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Doug Fister Rumors
Here’s the latest out of the National League East:
- The Nationals are interested in adding a veteran right-handed arm to the pen, writes James Wagner of the Washington Post, who adds that the team is presently focused on other matters and has not fully engaged the free agent market. Wagner lists many of the better free agent arms as at least theoretical possibilities, and says that Washington has at least “shown some interest” already in both Casey Janssen and Jason Motte.
- Doug Fister and the Nationals have not re-engaged on extension talks since they first took place last spring, reports Wagner. Fister has been mentioned as a hypothetical trade candidate as well, though presumably the club would only seriously consider dealing one of he and Jordan Zimmermann.
- Just-added Marlins hurler Aaron Crow has worked from the bullpen for the last four seasons but could get a chance to return to a starting role in Miami, reports Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun-Sentinel. “It’s still early in the offseason and we’re not sure how the rest of the offseason will unfold in terms of what else we add to our pitching staff, but we love the flexibility,” said president of baseball operations Michael Hill. “We love the thought he could possibly be a starting option for us, but at a minimum we know he’ll be a valuable bullpen piece and just add to the overall depth of our staff.”
- The Marlins‘ front office is focused on achieving “sustainable success,” writes MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. Miami hopes to step its payroll up over the next few years, more or less in line with the raises in Giancarlo Stanton‘s contract, by adding targeted pieces to supplement its young core.
The Nationals have not re-started extension talks with righty Jordan Zimmermann since they broke off last winter, James Wagner of the Washington Post reports. The homegrown star says that he still hopes to stay with the team in the long run and remains interested in an extension — “if the deal is right.”
“I like D.C.,” he said. “I like the ownership. I like the manager, the coaches. I like everything about D.C. It’s just a waiting game right now to see what happens.”
While recent reports suggested that Zimmermann had rejected a five-year, $85MM offer last year, Wagner reports that the actual offer is believed to have been lower. As he also notes, the Homer Bailey deal (five years, $105MM) would appear to set a practical starting point, as Zimmerman has a better track record than the Reds hurler.
Meanwhile, the club has informed competitors that it is willing to deal Zimmermann and fellow righty Doug Fister in the right scenarios, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports (Twitter links). Fister, like his compatriot, is poised to hit free agency after the coming season.
Of course, Rizzo has emphasized in the past that he will listen to proposals on any player, and in that regard this report does not appear to change the club’s stance. But the notion that the Nationals have told other clubs of an openness to fielding trade proposals could, potentially be an added development.
With a roster that puts the organization firmly in contention mode, it will surely take a big offer to pry either arm loose. Indeed, per Nightengale, the Nats will not move Zimmermann for less than a “strong return,” and will not pursue a deal simply to shed salary.
It is worth recalling that we previously heard more specific rumors involving Zimmermann, though those were quickly shot down. But in concept, the idea of a trade is not as far-fetched as it might seem at first glance. As I explained a few weeks back in my outlook for the Nats, it makes eminent sense for the club to at least dangle both starters to see if an overwhelming return — particularly, one that can fill a current need (most likely, second base) while delivering future value — can be found.
Of course, payroll flexibility always must be considered. Though Nationals GM Mike Rizzo told me at the GM Meetings that the organization is not feeling the pinch, every team has its limits. Zimmermann is earning $16.5MM in the second half of his backloaded, two-year deal from last season, while Fister is projected by MLBTR/Matt Swartz to take home $11.4MM through arbitration.
Replacing the production of one of those outstanding performers would no doubt be difficult, and the Nationals unquestionably hope to put another World Series-contending club on the field next year. But there are plenty of internal options, and the free agent market is plentiful. In past seasons, Rizzo has looked to high-upside rebound candidates; how he would act in a post-deal scenario is anyone’s guess, but would likely be opportunity-driven.
