Doug Fister Rumors
Dave Cameron of Fangraphs has ranked the ten best and worst transactions of the offseason. The number one spot on both lists goes to the trade that sent Doug Fister to the Nationals and returned Robbie Ray, Steve Lombardozzi, and Ian Krol to the Tigers. Cameron argues that the deal is "the most lopsided trade we've seen in years," and notes that many observers are at a loss to understand it from Detroit's perspective. While the return for Fister certainly seems light, I tried to make some sense of the swap back in December, writing that the deal was a part (albeit a questionable one) of a massive overhaul of the club's future commitments that saved as much as $150MM in down-the-line salary while maintaining most of its present on-field quality.
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski endeavored to explain the trade from his perspective in an interesting interview with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. He made clear that the team decided to deal one of its veterans for a good, young arm. "You can see that young pitching right now is very difficult to acquire," said Dombrowski. "We had a list of about 15 pitchers that we would consider in various deals. [Ray] was one of the 15. The other 14 people said no. And [the Nationals] said no at first." Nationals GM Mike Rizzo confirmed that the club was hesitant to part with Ray, even with Fister being dangled, saying that was "why the trade took 2 1/2 weeks to consummate."
- Dombrowski rejected the claims made by other executives that they had not known of Fister's availability, saying instead that he encountered a hesitant market. "That couldn't be further from the truth," he said. "We had our list of around 15 guys. We went to every one of those clubs: 'Would you trade this guy? Would you trade that guy?' And none of them would trade one." When the deal started to take shape, Dombrowski said he decided to grab Ray while he could. "We thought: Do we make this deal now, which we like? Or do we wait and see what else becomes available? But then does Washington do something else? Does [the trade] end up not taking place?" As I wrote at the time, the timing of things seemed to play an important role in how the deal came together; indeed, the Tigers went on to sign Joe Nathan the very next day, adding a two-year commitment at slightly more than Fister figures to earn in that stretch.
- The groundwork for the Orioles' signing of Ubaldo Jimenez was laid at the Winter Meetings when the starter and his agent met with new pitching coach Dave Wallace, executive VP Dan Duquette, and others, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. "Right there, I knew," said Jimenez. "They're really humble, really down-to-earth guys, and I knew it was going to be special to be in this organization. RIght there, I was like, 'Pretty much, this is the team I want to be with.' It's going to be a big part of my future for me and my family. The city is great and they have a competitive team. Those guys in the clubhouse look like they are great guys." Jimenez backed up his expressions of commitment by revealing that he would move his whole family -- including his parents and sister -- to Baltimore, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets.
- Though he is heartened by the club's moves and remains happy in Baltimore, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy says that he has heard nothing about an extension beyond what has been reported publicly, writes Rich Dubroff of CSN Baltimore. "Even after FanFest, I thought something was going to happen right away because I think you guys were asking Dan [Duquette]," said Hardy. "He came up to me and said something about how we're going to start talking extension, but really nothing has happened. I don't know. Maybe they were waiting to do some of these other moves or something." Hardy, who could test the market next year, says that he is still interested in a new deal: "If they come to me with an extension, we'll definitely be open with trying to work that out."
- Meanwhile, righty Kevin Correia of the Twins says that he would be interested in continuing to pitch in Minnesota when his two-year, $10MM deal expires after the season, reports Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. But, said Correia, he has not had any talks about an extension to date. "They had a pretty busy offseason with the pitching staff, so we haven't really talked," he said. "I enjoy playing here. We talked to the effect of how my experience was here, how I enjoyed the team and the coaching staff and everything, but that's about as far as we've gotten." Correia, 33, does not offer much upside but delivered solid results for the Twins last year, logging 185 1/3 innings of 4.18 ERA ball. Of course, as Berardino notes, with three new starters under contract and several prospect arms expected to reach the bigs in short order, the veteran may not fit into the club's plans after this year and could become a mid-season trade piece.
Pitcher Doug Fister has avoided arbitration with the Nationals, according to a team release. Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that Fister will make $7.2MM, plus bonuses for innings pitched. Fister filed for $8.5MM while the Nats offered $5.75MM.
The Nationals, of course, acquired Fister in a trade with the Tigers in December. Fister posted a 3.67 ERA with 6.9 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 208 2/3 innings last season.
