Back in the 2013-14 offseason, the Tigers were looking to move a veteran starter … but not because they were in a rebuild. The club had taken three consecutive AL Central titles (and would add another in the ensuing campaign).
The issue was quite the opposite: with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Anibal Sanchez, and Drew Smyly all on the staff, the Detroit organization felt it had depth to spare. Looking ahead at the cost to retain the team’s stars — they ultimately failed to reach a deal with Scherzer but inked a monster extension with Miguel Cabrera later that offseason — the decision was made to trim some costs where possible and bring back some long-range talent.
Meanwhile, the Nationals were in search of a quality arm to plug into would land Fister in a swap that sent a largely underwhelming three-player package back to the Tigers. Utilityman Steve Lombardozzi and lefty reliever Ian Krol were each young players with MLB experience but little in the way of apparent ceiling. The Tigers hoped that they’d be affordable contributors, but neither carved out a career in Detroit. The most interesting long-term piece was a notable but not overly heralded lefty pitching prospect by the name of Robbie Ray.
This wasn’t quite how the Tigers wanted talks to play out. The club reportedly wanted a different young hurler to headline the deal: Taylor Jordan, who had emerged out of obscurity in 2013. Jordan utilized his decidedly Fister-esque skillset to compile 51 2/3 innings of 3.66 ERA work in 2013, averaging just 5.1 K/9 but limiting the walks (1.9 BB/9) and homers (0.52 HR/9) while generating lots of groundballs (57.5%). It seemed Jordan might well be a long-term rotation piece, even if it was unlikely he’d ever really dominate.
Ray, a 22-year-old former 12th-round pick, hadn’t yet reached the highest level of the minors, let alone the bigs. But he was perhaps a higher-ceiling young hurler than Jordan. In 2013, Ray worked to a 3.68 cumulative ERA over 142 frames at the High-A and Double-A levels while racking up 10.1 K/9 against 3.9 BB/9.
For good reason, the Nationals were widely lauded for their acquisition. I characterized the deal as a value-laden, well-timed strike. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs said the Nats had paid “a shockingly low price, considering that Fister is one of the game’s most underrated pitchers.” While anything but flashy, the tall right-hander had a nice track record of high-quality rotation work — over 800 frames of 3.53 ERA ball — and came with two seasons of remaining arbitration control. The thievery metaphor was popular, beginning with the title of Cameron’s post. Plenty of people termed the swap a “steal,” especially after Fister turned in an outstanding 2014 campaign.
There’s no discounting Fister’s excellence in his first year in D.C. Though he missed some action, he still managed to spin 164 innings of 2.41 ERA ball. But as it turned out, that would be the last truly productive campaign of his career. Fister struggled with a lat injury at the start of the ensuing campaign and never really got going. He did manage a useful 4.19 ERA in 103 frames in 2015, so it was hardly a minimal contribution, but the peripherals didn’t support the results and the output didn’t account for his final arbitration salary of $11.4MM. Any thoughts of recouping draft compensation by issuing a qualifying offer went right out the window.
On the other side of the swap … well, the Tigers didn’t quite get what they hoped for either, but they only had their own ensuing actions to blame. After watching Ray struggle in a brief 2014 debut, Detroit ended up sending him out in a memorable three-team trade that really didn’t work out for the Motown side. That deal, which also cost the Tigers a decent infield prospect in Domingo Leyba, returned righty Shane Greene. While he had his moments in Detroit, they came after he transitioned to a relief role. Greene was swapped out last summer. The arrangement would have gone better had the Tigers simply taken shortstop Didi Gregorius, who ended up with the Yankees.
By that point, Ray was ready for a full test at the MLB level. He turned in a very strong debut in 2015. And while the results have taken a bit of a rollercoaster ride since, he has produced huge strikeout numbers and generally fared well in the eyes of advanced metrics. Ray has contributed 762 innings of 3.96 ERA ball in Arizona while racking up 11.3 K/9 against 4.1 BB/9. The long ball has been an issue, but it hasn’t stopped him from compiling 10 rWAR and a dozen fWAR — well over twice what Fister ended up providing to the Nats (4.5 rWAR / 1.7 fWAR) — in advance of his final season of arbitration eligibility.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
I’m gonna miss Didi in pinstripes, surprised the Yanks didn’t match that one year deal from Philly, he may have preferred Girardi over Boone.