Ninety years and one day ago, the Washington Senators defeated the New York Giants in Game Seven of the 1924 World Series. Newsreel footage (YouTube link) of the Senators’ 12-inning walkoff win was recently uncovered by the Library of Congress, giving us a very cool glimpse into how baseball has both changed and stayed the same over nine decades. (The blunt “President is there” title card is also pretty funny; poor Calvin Coolidge didn’t even merit being named?) The Senators franchise won two more championships after they moved to Minnesota and became the Twins, but 1924 was the only time Washington D.C. celebrated a World Series title.
It’ll be at least one more year of waiting for D.C. in the wake of the Nationals’ loss in the NLDS but in the meantime, here are some Nats-related links…
- Asdrubal Cabrera would prefer play shortstop but said he is open to playing second base on a contending team, he tells MASNsports.com’s Dan Kolko. “It depends. A team like this team, a good team that want me to play second, I would love to stay here. I just want to win. I’ve got eight seasons already. I want to be in the World Series one day,” Cabrera said. With a fairly thin crop of free agent shortstops, Cabrera could draw a lot of interest this winter, and his market will be further widened if he is willing to play second as well. It would seem that the Nationals are Cabrera’s first choice given how he stressed how much he enjoyed his brief stint with the club.
- The Nationals offered Jordan Zimmermann a five-year, $85MM extension last winter, MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reports. Zimmermann mentioned that the two sides had discussed a lengthier deal than his eventual two-year, $24MM agreement, though the term and dollar figure of the larger offer weren’t known at the time. The right-hander will be a free agent after the 2015 season and, if he continues his current form, he’ll be looking at deals in the $130-$140MM range on the open market.
- Beyond Zimmermann, the Nationals also have to consider extensions for Ian Desmond and Doug Fister this offseason, CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman writes. All three players will be free agents after 2015. The Nationals could look to lock up Fister since he’ll command less money than Zimmermann, Zuckerman opines, and he also wonders if a seven-year, $105MM deal would be enough to keep Desmond in the fold. That would represent a bump from the seven-year, $85-98MM deal that Desmond reportedly rejected last winter.
The Nationals made one of the offseason’s biggest splashes by acquiring Doug Fister from the Tigers (in exchange for left-handed starter Robbie Ray, infielder Steve Lombardozzi and lefty reliever Ian Krol), but according to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, the team tried to double down on that move by signing Fister to a long-term deal. Talks never got very far off the ground, however, according to Kilgore’s report. Fister himself wouldn’t comment on the situation.
Washington GM Mike Rizzo employed a similar tactic when he acquired Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics prior to the 2012 season, signing him to a five-year, $42.5MM contract with a pair of $12MM club options. Locking up Fister would have ensured that the team’s rotation could be fronted by Stephen Strasburg, Gonzalez and Fister through at least the 2016 season. Washington tried to lock up its other top starter, Jordan Zimmermann, this offseason as well. Instead, they agreed to a two-year, $24MM contract that gave the team cost certainty but didn’t buy any further team control.
Over the past three seasons, Fister has pitched to a 3.30 ERA with 6.8 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 50.9 percent ground-ball rate in 586 2/3 innings. In that time, his 13.3 fWAR and 12.6 rWAR each rank ninth in the Major Leagues. In place of a multi-year deal, he and the Nationals agreed to a $7.2MM salary for the 2014 season. Washington controls Fister through 2015, and he is set to make his team debut on Friday against the A’s.
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.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: A.J. Ellis | Alex Avila | Arizona Diamondbacks | Aroldis Chapman | Atlanta Braves | Baltimore Orioles | Chicago Cubs | Cincinnati Reds | Cleveland Indians | Craig Kimbrel | David Freese | Detroit Tigers | Doug Fister | Freddie Freeman | Gerardo Parra | Greg Holland | Homer Bailey | Jason Heyward | Jeff Samardzija | Justin Masterson | Kansas City Royals | Kenley Jansen | Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim | Los Angeles Dodgers | Mark Trumbo | Matt Wieters | Tyler Clippard | Washington 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.
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.