The Nats had already agreed to terms with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Drew Storen, Ross Detwiler, Jerry Blevins, Wilson Ramos and Ross Ohlendorf. Fister's signing leaves Tyler Clippard as their only arbitration-eligible player.
MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker is the place to go to see the arbitration contracts agreed upon thus far, as well as the figures exchanged between teams and players that were not able to reach agreement before today's noon deadline to swap salary positions. Matt Swartz's arbitration projections are available here.
As MLBTR has previously explained, 146 players officially filed for arbitration (after some eligible and tendered players had alread reached agreement). Of those, 40 players will exchange figures with their clubs. Of course, those players can still reach agreements before their hearings (which will take place betwee February 1st and 21st). If the case goes to a hearing, the arbitrator must choose one side's figures, rather than settling on a midpoint.
For the Braves players listed below, however, Atlanta says it will cease negotiations and take all cases to a hearing. Two other teams that have swapped figures with some players -- the Nationals and Indians -- also have employed variations of the "file and trial" approach with their arbitration cases.
Though a tweet from FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal indicates that the Reds have joined the list of teams employing "file and trial," GM Walt Jocketty did not seem to echo that position in comments today to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. It turns out that the team has only taken that position with respect to players whose deals were valued under the $2MM level, tweets Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.
We will use this post to keep tabs on the the highest-stakes arbitration situations remaining -- those where the player files for at least $4.5MM:
- A.J. Ellis filed at $4.6MM while the Dodgers countered at $3MM, tweets Passan.
- Gerardo Parra filed at $5.2MM while the Diamondbacks countered at $4.3MM, tweets Passan.
- Tyler Clippard filed at $6.35MM while the Nationals countered at $4.45MM, tweets Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.
- Alex Avila filed at $5.35MM while the Tigers countered at $3.75MM, tweets Jason Beck of MLB.com.
- David Freese filed at $6MM while the Angels countered at $4.1MM, tweets Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.
- Mark Trumbo filed at $5.85MM while the Diamondbacks countered at $3.4MM, tweets Heyman.
- Kenley Jansen filed at $5.05MM while the Dodgers countered at $3.5MM, tweets Heyman.
- Craig Kimbrel filed at $9MM while the Braves countered at $6.55MM, tweets Bowman.
- Jason Heyward filed at $5.5MM while the Braves countered at $5.2MM, tweets Mark Bowman of MLB.com.
- Doug Fister filed at $8.5MM while the Nationals countered at $5.75MM, tweets Heyman.
- Aroldis Chapman filed at $5.4MM while the Reds countered at $4.6MM, tweets Heyman.
- Greg Holland filed at $5.2MM while the Royals countered at $4.1MM, tweets Heyman.
- Justin Masterson filed at $11.8MM while the Indians countered at $8.05MM, tweets Heyman.
- Freddie Freeman filed for $5.75MM while the Braves countered at $4.5MM, tweets Heyman.
- Matt Wieters filed for $8.75MM while the Orioles countered at $6.5MM, tweets Heyman.
- Homer Bailey filed for $11.6MM while the Reds countered at $8.7MM, tweets Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
- Jeff Samardzija filed for $6.2MM while the Cubs countered at $4.4MM, tweets Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune.
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.
Like many, it would seem, I was left pondering last night why, exactly, the Tigers felt compelled to ship off Doug Fister to the Nationals for a seemingly underwhelming return. We may just have received part of the answer, as Detroit moved quickly this morning to ink closer Joe Nathan. Though we don't yet know the terms of that contract, indications are that it will be a two-year commitment in the $20MM range. That sum almost certainly exceeds what Fister will earn over in the next two campaigns. (Fister is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $6.9MM through arbitration this year.)
It became clear that the Tigers may have been operating at or above their payroll threshold when they shipped Prince Fielder off to Texas for Ian Kinsler. That fact became all the more clear with the latest deal . As FOX Sports' Jon Morosi wrote this morning, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski cited payroll "flexibility" as a motivator in shipping out Fister. And while Dombrowski emphasized that the club is "not cutting payroll," that statement certainly does not indicate that the club is adding dollars to the books either. Looking at the franchise's commitments, it entered 2012 with a $148.7MM payroll. As of this morning, the club already owes $102.7MM for 2013, which will jump by a projected $32.7MM for the club's arbitration-eligible players that have yet to agree to terms. Though Fister's salary is eminently reasonable for his performance, it represented a big chunk of the team's remaining war chest.
