Doug Fister’s Hidden Value To The Nationals

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has received ample praise for the recent deal that brought Doug Fister to D.C. from the Tigers. And for good reason: as Rizzo put it, the towering righty was "an undervalued asset." 

I already explored some of the strategic and philosophical approaches that the Nats' GM successfully employed in pulling off the deal, including the packaging of players whose perceived value has skyrocketed of late. With the benefit of reflection, however, the true extent of Fister's value to Washington appears even greater than at first glance.

Others have pointed out that a better infield defense (and the lack of a DH for the opposition) could benefit the groundball-inducing hurler's ability to prevent runs. But there are also several strategic mechanisms by which Fister brings enhanced value to D.C.

The first relates to the possibility of negotiating an extension with Fister. As I noted in my earlier piece, the two-year exclusive negotiating window now open for Washington is valuable in and of itself. Extensions are the only way to capture excess value from established, high-level big leaguers, and the rights to negotiating them are a nice asset. 

But that holds all the more so in this case, given the Nats' array of starting pitching. Washington already has one starter inked to a long-term contract in Gio Gonzalez. And the club has other relatively young arms — primarily, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann — that are plenty good enough to command their own new deals. But Strasburg is represented by Scott Boras, who (it hardly bears repeating) has tended to lead his premium clients onto the open market. And Zimmermann is now, like Fister, within two seasons of free agency, reducing his incentives to sign and driving up his price.

Fister's presence among D.C.'s slate of extension-worthy starters gives Rizzo options and leverage. If the club only plans to extend a certain number of its arms, then he can effectively compete his offers between his three top starters. If Rizzo has designs on extending all of those who are willing to talk, then he can legitimately point to limitations on the club's future payroll pool. And if some of the three are determined to test the market, he'll have better odds to lock up a reasonable deal with the remainder.

Even more importantly, perhaps, Fister becomes a replacement arm in the club's long-term plans if either Zimmermann or Strasburg suffer injury or performance decline. For a team that has designs on competing in the near term while setting itself up for a long run of success, a major injury at the wrong time could derail careful planning. (Indeed, I just discussed how the Tigers have navigated that kind of situation.) Now, Fister offers another potential long-term piece, which is especially important since both Strasburg and Zimmermann already have had Tommy John surgery.

Somewhat relatedly, Fister leaves the Nationals with immense flexibility for the 2015 offseason and beyond. In addition to Ross Detwiler, the Nationals have a host of other potential starters percolating through the system: Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan, Nate Karns, Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole, Jake Johansen, and Matt Purke. (Oh, and then there's top overall prospect Lucas Giolito, who is just 19 but could soon be knocking on the door.) By adding the last two years of Fister's arbitration eligibility, instead of a long-term contract with a free agent, Rizzo ensured that he will be able to promote cheaper options from within if they prove ready.

Indeed, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that good seasons from some of those just-mentioned arms could make Fister a trade candidate next year. It bears noting, of course, that one of the club's other top starters could instead be shopped. Asked about that possibility by FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Rizzo acknowledged that a trade was always possible if extension talks did not work out. (links to Twitter.) If that happens, given Rizzo's track record for value-based dealing, it would not be shocking to see him get back nearly as much in prospect value as he gave up to get Fister in the first place. 

Of course, even if Fister proves to be a two-year rental, he appears highly likely to warrant a qualifying offer that will net a draft pick if he (or, say, Zimmermann) walks. Any big league return on that pick would come well into the future, but it is no mean consideration.

In the end, of course, the best deals are those where a player can bring additional value to his new destination. That appears to be the case with Fister's switch to the Nationals, both on and off the field.

37 Responses to Doug Fister’s Hidden Value To The Nationals Leave a Reply

  1. Danny Phillips 2 years ago

    One of the best moves of the offseason. Good article!

  2. alphabet_soup5 2 years ago

    “including the packaging of players whose perceived value has skyrocketed of late.”

    As a Tigers fan, I haven’t heard anything about that but hope it is true.

    • David 2 years ago

      He just means this: Lombardozzi was a 19th round pick. Ian Krol was the PTBNL in a trade. Ray was a 9th round pick. Those guys generally have NO value. So obviously to package them into a deal for Fister, they’ve been developed to the point where, at least in the eyes of Dave Dombrowski, they have value. That’s a major win for Mike Rizzo and the Nats.

