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Doug Fister Rumors
Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga penned a lengthy but must-read column on the dysfunction that has arisen within the Nationals’ clubhouse, including a heated incident between Jayson Werth and manager Matt Williams. As the Post’s James Wagner wrote last night, Williams briefly commented on the column prior to his team’s game, though he offered little beyond the fact that perhaps the whole story wasn’t told. “I think you have to have all the facts. I mean, all of them,” the manager said. “That being said, I’ll hold my comments for now because all of the facts aren’t out there. It doesn’t feel good to have all of these words said. But, it is what it is and we move on from today. I would say that we have a few games to play and we need to play. That’s what I’m concentrating on now, and we’ll deal with it at the appropriate time.”
A few more late-season notes on what looks like a soon-to-be-changing Nationals roster…
- Jordan Zimmermann has most likely made his final start with the Nationals, writes Wagner in a second column. Zimmermann himself acknowledged the strange reality that he may be with a new team next year, admitting that it weighed on his mind a bit in the days leading up to last night’s start. Zimmermann noted that any team will “have a shot” in free agency and it remains to be seen if the Nats will come calling. He sounded like a man not expecting to return, however, telling Wagner, “I made some great friends along the way. I’m going to miss these guys.” Teammates Wilson Ramos, Gio Gonzalez and Ian Desmond all offered the utmost praise for Zimmermann, with Ramos saying, “It’s pretty hard. I want that guy on this team,” and Gonzalez referring to his longtime rotation-made as a “…bulldog, a workhorse, a top-of-the-rotation son of a gun.”
- Doug Fister will also probably be with a new team in 2016, as the Post’s Chelsea Janes writes. Though he struggled in 2015 and was eventually demoted to the bullpen, Fister doesn’t feel that the move to the bullpen is permanent. “I still think I have a starting role somewhere, whether it’s here or somewhere else,” he explains to Janes. The two sides discussed a contract extension at one point in the past, per Janes, but even a qualifying offer now may seem too risky a proposition for the Nats. Fister says he feels no regret over not signing a multi-year deal previously and hasn’t given much thought to free agency just yet, with the exception of the fact that he’d like to sign somewhere that will give him an opportunity to return to the rotation.
- Matt den Dekker has reworked his mechanics at the plate, writes MLB.com’s Bill Ladson, leading to greater success in his latest recall from Triple-A and perhaps helping him factor into the team’s 2016 plans. According to den Dekker, he’s added a leg kick which helps his timing and pitch recognition. Williams praised den Dekker’s ability to play all three outfield positions and the power he’s shown in 2015. As the manager notes, the Nats’ lineup is very right-handed, so den Dekker’s left-handed bat could be of use going forward.
The Blue Jays are a long way from focusing on offseason plans just yet, though the club “will make a play for” free agent righty Doug Fister this winter, Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair reports. This wouldn’t be the first time that GM Alex Anthopoulos has shown interest in Fister, as the Jays explored a deal when Fister was still with the Tigers in the 2013-14 offseason prior to Fister’s eventual trade to Washington.
Of course, Fister’s stock was much higher two winters ago, as the right-hander is hitting the open market on the heels of his worst season in five years. Fister posted a 4.19 ERA, 2.63 K/BB rate and 5.5 K/9 over 103 innings for the Nationals, losing his starting rotation spot in the process. (Fister’s overall stat line was boosted by his stint in the bullpen, as he had a 2.12 ERA over 17 relief innings as opposed to a 4.60 ERA as a starter.)
It’s possible health could have played a role in Fister’s problems, as he spent a month on the DL with forearm tightness. Both before and after his injury, however, there were signs of struggle. Fister’s walk rate (2.10) and homer rate (12%) jumped to their highest levels since 2009, while his ground ball rate dropped to 44.6%, his lowest such number also since 2009. This was a notable decline for a pitcher who relies on grounders to offset his lack of strikeouts, and the Nats’ overall shaky infield defense also didn’t help in this regard.