On the one hand, then, the deal makes some sense. The Tigers have rotation depth and need a closer. But that reasoning, standing alone, is not what has drawn the most scorn. As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs, among others, has argued, the return that he brought seems light compared to recent deals for high-quality starters. Even if Dombrowski was determined to clear salary, the argument goes, he surely ought to have been able to bring back more than a good-but-not-great starting prospect (Robbie Ray), a utility infielder with limited upside (Steve Lombardozzi), and an interesting but still largely unknown left-handed reliever (Ian Krol).
While I find myself landing in the same camp as Cameron in that regard, it is reasonable to wonder whether the Nathan deal hints that other market pressures had a role here. Comments from Nats GM Mike Rizzo indicate that the sides had been in dialogue for several weeks about all three potentially available Detroit starters: Fister, Rick Porcello, and Max Scherzer. Presumably, that meant that the teams had already exchanged plenty of information and fully assessed each sides' potential trade chips. With last night's arbitration deadline and this morning's report of an agreement with Nathan, it could well be that Dombrowkski opted to pull the trigger on a deal that had already been well-vetted to make way for Nathan.
After all, we have not heard any particular suggestion that Dombrowski saw some special spark in Ray that made him desperate to pry him from the Nats. In fact, the Tigers reportedly preferred another young arm -- Taylor Jordan -- but were redirected to Ray. While we lack sufficient information to know conclusively, the broader market setting may well have played a substantial role in this deal from the Tigers' perspective.
Meanwhile, from the Nationals' side, all indications are that Rizzo did an excellent job assessing the market, identifying his target, and then waiting for an opportune time to make a deal. "This was not an easy trade for [the Nationals] to make, either," Dombrowski said. But it sure didn't sound that way from listening to Rizzo. "It's a good day in the Nationals' office when the sabermetricians and the scouts in the field see the players in the same way," he said. "It makes things much easier for me. That's what we had here."
To be sure, Rizzo emphasized that Washington had parted with significant talent and felt the trade was a fair deal. But, as he further explained, the club "really had identified Doug as our primary acquisition target as far as starting pitchers go" and "thought he was an undervalued asset." And the Nats' GM made clear that he felt that the team made out well in comparison to other recent deals. Compared to recent trades for Matt Garza, James Shields, and R.A. Dickey, Rizzo said, "we thought the player acquisition that we would have to give up was palatable."
Palatable, indeed. As I noted last night in writing up the deal, neither Lombardozzi nor Krol figure to be terribly difficult to replace in the immediate term. Though the Nationals have now shed yet another left-handed bullpen option, Rizzo has a history of digging up southpaws from unexpected places -- Krol included. And Rizzo has indicated that one or both of Ross Detwiler and Sammy Solis could slot into the pen. Further, there are several young utility infield options who probably have more upside and may have pushed Lombardozzi for a role next year anyway, including Jeff Kobernus, Zach Walters, and even Danny Espinosa. (It is worth noting that Walters and Espinosa are both switch hitters who can play short and have better sticks from the left side. Walters swatted 25 home runs from that side of the plate last year in Triple-A.) Again, the timing of this deal made these two pieces largely expendable for the Nationals.
Timing seems to have been on RIzzo's side in one other critical way as well: he may well have sold high on the two key arms in this deal. Krol came to the Nats as a player-to-be-named later in last year's Michael Morse deal, coming to D.C. as an afterthought to fellow hurlers A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen. After dominating in Double-A, Krol got a quick call up to the big club's LOOGY-needy pen. He showed flashes of brilliance, but ultimately posted only a 3.95 ERA (along with a 4.69 FIP and 4.07 xFIP) in 27 1/3 innings. Giving all benefit of the doubt, his ceiling may be that of a late-inning stopper, and he does come with plenty of control. But given his spotty on and off-field history before coming to Washington, he is far from a sure thing. Whether or not Rizzo sold at the height of his value remains to be seen, but he sure did get more for him than he gave up.
