Yes, the immediate reaction is that this merely opens the door to play Jurickson Profar at second base; but I think Rangers CEO Ray Davis and general manager Jon Daniels have something even bigger in mind.
Here's what I mean. Trading Kinsler for Fielder by itself doesn't really make the Rangers all that much better; in fact, you can argue Kinsler, with his all-around game that includes defense and baserunning, is a better player than Fielder. Of course, Fielder isn't directly replacing Kinsler, but rather Mitch Moreland (or everyone the Rangers used at DH in 2013). Here are the Steamer WAR projections for 2014 published at FanGraphs:
Total: 4.6 WAR
Total: 5.1 WAR
So based on the projections (which predict Fielder to bounce back from his subpar 2013), the Rangers are making only a minor upgrade for 2014, while absorbing a large portion of Fielder's remaining contract in the process. Why do that?
Robinson Cano is widely considered the best free agent on the market this offseason.
Yes, Profar was the top prospect in baseball just a year ago and certainly has the potential to be a star -- maybe Daniels is banking on that happening in 2014.
More likely, this puts the Rangers in the bidding for Cano. The Rangers need and want power, having to replace Nelson Cruz, leaving as a free agent, and needing a general upgrade in that department as well. Fielder hit 25 home runs last year (30 in 2012) while Kinsler has averaged 16 the past two seasons. So that's an upgrade, but doesn't make up for the loss of Cruz.
Enter Cano. With Nolan Ryan ousted as CEO, Davis is eager to make a big splash. What bigger splash than trading for Fielder and signing the biggest free agent on the market? Meanwhile, that still leaves Daniels the option of trading Profar for a corner-outfield bat. How about making this deal: Profar for Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras? It's a perfect match with the Cardinals needing a shortstop; instead of spending money on injury-prone Stephen Drew, they could use that money to bring back Carlos Beltran and/or go after Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury.
For the Rangers, that would give them this potential lineup:
Can the Rangers afford all this? Absolutely. Their 2013 payroll was about $125 million. Before this trade, Baseball-Reference estimated the Rangers' 2014 payroll (with the current roster) at about $107 million. With each team gaining about $25 million in additional revenue in 2014 from national TV contracts -- plus the Rangers' own local cable deal that begins in 2015 and triples their annual payment to about $80 million per season -- the Rangers will be swimming in cash. They will increase their payroll.
Cano to the Rangers. I don't know if Cano will get the $300 million he and agent Jay-Z have reported asked for, but Ray Davis isn't going to balk at $200 million.