Mark Buehrle is expected to retire and both David Price and Marco Estrada could leave in free agency, so the Jays could have multiple rotation openings behind Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey (whose club option is likely to be exercised) and Drew Hutchison, and Hutchison’s own spot is far from secure given his rough season. If Fister can get back to his 2011-14 form, the 31-year-old’s ground-ball tendencies would be a good fit at the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre, particularly with a better defensive infield backing him up.
A few notes on the Nationals after the team has just suffered a sweep at the hands of the Orioles…
- Danny Espinosa has a slight tear in his hamstring and will require four weeks to recover from the injury, Nationals manager Matt Williams told reporters, including CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman (Twitter link). As such, his 2015 season is over. Despite the disappointing results of his team, Espinosa can call it a year knowing that he did quite a bit to restore his stock as a valuable Major Leaguer in what was an excellent rebound campaign. Espinosa’s production at the plate — a .240/.311/.409 batting line — wasn’t stellar, but it came in just a bit below league average, which, when paired with his excellent glovework at second base, made him worth about two wins above replacement. It’s a dramatic turnaround from the combined .200/.255/.326 that he batted from 2013-14 and should be enough that the Nationals wouldn’t even consider non-tendering him — a concept that would’ve seemed plausible entering the season.
- General manager/president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo wouldn’t commit to retaining Williams when asked during a radio appearance on the Grant & Danny Show on 106.7 The Fan. As The Fan’s Chris Lingebach writes, Williams instead said that all evaluations will take place after the season. “We’re certainly going to evaluate this season when it’s over, and we’ll do everything we have to do to make the season in 2016 better than the season in 2015,” said Rizzo. Lingebach also offers additional quotes from Rizzo, stating that the organization will be evaluated “from general manager’s office all the way down to the 40-man roster.”
- Doug Fister sat down with MLB.com’s Bill Ladson to discuss his move to the bullpen and his upcoming free agency. Fister explained that while he was disappointed with the relatively short leash he was given in the rotation, he took the move to the bullpen with a positive attitude and is happy to have proved to himself that he can be a successful bullpen piece if ever needed. However, Fister said that his goal is to return to a rotation eventually, whether it’s with the Nationals or another team. Fister has a 2.25 ERA with a 15-to-5 K/BB ratio in 16 innings out of the bullpen.
The Giants, Yankees and Cubs — three potential Chase Utley suitors — all had scouts in attendance at last night’s Phillies game, reports CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury. According to Salisbury, that’s the fourth straight game in which the Giants have kept tabs on Utley, who was in the game at first base as a possible means of showcasing him to trade partners. He also lists the Dodgers as a potential trade partner in the wake of Howie Kendrick‘s injury, although L.A. has called up top prospect Jose Peraza for the time being. Salisbury also notes that Utley has been hitting leadoff since returning to the lineup, possibly as a means to maximize his plate appearances in front of interested scouts.
Here’s more from the NL East…
- The Miami Herald’s Greg Cote urges the Marlins to end the Dan Jennings experiment in the dugout and allow the former GM to return to the front office role for which he is better suited. Cote opines that if the goal is to bring in an experienced manager to command respect in the clubhouse and signal a commitment to winning — as others have written — then the Marlins should act now rather than wait until the offseason, when other teams are offering competition for such types. If the Marlins are to hire someone like Ron Gardenhire or Bud Black, doing so now would allow the new manager time to assess his team and what he feels is needed this winter while also affording Jennings more time to prepare for the offseason alongside president of baseball ops Michael Hill.
- The Mets opted to keep Michael Conforto on the 25-man roster upon Michael Cuddyer‘s return from the DL (Eric Campbell was instead optioned to Triple-A), and as ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin writes, GM Sandy Alderson foreshadowed that decision to some extent in stressing the team’s current win-at-all-costs mentality. “Our mindset is we want the best 25 players we can put on the field,” said Alderson prior to the official announcement of the Conforto/Campbell decision. “Issues of development, etc., are secondary to whether anybody can help us now. That’s all relative based on who’s doing what and comparisons among players.”