Then, there is Ray, who, as Baseball Prospectus notes, is probably less valuable than the second-best piece (Jake Odorizzi) that went for Shields. And After lingering further down the list of Nationals' prospects for the last few years, Ray moved to fifth on the totem pole after the current season, in the eyes of Baseball America (subscription required). Though a jump in fastball velocity and nice strikeout numbers as a 21-year-old in Double-A have raised his prospect stock, Ray still is far from a sure thing. And he is at most probably the third-best young arm in the Nats' system, maybe lower if Taylor Jordan is considered and one is a Solis fan. As BA summed things up: "Ray’s plus fastball, athleticism and durable frame give him a chance to be a mid-rotation starter if he can develop his breaking ball. That remains a significant question mark ... ." As with Krol, he may not be at peak value, but his value has certainly been on the ascent of late, with his most recently showing significantly elevating his attractiveness.
This is not the first time that Rizzo has wheeled and dealed in this manner. Rizzo sent A.J. Cole to the Athletics as the headliner of the deal that brougth Gio Gonzalez to D.C., only to get him back at a cut rate in the aforementioned Morse trade. And after getting the better end of the deal that brought Morse to D.C., Rizzo extracted further value from the last year of the slugger's contract. In short, Rizzo has shown a propensity to trade on imbalances between perception and value.
As Rizzo's comments indicate, he saw Fister as an under-valued asset. He may well have felt the other way around about the pieces he sent out to acquire him. Indeed, as others have noted, most every team in baseball could have put together a package like the one the Nats gave up. But Fister was probably better than any open-market arm, and comes at a fraction of the cost. He adds nothing to the club's long-term payroll obligations, and because his salary will depend upon performance and remains non-guaranteed, he is an extremely flexible piece for the club.
In this sense, the Fister trade actually increases the Nats' flexibility. The club has one of the best top four starting groups in the game at a budget price, and can choose among a host of options for the last rotation spot, depth, and bullpen work. (Among them: Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf, Nathan Karns, Jordan and Solis.) Having bolstered the rotation at a low cost -- both in terms of prospects and committed cash -- the Nats could be positioned, if they wish, to make another major move this off-season, especially if an opportunistic chance presents itself. And, of course, the other thing that the Nats pick up in this deal are the exclusive negotiating rights to Fister for the next two years.
For the Tigers, on the other hand, the limited financial flexibility achieved comes at an enormous opportunity cost. This was not Fielder, whose fixed, long-term obligations were an imposing obstacle and who, some have argued, had negative trade value as a result. Regardless whether Drew Smyly will step in and keep the rotation strong, or whether Nathan throws as well as he has in the past, or even whether Ray ends up having a nice MLB career, this trade looks to be a miss for Dombrowski. Detroit gave up one of the game's more attractive pitching assets in exchange for a collection of relatively non-scarce pieces. Unless the rest of the league was truly unwilling to top the Nats' offer, it is hard to imagine circumstances in which that could make good sense, even if the timing of things forced the Tigers' hand to some extent.
The Tigers have officially announced a deal sending big right-hander Doug Fister to the Nationals in exchange for pitching prospect Robbie Ray, utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi, and southpaw reliever Ian Krol. Detroit adds young, cost-controlled talent in the trade, while the Nats will upgrade an already-strong rotation with Fister.
Fister, a 29-year-old righty who is represented by PSI Sports Management, is undoubtedly the biggest name changing places in this swap. He posted a 3.67 ERA last year for Detroit in a sturdy 208 2/3 innings. Over the last three years, Fister has racked up 13.3 fWAR, falling between David Price and Cole Hamels at ninth in baseball (as noted by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs, via Twitter). He is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $6.9MM this year through arbitration, and is not eligible for free agency until 2016.
Heading back to Detroit are a series of youngsters with plenty of cheap years remaining. Ray is a 22-year-old southpaw who was a consensus top-ten prospect in the Washington organization. The 12th rounder signed for above slot in 2010, and rose to the Double-A level last year in his age-21 campaign, notching 58 innings of 3.72 ERA ball at Harrisburg. Lombardozzi has spent the last two seasons in the bigs with Washington after rising through the ranks with reportedly limited tools. Now 25, Lombardozzi posted a .259/.278/.338 line in 2013 and is primarily a second baseman, though he has played third and the corner outfield. Krol is a young, left-handed reliever who showed a power fastball in his jump to the bigs last year. That he constituted value in this deal was a win for Washington, which picked him up last year as the player-to-be-named-later in the three-team deal that also brought A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen to D.C. from the A's and sent Michael Morse to the Mariners.