      • Mr Pike 2 years ago

        Fister was a 7th round pick, as was Krol. Your point is the only one that is spot on. The Nats should not get credit for fleecing the Tigers yet, as Tiger scouts feel they got a good deal. We’ll see soon enough.
        What the Nats are doing really well is developing players to the point where they have value beyond what would normally be expected.

  3. Jack Conness 2 years ago

    This was probably the best and most overlooked deal of the offseason. The Nationals are definitely big winners in this deal. Doug Fister is a very underrated starter in the Majors.

    • Clayton Wilson 2 years ago

      Definitely hasn’t been the most “overlooked”, but definitely the best. Still can’t quite comprehend why Dombrowski settled for that package.

    • NickinIthaca 2 years ago

      It’s amazing how underrated he is. A good k/9, great bb/9, and good groundball percentage. And he’s a gamer…

      • McGlovin 2 years ago

        And a career 2.03 era vs NL teams. Expect his K/9 to go up a tick considering the bottom third of most National League lineups aren’t very good plus the obvious P batting 9th. Definitely will be missed in Detroit.

  4. Natitude 2 years ago

    Well summarized.

    Of course, to “get back nearly as much in prospect value as he gave up to get Fister in the first place” shouldn’t be *too* tough….

    • McGlovin 2 years ago

      Now I know how Mariner fans felt when Dombrowski gave them a bunch of filth (Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, etc) to get Fister in 2011. Congrats to the Nats on this trade, still can’t believe DD got fleeced. He’s usually the one doing the fleecing.

  5. brownlar 2 years ago

    Even if Dombrowski thought Washington had the perfect pieces he wanted for the trade, i still think he could have got more value from the Nationals even if it was lower level prospects. let your scouting team earn there money and pick another guy from their system. I mean their is always a chance Rizzo would have said no but i just think Dombrowski could have got slightly more in terms of quantity.

    • David 2 years ago

      Well Dombrowski asked for Taylor Jordan and he was turned down.

      • brownlar 2 years ago

        i don’t pretend to know all the players in the Nats system but that name sounds familiar and thus i am thinking he is probably in the nats top 10 prospects.What i meant was a guy or two even outside their top 30 prospects. insert two random guys from their DSL prospects. like i said quantity over qualtity and hope your scouting department strikes gold with a big league player down the road.

      • johnnycomelately9 2 years ago

        He should have held out. That’s why he got fleeced. If he let this trade get rumored people would be like, “I don’t see why they won’t add Taylor Jordan” and they would.

    • Mr Pike 2 years ago

      Your not alone,but, the Tigers got the Nats 5th rated prospect, who is now our 3rd rated prospect. And he is a LH starter a year from the Bigs with Fister upside.
      The Nats had to give up their minor league player of the year for Krol’s replacement, who I wouldn’t trade for Krol.
      In addition, you got an experienced 25 year old replacement for Santiago with more skills for league minimum.
      This is the old football draft for value or draft for need debate. The Tigers have enough talent. They needed to fill some needs. Time will tell if they did.

  6. McGlovin 2 years ago

    All that talent in the minor league system of the Nats and DD got a utility guy, a lefty rp w a 4 era and a guy named Robbie Ray for a SP who is a top 30 SP in his prime, no past arm injury history and is controllable for another two years. Why Dave, why???

  7. Danny Phillips 2 years ago

    Get Desmond extended this offseason… Top 5 SS.

    • Natsfan89 2 years ago

      Some Rockies fan is bitter about Desmond beating out Tulo for the Silver Slugger this year. Only reason to explain that down vote.

  8. Very nice article and after a week of FA the trade looks like a rush job by DD and a steal by Rizzo. Fister isn’t without risks (diminishing velocity the past 2 years, 88-90 guy) so I am still confused why the Tigers gave him up, I have to think they’re worried about his arm in some way.

    The concept of depth in the rotation is usually matching up a #2 in a 3 slot, something like that (and why Tanaka is the most valuable asset on the market if he gets posted) but this is a new way to look at depth, internal leverage. Thanks for writing!

    • McGlovin 2 years ago

      I don’t think his fastball velocity is any concern (see link below). He’s regularly been 88-90 his entire major league career. Plus his game is based more on location and movement, which explains him being a top 30 SP with an avg velocity on his FB of 88-90.

      link to

      • That’s exactly where I looked. 2 MPH down from 2011. You’re right, he does pitch based on location and movement, but there has been a drop if you check the chart.

        • McGlovin 2 years ago

          On that site it notes a 1 mph difference from 2011 to 2013 unless I’m missing something?

          • Charted 2011 looks to be hugging and over 90 MPH. If F/G stated the exact # as 1 MPH they might have been rounding down.