- GammonsDaily.com’s David Golebiewski breaks down the reasons for Doug Fister‘s ill-timed and rapid decline. As Golebiweski notes, Fister’s gone from one of the game’s most underrated starting pitchers to a long reliever in short order and isn’t likely to receive another chance to start this season unless the Nationals incur an injury in the rotation. The timing couldn’t be worse, of course, as he’s now a few short months from free agency. Fister’s robust ground-ball rate has fallen below the league average, he’s throwing significantly slower and getting crushed up in the zone as a result of it, and his command of his secondary pitches has deteriorated, Golebiewski points out.
The Nationals have shifted veteran righty Doug Fister to the bullpen, manager Matt Williams told reporters after today’s game, Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com among them (on Twitter). Impressive rookie Joe Ross will take his regular spot in the rotation.
The move is surprising to see, in some respects, but makes sense as the evidence on both pitchers has continued to accumulate. Fister has dealt with injuries, lost velocity, and a continued decline in his ability to generate strikeouts.
All told, he owns a 4.60 ERA over 86 innings, with 5.0 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9 with an uncharacteristically low 42.0% groundball rate. Those are his worst results as a big leaguer, and ERA estimators suggest that his earned run average reflects his performance this season.
On the other side of the ledger, Ross — who came over with Trea Turner in the deal that sent Steven Souza to the Rays and Wil Myers to the Padres — has been excellent since making the jump to the big leagues. After today’s strong outing, he sits at a 2.80 earned run mark over 45 frames, with an outstanding 47:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Ross now seems to have the inside track on a rotation spot for next year’s club.
Beyond the impact on the postseason race, Fister’s demotion carries important implications for his upcoming free agent case. For one thing, the 31-year-old no longer seems at all likely to receive a qualifying offer from the Nationals. Not unlike Justin Masterson last year, Fister entered the season primed to be an important second-tier arm on next year’s market, but now looks like a candidate for a short-term deal with a club that is willing to take a gamble on a return to form.
The Phillies announced today that a “mild” strain of his right hamstring will prevent Cole Hamels from making his scheduled start tomorrow. Right-hander Phillippe Aumont will be promoted from Triple-A to take Hamels’ place, which will necessitate a 40-man and 25-man roster move, per the team. That’s interesting in its own right, as the DFA of Dustin McGowan today should have opened a 40-man spot for Aumont, though perhaps the team has a different player in mind for that spot. (GM Ruben Amaro stated specifically yesterday that Aaron Nola would not join the team this weekend, ruling him out.) On a larger scale, any injury to Hamels is extra noteworthy as the trade deadline approaches. The Philadelphia ace will be among the most coveted trade chips on the market this July, if healthy. The ailment seems relatively minor at this time, but his health will be a situation to monitor in the coming days, as anything more serious could have serious ramifications.
Here’s more from the NL East…
- If the Phillies are serious about adding Andy MacPhail as their new club president, the team needs to make the hire sooner rather than later, opines Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Brookover notes that acting president Pat Gillick was unavailable for comment yesterday when he tried to reach him and calls it “reasonable to believe” that Gillick was in the process of negotiating with MacPhail at the time. Brookover points out that both assistant GM Scott Proefrock and director of player development Joe Jordan worked for MacPhail in Baltimore, so he does have some connections within the current front office. An expedited hiring process would maximize the amount of time for MacPhail or any other new president to evaluate the organization, top to bottom.
- Though a great deal of focus has been directed at the Mets‘ need to add another bat to the lineup, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes that the need to acquire a reliable setup man is perhaps just as important. Injuries to Vic Black and Rafael Montero have thinned out the team’s options, and Bobby Parnell‘s velocity is nowhere near its previous heights. Recent discussions about possibly moving Noah Syndergaard to the bullpen for 2015 ended with the conclusion that the promising rookie should remain in the rotation. Jenrry Mejia will soon return from his 80-game suspension, though even he is an imperfect option, because he’ll be ineligible for the postseason, should the Mets make it there. Martino notes that GM Sandy Alderson has been reluctant to trade for short-term upgrades in the past but wonders if the win-now nature of the current club makes someone like Tyler Clippard more realistic than he would have been in previous years.