The Tigers reportedly wanted fellow young hurler Taylor Jordan in the deal, according to a tweet from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, but the Nats refused to include him. Before acquiring Ian Kinsler, Detroit was offered Howie Kendrick from the Angels in a deal that would have included Fister, MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez tweets, but declined that option.
As I explained in my breakdown of the Nats' off-season, the rotation was likely the single area where the club could make the greatest impact through a major addition. It appears that GM Mike Rizzo has done just that with today's trade. At first glance, the deal appears to be a major win for a Nationals club that has ample young pitching to deal from. Though Ray was certainly a well-regarded prospect, he was not the club's highest-rated minor league arm and was not expected to have a chance at a rotation spot this year. And while Lombardozzi and Krol were both useful players, neither seems to be irreplaceable.
Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com (via Twitter) first reported the deal, and was the first to report (via Twitter) that Ray and Lombardozzi were likely to be included in the package. Jim Bowden of ESPN.com first reported in a tweet that Krol and Lombardozzi would be included. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post first reported (via Twitter) that Ray was indeed the prospect headed to Detroit.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Here's the latest from FOX Sports' Jon Morosi:
- The Tigers are "gauging interest" in starting pitcher Doug Fister as well as Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello (Twitter link). Morosi repeats a bit of trade speculation from a reader who suggests that Fister for Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick might be a good fit (link). That doesn't even rise to the level of a rumor at this point, but it's interesting, given the Tigers' need for a second baseman and the Angels' desires to add pitching while keeping payroll down.
- The Giants are interested in free agent pitcher Jason Hammel and have asked to see his medical records (link). Hammel posted a 4.97 ERA with 6.2 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in a down year with the Orioles in 2013.
- The Mariners have Rockies outfielder Dexter Fowler on their radar as a potential trade target (link). The Mariners have been connected to any number of outfielders already this offseason, so it's unsurprising that they would be interested in Fowler, who hit .263/.369/.407 in 2013. Fowler is set to earn $7.35MM in 2014.
The Cardinals clinched the 19th NL pennant in franchise history (and fourth in the last 10 seasons) with tonight's 9-0 rout of the Dodgers in Game Six of the NLCS. Carlos Beltran continued his postseason dominance with a 3-for-4 night while NLCS MVP Michael Wacha threw seven shutout innings of two-hit ball to continue his stunning late-season run. Here are some notes from around the league...
- The Cardinals' peerless developmental system has unearthed many late-round draft picks who are currently playing key roles for the NL champions, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman writes, as former St. Louis scouting director (and current Astros GM) Jeff Luhnow describes how the club found some of those unheralded players. Heyman notes that the Cards' success is a good sign for the Astros, who hope Luhnow can duplicate that farm system in Houston.
- The Cubs are interested in interviewing Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo for their manager position, sources tell Patrick Mooney and Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. Lovullo shares some Boston ties with Theo Epstein, as Lovullo managed the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox in 2010. Lovullo has been linked to managerial jobs in the past and was cited as a candidate for the Mariners job earlier today.
- If Braves catcher Brian McCann receives a $100MM contract in free agency, ESPN's Dan Szymborski (Insider subscription required) projects that such a contract will be an albatross for the signing team.
- Doug Fister is the best candidate for a multiyear extension from the Tigers this offseason, Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press opines. Sharp suggests that the Tigers should offer Fister a four-year, $40MM deal but I'd argue that such a contract would be very team-friendly. MLBTR's Matt Swartz projects Fister will earn $6.9MM in his second year of arbitration eligibility this winter, so he could hit the $10MM average annual value threshold through arbitration alone in the 2014-15 offseason. If Fister keeps pitching as he has since coming to Detroit, it will cost much more to buy out two free agent years.
- The Dodgers need to make five moves, ESPN's Jim Bowden writes, in order to improve themselves in 2014 and perhaps take the next step into the World Series.
- Also from Bowden, he lists four of the so-called "immovable" contracts in baseball have at least a somewhat likely possibility of being traded, while also citing five contracts that are indeed virtually impossible to be moved. ESPN Insider subscriptions are required to read these two Bowden pieces.