But I digress, Ray has been dynamite for Arizona and Greene was for Detroit at points. I believe the Yankees got the best of that deal.
They all have 0 rings to show for. They all got good players and didn’t win so don’t see how one can be a larger winner than the other
that’s not how it works
Players don’t cease to have value because a team doesn’t win it all. What a weirdo.
If that’s not how it works what’s the point of playing the game? To not win? Must be a weirdo to think winning is important
Didi is still in pinstripes. They’re just red now.
Fister was a master at working fast enough to prevent hitters from getting in a rhythm. Guys with okay stuff and great control could take a page from his book and carve out nice careers.
We’re looking at you, Porcello!
This makes no sense, but thanks for the clickbait.
I’d hardly call Doug Fister (for one good year) in exchange for Robbie Ray, a “steal” for the Nats.
Yeah questionable title
read the article.
Fister was a known good pitcher. Tigers got a young lefty with potential and 2 other players. I wouldnt call it a steal. Nats got the better of the deal, sure, but no way a steal.
The article title is a reference to how writers spoke of the trade at the time.
I thought it was gunna be about the Trea Turner trade tho
did anyone ever call it that?
read the article and find out.
Nats true steak of a deal was during the off-season before the 2015 season when they jumped in and got trey turner and joe Ross
Number two has to be Milkey Mo who was coming off a Steroids suspension I believe. Seattle got next to nothing in terms of production, comparatively and Morse was a key bet on the teams that gained enough confidence at the plate to finally make the pitching stand up.. Morse last two seasons were about gotting over the playoff hump.
And as Mr. Harvey would say
“And now you know the rest of the story…”
The smartest thing the Nats did was not resigning Harper. Instead they doubled down on starting pitching.
These trades, yeah smart, but not as smart as saving your money for the right expenditures.
They offered Harper $300 mil but he turned it down so I wouldnt say it was smart as opposed to maybe fortunate that he didnt accept
Not really. They should have gone though with trading him to Houston.
Had the Tigers simply stuck with Ray, they’d have made out nicely in that deal. Hindsight is always 20/20 though.
Nah, he’s just another Boyd with more walks.. He cant win with Arizona’s offense. He wouldn’t win with Detroits. Now trading Edwin Jackson for Matt Scherzer, that was a steal.
Sorry, no respect for Tigers here at MLBTR.
Bryce harper is getting paid 330 million to underperform
Far too early to be passing judgment on that contract
Robbie Ray can be elite if he would ever learn to have a little more control. As someone who has seen nearly every game, it’s so frustrating to watch him consistently throw 100 pitches in 4-5 innings. It’s not just exposing the bullpen. Major league hitters tend to hit you better the more pitches they see and if they know you are throwing a fastball. I was really hoping he’d have a good start to the season so we could flip him for more prospects.
Ray reminds me of a young Scherzer. Scherzer would be near 100 pitches in the 4th and 5th innings. He pitched well, but many times he was gone early. He didn’t get his first complete game until his last year in Detroit.
Hard to walk with four balls
The Tigers acquired Fister for a bag of rocks to begin with.
Imagine how much more the Nationals would have won that trade if they had given up Jordan.
As the article states, the Nats only got one solid season out of Fister. Over the long haul, the Nats might have been better-off not making this trade and keeping Ray (plus lefty Krol in the bullpen). The Nats ownership (mostly Mark Lerner), did not want to lose Ray and blocked the trade, until GM Mike Rizzo threatened to quit if it wasn’t allowed to go through.
Ray is a bit of a head case. When he attacks the strike zone he mows hitters down but for some odd reason he tries to nibble the corners and issues too many walks while driving up his pitch count. Next thing you know he’s pitched 4 2/3 with 108 pitches.