- Doug Fister will return to the Nationals‘ rotation today, writes Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. While a healthy Fister should be a boon for the club, his return creates some questions in the rotation. Both Tanner Roark and Joe Ross have been in the rotation while Fister and Stephen Strasburg have been shelved, and it’s unclear which will be bumped to accommodate Fister. Skipper Matt Williams called those “good decisions” to have to make and said he couldn’t rule out Ross getting another turn, although Strasburg, too, is said to be nearing a return. A free agent at season’s end, Fister has extra incentive to rediscover his previous success. As Janes notes, his ground-ball rate is down nearly 10 percent from its career mark in 2015, and I’d add that his velocity has been a big concern as well. Fister has averaged just 86.1 mph on his heater this season, which is probably a factor in his rapidly declining strikeout rate (4.1 K/9).
Here’s the latest from the National League East:
- The Mets are “ramping up [their] efforts” to trade both Dillon Gee and Jon Niese, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports. New York indicated today that it’s likely the club will back off of its six-man rotation and return to a traditional schedule. With Noah Syndergaard now fairly firmly installed at the big league level, and Steven Matz not far behind him, it makes sense that the club would be looking to see what it can get out of Gee and Niese. Both have good track records of steady production and are controllable in the future at affordable rates, but unfortunately neither has matched their historical results thus far in 2015.
- As they weigh rotation moves, which rate as good problems, the Mets are dealing with more troubling issues in the infield. The team has placed infielder Daniel Murphy on the 15-day DL with a strained quad, as Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com was among those to report. It’s not believed to be a serious injury, according to manager Terry Collins, but the club can ill afford any significant absence from Murphy. New York is already missing third baseman David Wright for an indeterminate stretch, while highly-regarded youngster Dilson Herrera is also working back from the DL (as well as backstop Travis d’Arnaud). An infield addition of some kind already seemed a plausible target for the Mets, though of course this injury is unlikely to have an impact unless it turns into something worse than expected.
- While the Marlins continue to wait and see how to proceed at the deadline, the club is looking to build out its pen to give it the best chance at entering the contention picture, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. Miami has discussed David Carpenter, who was recently designated by the Yankees and is about as intriguing an arm as you can hope to find at a reasonable price tag at this time of year.
- Nationals righty Doug Fister is set to make his first rehab appearance this weekend at Triple-A, James Wagner of the Washington Post tweets. It would appear as if things have gone about as well as could be hoped since he hit the DL with forearm tightness after his start on May 14. He’ll be a welcome addition to the Nats rotation, assuming he can return after a few minor league starts, and can begin attempting to rebuild his free agent value.
Despite what the standings say, the Marlins are not yet entertaining the idea of selling, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. The club is not interested in moving core players, says Frisaro, noting that dealing third baseman Martin Prado — who is under contract for next year as well — does not make sense, at least at present.
Here’s more from the NL East:
- Skipper Dan Jennings says that the Marlins‘ decision to option Steve Cishek was motivated by a desire to get his mechanics in order outside the big league spotlight, Frisaro reports. Noting that Cishek’s velocity has improved of late, Jennings said he expects a short minor league stint: “I don’t see this being a long-term deal at all. I think he will come back and be the same Steve Cishek we’ve known in the past.”
- The upcoming draft is an important one for a Phillies organization that is working to add as much impact talent as possible, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes. Johnny Almaraz will oversee the picking for the first time, and Salisbury suggests he’s likely to “stay away from project-type players, at least up high.” Philadelphia has struggled to produce draft talent in the not-so-distant past, but seems thus far to have hit on both of its last two picks: shortstop J.P. Crawford and righty Aaron Nola. “It’s an interesting draft,” said GM Ruben Amaro Jr. “There’s some depth. Maybe not tons of super difference makers, but there’s some good players out there.”
- Medical analysis confirms that Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg has a strained left trapezius, James Wagner of the Washington Post reports. For now, the plan is for Strasburg to rest, with the hope that he’ll be ready to resume throwing in relatively short order.