Jim Callis of Baseball America presented the assigned bonus pool values for each club's selections over the first ten rounds of the upcoming amateur draft. This breakdown provides additional detail on MLB's allocation of bonus pool money by pick. Here are some American League notes:
- One player off to a happier start to his season is Ervin Santana, who was acquired by the Royals from the Angels after a disappointing 2012. Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star addressed the possibility of an extension for Santana, who will be a free agent after this season. Dutton downplayed that likelihood, reasoning that if Santana keeps throwing well, he will be set up for a large free-agent payday that the Royals probably cannot afford to buy out. If he falters, the Royals likely have more attractive in-house options for their 2014 rotation.
- Dutton also threw cold water on the idea of a deal sending Mike Moustakas and a prospect to the Padres for fellow third baseman Chase Headley. Headley's current and future salary levels are likely too high for the Royals, says Dutton, whereas Moustakas will likely not hit arbitration until 2015.
- The Mariners, like the Royals, hope to join the contending ranks in the immediate future. As Dave Cameron writes for U.S.S. Mariner, the team's efforts should be aided by an increased payroll supported by increased television revenues. The team had an opt out clause in its broadcast licensing deal with ROOT Sports. Instead of simply negotiating another licensing arrangement, the Mariners bought a majority stake in ROOT. The club's ownership of its own regional sports network will allow it effectively to shield TV dollars from MLB's revenue sharing arrangement.
- While next year's free agent market may not present as good a buying opportunity for the M's as in years past, Cameron explores how revenue imbalance will still make its mark. MLB may not permit large cash transfers in trades, but Cameron says that creative extend-and-trade scenarios could effectively allow large revenue clubs to flex their economic muscles.
- The Doug Fister trade may have brought controllable, younger players to Seattle at the time it was completed, but Larry Stone of the Seattle Times agrees with MLBTR's Steve Adams that the deal went sour for the Mariners and GM Jack Zduriencik. Ultimately, while there is still some potential upside to be realized by the M's, it seems likely that the Tigers will remain the winners of that swap.
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, who brought the now-29-year-old Fister to Detroit, commented today on the contract that brought former closer Jose Valverde back in the organization's fold. According to MLB.com's Jason Beck, Dombrowski said that the opt out clause in Valverde's deal can be exercised on May 8. The original date was May 5, as originally reported, but it was moved back due to delays in getting Valverde to extended spring training. The team appears to be in no rush to decide whether to elevate Valverde to the big league club.
The Tigers opened the 2011 season with a rotation that consisted of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Phil Coke and Brad Penny. With the non-Verlanders of that group (particularly Coke and Penny) underperforming, the team sought help for the back end of the rotation in July.
They got that help by acquiring Doug Fister (and reliever David Pauley) from the Mariners in exchange for four players: 20-year-old third baseman Francisco Martinez, 26-year-old outfielder Casper Wells, 25-year-old southpaw Charlie Furbush and a player to be named later that would be 22-year-old right-hander Chance Ruffin.
It's hard to believe that the Tigers, Mariners or even Fister himself were prepared for the results of this trade, so let's look at it on a player-by-player level...
The Major League Side
- Doug Fister: Fister was 27 at the time of the trade and had less than two years of Major League service time. He'd been solid but not spectacular in his brief career, as he was the owner of a 3.81 ERA, 5.2 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 378 innings for the Mariners. He was in the midst of his best season when he was dealt, having pitched to a 3.33 ERA in 146 1/3 innings. Fister channeled his inner Greg Maddux upon arriving in Detroit though, allowing just 14 earned runs with a 57-to-5 K/BB ratio in 70 1/3 innings for the AL Central champs. He's significantly upped his strikeout rate in Detroit, and all told he's given them 232 innings of 2.95 ERA ball with a 7.5 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9. Fangraphs pegs Fister's tenure in Detroit at a whopping 5.8 wins above replacement. He's under control for another three seasons and is set to earn $4MM this year after being eligible for arbitration for the first time this past winter.
- David Pauley: Pauley is perhaps the forgotten man in this trade, although there's probably a reason for that. The right-hander threw just 19 2/3 innings for the Tigers after the trade, allowing 10 runs on 26 hits and six walks with just 10 strikeouts. Pauley was ulimately released by the Tigers the following spring and appeared in just 16 2/3 innings for the Angels and Blue Jays last year.
