Wow; I got into work today and opened up the Washington Post and saw that the Nationals pulled off what I think is a huge steal of a trade, getting Detroit’s Doug Fister for three fringy guys in Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol and Robbie Ray.
Taking the very glass is half empty view of the guys we just sent away: we get an accomplished starter for (frankly) two edge-of-the-25 man roster players in Lombardozzi and Krol, and a prospect who I like but who scouts never have really taken to in Ray. Lombardozzi took a step back this year offensively and despite being the kind of flexible, multi-positional player that teams crave this year (think of how Tampa Bay uses Ben Zobrist) he was exposed at the plate and may have already shown what his peak is (backup infielder). Krol flashed up the farm system and looked fantastic in his early MLB appearances, but slumped enough to be demoted back to the minors in search of some consistency; he’s got a great arm but clearly is a one-out lefty. Robbie Ray is a very young and accomplished starter who has operated in the shadow of his fellow high school draft-class mate A.J. Cole and has mostly out-pitched him, but the scouting reports on Ray seem bearish on his eventual ceiling (4th starter at best?).
If i’m a Detroit fan, I’m scratching my head here. A backup infielder, a matchup-lefty with just a few months of MLB experience, and a AA prospect who is probably still 2 years away? That’s the return for a cost-contained, effective 4th starter for a team who’s oft-repeated mantra is Win now? I just don’t get this deal for the Tigers. Yes Fister faces arbitration, and his salary may rise up to the $6-$7M range, and yes I guess Detroit has a ready-made replacement in Jose Alvarez or perhaps Drew Smyly, but why are you trading away depth at a time like this? Is this simply a money-saving deal? The team saves somewhere in the range of $6M in arbitration for Fister (paying MLB mins or less for all three guys they got back). As others have pointed out, the Tigers really must have liked what they saw in Robbie Ray to make him the clear centerpiece of this deal.
Some other quick responses in the Baseball analysis world: Keith Law hates the deal for Detroit with this quote summing it up nicely: “A lefty reliever, a backup at second and a non-top-100 prospect is just not a good return for two years of one of the top 30 starters in baseball.” Jayson Stark thinks Detroit made this deal for payroll relief and seems to indicate that Detroit’s GM Dave Dombrowski is already on the defensive. Matt Fillippi at HardBallTimes questions Detroit’s mindset. Grant Brisbee wishes his team (the Giants) could have done this deal. Dave Cameron says the Nats “stole” Fister in this deal. So, I’m not being a homer in saying that, on the face of it, this is a fantastic deal.
Fister posted 3.67 ERA in 2013 pitching in front of a horrible Detroit defense in the American League, so you would have to think that he’s going to immediately get that typical 1/3 to 1/2 point improvement on his ERA moving to the NL and facing weaker lineups and pitchers on a regular basis. Not to mention going from one of the worst infield defenses to one of the better ones. Meanwhile, despite being called a “4th starter” Fister quietly has been one of the best pitchers in the league over the last three years; in Cameron’s fangraphs post he has a list of the top pitchers by various measures over the last three years and Fister easily makes the top 15 arms in the game by most measures. He’s a 4-WAR arm slotting into a near-replacement level WAR slot (Dan Haren) for half the price. And the team basically gave away spare parts and a decent but not elite prospect to get him.
Other positional fallout from this for the Nats off-season:
- Lombardozzi was still penciled in a backup infielder/utility guy. Does this open up an opportunity for Zach Walters to earn a spot? Will the team buy a cheap utility guy on the FA market to couple with Scott Hairston? Does this pave the way for Danny Espinosa to return to the majors?
- Krol’s departure thins the already thin internal loogy ranks to choose from, which to me indicates that one of two things now happens. We either try to buy one of the limited remaining professional lefties on the market or we go into 2014 planning on converting a here-to-fore starter (either Ross Detwiler or Sammy Solis) into a left-handed option out of the pen. Unless we think Xavier Cedeno is the answer.
Summary; Great move by Mike Rizzo, and I have to immediately agree with Law’s sentiment that this easily gives the Nats one of the 2-3 best rotations in either league heading into 2014. I didn’t think Starting Pitching was an area of greatest need necessarily … but boy he’s upgraded over the 4th starter/$13M experiments the team has been running out for the past two years in a hurry.