for the Rangers, on and off the field, but the trade may well have been the best thing that could have happened to Kinsler at this point in his career.

“He has really been a tremendous player for us,” says Brad Ausmus. “In my mind, he’s the best defensive second baseman in the league. He plays really hard. He plays every day (161 and 154 games in Detroit). He’s a really good baserunner.”

And he’s the guy who plays next to Miguel Cabrera. It always is, and should be, Miguel Cabrera.

When working on the Baseball Info Solutions’ Defensive Bible vote last September, I came across something I hadn’t studied carefully, my bad. Ian Kinsler was far and away the best defensive second baseman in the American League last season. He had 8.5 defensive runs saved; Dee Gordon had 8.6 with the Marlins, and no one in either league was close to them.

Kinsler’s UZR and range numbers were either the best in the league, or in one category slightly trailing Minnesota’s Brian Dozier. His double play pivot percentage and double play percentages were the best of any regular (Carlos Sanchez of the White Sox was also excellent). His defensive WAR of 6.0 was the best of any AL second baseman.

“When I got to 30, I made up my mind that I had to get very serious about conditioning, quickness, range, diet, everything that goes into defense,” says Kinsler. “I also find it’s really important to go out during batting practice and take balls live off the bat. Defense is now recognized as such an important part of the game, and there’s a great deal that goes into playing consistent defense.”

There is a sense around the Tigers that this is a reclamation season after 2015’s fall to 74-87 that led to the exit trades of David Price and Yoenis Cespedes and the exile of Dave Dombrowski to Boston. Cabrera seems healthy. Victor Martinez says his knee “is back to almost normal.” Justin Upton provides a huge bat in between Kinsler and Cabrera. J.D. Martinez is coming off a 38 home run season.

Early returns indicate that a slimmed, more experienced Nick Castellanos can move the needle, and they hope to keep Jose Iglesias on the field.

Al Avila and David Chadd not only signed Jordan Zimmermann, but they went out and provided Ausmus with bullpen depth, signing Francisco Rodriguez to close with Justin Wilson, Mark Lowe, Alex Wilson and maybe Bruce Rondon. The young arms Dombrowski acquired—Daniel Norris, Shane Greene (coming off a serious blood clot issue that left his fingers cold), Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd—may fit in. Mike Pelfrey was also signed to try to put it together at 32.

“The key is our pitching,” says Ausmus. They do not worry about Justin Verlander, who at mid-season began embracing the analytical information in his preparation that Ausmus provided him and had a 2.48 ERA with 63 hits allowed and 78 strikeouts in his last 12 starts and 78 innings.

With the help of a beefed-up analytics staff, Tiger pitchers and catchers will adopt a similar approach en masse, preparation akin to what Boston did with the collaboration of Brian Bannister, Carl Willis and Dana Levangie after the All Star Break. Now they need Anibal Sanchez to be healthy and throw closer to the 182 innings he averaged from 2010-2013, as opposed to the 124 and 157 he’s totaled the last two seasons.

The AL Central is very good, starting with the Royals, but then, as one AL GM said this week, “there may not be a bad team in the American League, anyone who wins fewer than 75 games.”

But the Tigers have the parts to be very dangerous, again. And Ian Kinsler, up at the front of the order and in the middle of the field, will be a critical mass in the club’s restoration. If it happens, Cabrera and the Martinez’s, Verlander and Zimmerman will be out front, with Kinsler in the credits roll, which he’s been used to for a long time, now.

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It is remarkable that the Yankees haven’t won fewer than 84 games in a full season since 1992, when Gene Michael and Buck Showalter were reconstructing the fall of the Eighties leading up to the near-decade run that began with the World Championship of 1996.

Now, in the last few years, Brian Cashman has been empowered to hold onto their best prospects, like Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo, Jacob Lindgren, et al as they rebuild a new structure without having to live for free agent Novembers.

“One of the reasons that we’ve been able to avoid a dramatic falloff and at least be competitive is how effective our analytics have been,” says Cashman. “We’ve been able to find players to fit in, like (Nathan) Eovaldi. “We have great scouts and development people, but there are a lot of factors that go into the totality of an organization.”

Money, and the ability to eat or absorb contracts, is an advantage for all big market teams like the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox. But Boston has gone over the cliff at times in addition to three World Championships in 11 years, finishing at the bottom three of the last four seasons.

Like the Red Sox, Tigers and Dodgers, no one around the Yankees can predict if their starting pitching will consistently get them to the seventh inning and the Aroldis Chapman/Andrew Miller/Dellin Betances troika. But the young middle infield of Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro and the health of Jacoby Ellsbury with that bullpen should assure that they win at least 84 games, which in the parity of the AL East should assure meaningful games after Labor Day.

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Iglesias hasn’t talked to his cousins Yulieski and Lourdes Gourriel, but says “I know they have left Cuba.” They may well be in the Dominican Republic awaiting clearance from MLB to be free agents, but Iglesias says “ know Yulieski will be a big help to someone. He’s a great player.”

Baseball America’s Ben Badler doesn’t think the brothers—Yulieski is 31, Lourdes 22—will be able to sign until the fall. But the consensus is that while Lourdes has ways to go with the bat, Yulieski should transition easily and play third base. “I hope to hear from them,” says Iglesias. “It will be exciting when they get here.”


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