- Charlie Furbush: Furbush floundered in Seattle's rotation in 2011, posting a 6.62 ERA in 10 starts. He thrived when moved to a bullpen role in 2012, however, thanks in large part to trading his curveball-changeup mix for a devastating slider to complement his heater. A triceps strain cost him a month of action last season, but when he was healthy he dominated lefties (.404 OPS) and held right-handed hitters in check as well (.637 OPS). Furbush can be a key bullpen piece in Seattle for a long time; he's not eligible for arbitration until the 2014-15 offseason, and he's under team control through 2017.
- Casper Wells: Wells brought a good amount of power and some excellent defense to the Mariners. He clubbed 17 homers in addition to a .225/.304/.406 batting line (102 OPS+) and was eight runs above average in 893 innings for Seattle, per The Fielding Bible. Wells is capable of handling all three outfield positions, but the Mariners made the questionable decision to designate him for assignment last week to give Jason Bay a chance.
The Prospect Side
- Francisco Martinez: Martinez was ranked as the Tigers' No. 4 prospect heading into the 2011 season, per Baseball America. He had reached Double-A at just 20 years of age -- a rare feat that was a testament to the "live-bodied, athletic" label that BA slapped on him. He hit .310/.326/.481 for the Mariners' Double-A affiliate in 2011 following the trade, prompting BA to rank him as the team's No. 6 prospect entering 2012. BA praised his bat speed, stating that he "all the raw tools to fit the profile of an everyday third baseman, with the added bonus of plus speed." Martinez took a huge step backward in 2012, however, hitting just .227/.315/.295 in his second Double-A stint. He's dropped to No. 22 on BA's list of Top 30 Mariners prospects and No. 19 according to MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo. The Mariners tried Martinez in center field for 15 games in 2012 because of his plus speed, and Mayo notes that he'll play there exclusively in 2013. Mayo also points out that despite Martinez's struggles in 2012, he did improve his plate discipline -- an area in which he'd previously struggled. He'll repeat Double-A in 2013, which isn't as grim as it sounds when considering he just turned 22 in September.
- Chance Ruffin: Ruffin had to be included as a PTBNL because he had been selected by the Tigers in the 2010 draft (48th overall). He had entered the 2011 season as the Tigers' No. 7 prospect, per BA, and he carried the same designation with the Mariners into the 2012 season. Ruffin actually pitched 14 innings for Seattle in 2011 (3.86 ERA, 15-to-9 K/BB ratio) but reported to Triple-A in 2012. The results were ugly. The Texas alum posted a gruesome 5.99 ERA in 70 2/3 innings and saw his K/9 plummet from 11.1 to 6.9, while his BB/9 increased to 4.5. The brutal season was enough to drop him off Mayo's Top 20 list and knock him back to 27th on BA's Top 30 entering the 2013 season. BA cites erosion of his solid command in college and inconsitent mechanics as the reason for his downfall: "He lands on a stiff front leg and throws across his body, hurting his ability to locate his pitches where he wants. His long arm swing in the back and lower release point make it easy for lefthanders to pick up his pitches, and they hit .294/.348/.516 against him last year." The good news is that BA still likes his stuff, praising a 90-93 mph fastball that can touch 95 mph when needed and a plus slider with late break, which BA calls a true out pitch.
It's easy to see why the Tigers look like big winners in this trade, as the two key pieces of the deal for the Mariners have both taken large steps backward in their development. However, Martinez won't be 23 until September -- the same month in which Ruffin will turn 25 -- and the team does seem to have a solid bullpen piece already at the Major League level in Furbush. Martinez won't be at such a large age disadvantage in the Southern League this year, which could benefit his numbers. Ruffin will also open the season at Double-A as the Mariners plan to convert him to a starting pitcher (hat tip: Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune).
At the time of the trade, ESPN's Keith Law wrote that the Mariners did well to acquire such a strong package for Fister and Pauley, but clearly the scales have tipped in Detroit's favor. A rebound from Martinez or successful to transition to starting for Ruffin would make this trade look fair, but even if that happens I doubt you'll ever hear the Tigers or their fans complaining about the Doug Fister trade.
Baseball America's 2013 Prospect Handbook was used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.