- The Nationals have also received encouraging news on another injured right-handed starter, Doug Fister. As Wagner writes, Fister says his forearm tightness has “pretty much subsided completely.” The veteran went on to say that he has never been too concerned about the issue: “It was really just more tight than complete, utter mayhem. So I mean, it wasn’t a bad issue. It was more of just I really need a break for some reason, there’s so much tightness going on that we really need to address it.” As important as Fister is to Washington, his ability to recover and regain his effectiveness may tell even more on his free agent status. The 31-year-old has produced consistently excellent results over the last four seasons, but saw a dip in his velocity and strikeout tallies early this year.
Doug Fister received good news regarding his forearm flexor strain, tweets Dan Kolko of MASN Sports. An MRI revealed no issues with Fister’s elbow, according to Nationals manager Matt Williams. The right-hander may resume throwing in a few days. Fister is a free agent after the season so the MRI results are especially welcome. He’s off to a slow start with a 4.31 ERA, 4.08 K/9, and 2.27 BB/9.
Here’s more injury news from around the league:
- Rehabbing Reds reliever Sean Marshall will need a second shoulder surgery, reports Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. Marshall is suffering from a torn anterior capsule and will be out for the remainder of the season. His previous shoulder surgery was to repair his rotator cuff. Marshall is in the final season of a three-year, $16.5MM contract. He’ll earn $6.5MM in 2015. His last full season was in 2012 when he picked up nine saves to go with a 2.51 ERA, 10.92 K/9, and 2.36 BB/9.
- Tigers righty Shane Greene also received good news via MRI, writes Chris Iott of MLive.com. The preliminary results of the MRI revealed that the tingling Greene felt in his throwing hand on Friday night was the result of ulnar neuritis. There was some concern that the discomfort could signal a problem with his elbow. Greene underwent Tommy John surgery in 2008. He has a 4.21 ERA, 5.36 K/9, and 2.49 BB/9 in 47 innings.
Giants outfielder Hunter Pence is returning to active duty tomorrow, Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News reports on Twitter. Pence has yet to see MLB action this year since suffering a fractured forearm in the spring. The 32-year-old figures to provide a nice boost to the club, which has produced middling results thus far.
Here are some more injury notes from around the game:
- Another important player who received promising injury news is Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka. As Bryan Hoch of MLB.com tweets, Tanaka threw 35 pitches in a BP session today and seems to be nearing the start of a rehab stint. Tanaka’s continued progress is obviously welcome, particularly given that swingman Chase Whitley may be headed for season-ending surgery.
- The Blue Jays also have some notable situations to watch, with Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca providing several updates. Outfielder Michael Saunders will miss four to six weeks to rest his knee. And catcher Dioner Navarro still does not have a timetable for a rehab assignment as he rests his hamstring. More positively, shortstop Jose Reyes is nearing his own build-up through the minors. While Saunders and Reyes are important for the team, the Navarro news is most notable from a transactional perspective. Though he has not done much offensively this year, Navarro could be a useful trade piece for a Toronto club that has other needs — if he can reestablish his health and show more promise at the plate.
- The Nationals made the surprising announcement today that righty Doug Fister is heading to the DL with right forearm tightness (via Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com, on Twitter). Young starter A.J. Cole, one of the team’s top prospects, will return to take his spot on the active roster. While hidden somewhat due to the attention given to Stephen Strasburg, there is cause for concern with Fister, whose velocity (86.1 mph average two-seam fastball), K:BB ratio (4.1 K/9 vs. 2.3 BB/9), and groundball rate (40.9%) have suffered in comparison to his usual numbers. Of course, the Nationals are somewhat uniquely suited to weather any extended absence, should that prove necessary. But for the 31-year-old free agent-to-be, the first two months of the season have left him with plenty to prove the rest of the way.
- Hyun-jin Ryu of the Dodgers is still not even scheduled to resume throwing, J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group reports on Twitter. The health of the 28-year-old lefty remains a key sub-plot in the development of the summer trade market: L.A. already profiles as a strong buyer for starting pitching, and its needs would be enhanced greatly if Ryu isn’t able to develop an upward trajectory.