      • johnnycomelately9 2 years ago

        I did trade Fister at the deadline in my fantasy league for a reason. I held him for 3 seasons but I packaged him with Gio to the eventual winner for Pujols in my keeper league.

  9. RussAurilla 2 years ago

    Great trade by the Nationals, and interesting article. However, the author assumes that Fister will continue to pitch at his current level for the next two years and beyond. Pitchers can stop being effective or become injured at any time, so they are not the fixed asset this article implies.

  10. McGlovin 2 years ago

    Can any Nats fan answer a question for me? Can/does Lombardozzi play SS at all? Because if not, the Tigers will have THREE utility guys on their 25 man roster…..Lombardozzi, Kelly and whomever can play SS besides McGlovin (aka Iglesias)….which will most likely be Hernan Perez or Danny Worth. You combine that w Rajai Davis and Holaday (backup C) and that has to be one of the worst collection of bench players in the AL.

    • Danny Phillips 2 years ago

      Lombo can field the position, but he doesn’t have much of an arm for it.. Basically we never put him there. He either played 2B, LF or on the rare occasion 3rd.

      He is best defensively at 2nd though

    • McTigers 2 years ago

      I expect Kelly won’t make the roster. They’ll have Davis, Lombo, Holaday and then either Worh or Perez as another infield backup.

      • McGlovin 2 years ago

        They resigned Kelly right before the Fister deal. Even without that trade it’s makes no sense to give a major league contract to a guy with his horrendous stat line and peripheral numbers.

        • McTigers 2 years ago

          They can release him sometime in spring training and only pay a fraction of his salary. They did it with Boesch last season. It’s a cheap way to have an mlb-ready guy on deck in case someone gets hurt or looks lost in spring training.

  11. Jeffy25 2 years ago

    How is this deal not anything but an obvious win for the nationals?

    Fister is a fantastic pitcher. I don’t think it was some unknown. I think rizzo got lucky that dd felt like he could move him and not miss him.

    Fister is a top 50 pitcher in the game, under team control at a good price….

    And the nationals got him for basically spare parts with some upside, but limited.

    • Jeffy25 2 years ago

      It’s also screwey that dd made this move.

      I get wanting smiles in the rotation. But going into st with 6 is a good problem to have. Injuries always happen. And what does the 2015 rotation look like now?

      Scherz might leave, couple that with one of Porcello, smiles, verlander, Sanchez declining or becoming an injury issue, and controllable fister has a lot of value to the organization.

      Fister was worth more than what the tigers received for him.

  12. FS54 2 years ago

    I think Rizzo would prefer extending his own guys first because they are younger than fister. Fister’s FA years start with age 32 while JZ will be 30 and SS will be 28. anyways, they have this nice two year window to go all in.

  13. McTigers 2 years ago

    IF all of these guys wind up contributing, then I wouldn’t call it a fleecing for DD, but everything has to go right for this to make any sense, or the Tigers have to know something about Fister we don’t. He’s been unbelievably good and consistent the last few years. Taking that line drive off the head to go 7 shutout inning in the WS speaks to the kind of guy he is. He works fast, shuts down the running game, and is an excellent defender, in addition to being one of the most efficient pitchers in baseball the last few seasons. I get why the deal was done, but this is definitely a steal for the Nats pretty much any way you slice it.

    • Mr Pike 2 years ago

      Just remember you got 16 years of team control of good young talent for a two year Fister rental. I thought we fleeced the Braves when we got one year of Doyle Alexander for an obscure young prospect called John Smoltz. Sometimes you have to trust the scouts and Tiger scouts deserve some patience. They delivered Fister, Sanchez, Rodney, Benoit and Scherzer from other organizations.

  14. burrwick 2 years ago

    Another article to make Tiger fans feel bad about this puzzling deal. No matter what angle this trade is looked at, from a Tigers perspective it, it’s a dud. Could the two pitchers Dumbrowski received become valuable long term assets? Sure, and Rush could turn into a flaming liberal tomorrow I suppose. Point being, there hasn’t been ONE person who has evaluated this trade as even a push because the players received by the Tigers are of such dubious uncertainty. What I find interesting are some of the comments from Rizzo that seem almost of a gloating nature. DD wanted other pitchers and Rizzo obviously steered him right where he wanted him to go. DD looking very taken on this one and if it does work out he should consider himself lucky. I suspect he won’t be dealing with Rizzo again anytime soon.

Leave a Reply