Nationals Steal Doug Fister From Tigers

The Tigers have six good starting pitchers, if you believe that Drew Smyly should be able to transition back to starting after a successful pitstop in the bullpen. Steamer projects all five of their current starters for at least +3 WAR next year, and it’s not at all crazy to think that Smyly will be a +2 to +3 WAR pitcher as a starter, given his track record and stuff. The desire to move Smyly back into the rotation meant that had someone to go. For the last few months, the rumored trade candidates have been Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer.

Those guys can officially unpack their bags, however, as the Nationals have solved the Tigers pitching problem by relieving them of Doug Fister instead. And they did it at a shockingly low price, considering that Fister is one of the game’s most underrated pitchers. But let’s deal with what they gave up first.

According to Chris Cotillo, the trade is a 3-for-1, with the Nationals sending 22-year-old LHPs Robbie Ray and Ian Krol along with 25-year-old infielder Steve Lombardozzi to the Tigers in exchange for two years of Fister at arbitration prices. Ray is the primary piece of value here, as a young lefty with solid stuff who has already succeeded at Double-A, getting his walks under control for a 60 inning stint in the second half of the season. Combined with a velocity spike that saw him sitting in the low-to-mid 90s, Ray’s stock is up quite a bit from last year, and Baseball America just ranked him as the organization’s 5th best prospect heading into 2014, though his pronounced platoon splits and previous control issues suggest he might end up in the bullpen eventually.

Krol and Lombardozzi are filler pieces essentially. Krol’s a hard throwing youngster who fits best as a lefty specialist, and probably shouldn’t face good right-handers in critical situations at this point in his career. Lombardozzi’s a reserve infielder who isn’t much of a hitter and doesn’t have enough glove to cover shortstop, so while he’s young, the upside is pretty limited. Maybe he grows into his power and develops into an okay second baseman in a few years, but for right now, he’s kind of a replacement level bench guy without a ton of value.

So, in exchange for Fister, the Nationals surrendered a non-elite pitching prospect who has pitched a half season at Double-A and probably won’t rank in anyone’s Top 100 next spring, plus a couple of role players who might or might not end up amounting to anything. And in return, they’re getting two years of a very good starting pitcher at far below market prices. This trade is nothing short of a bonanza for the Nationals.

Seriously, look at where Fister stands relative to the game’s best pitchers over the last three years.

Name IP BB% K% HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA- FIP- xFIP- WAR RA9-WAR
Clayton Kershaw 697 6% 26% 0.54 0.260 79% 60 70 78 18.5 22.8
Justin Verlander 707 7% 25% 0.79 0.275 77% 68 74 83 19.1 20.6
Cliff Lee 666 4% 25% 0.89 0.295 79% 72 73 74 16.5 18.0
Jered Weaver 578 6% 20% 0.89 0.252 80% 71 91 100 11.1 17.3
James Shields 705 7% 23% 0.91 0.283 77% 80 88 84 12.9 16.4
Felix Hernandez 670 6% 24% 0.64 0.309 74% 83 74 74 16.6 14.6
Cole Hamels 651 6% 23% 0.88 0.280 76% 82 83 84 13.2 14.5
David Price 622 6% 23% 0.78 0.288 75% 81 81 80 13.4 14.1
Hiroki Kuroda 623 6% 19% 1.00 0.283 78% 81 94 91 9.7 13.8
Chris Sale 477 6% 26% 0.91 0.287 79% 72 76 76 11.1 13.3
Gio Gonzalez 597 10% 24% 0.65 0.280 76% 81 85 91 11.4 12.7
Jordan Zimmermann 570 5% 19% 0.77 0.283 76% 82 88 95 10.2 12.4
Doug Fister 586 5% 18% 0.61 0.300 73% 82 80 86 13.3 12.4
R.A. Dickey 667 7% 20% 1.04 0.273 76% 88 100 97 8.6 12.0
Max Scherzer 597 7% 26% 1.06 0.301 75% 88 81 83 13.6 12.0
Kyle Lohse 598 5% 16% 0.92 0.269 76% 85 99 104 7.5 11.5
Anibal Sanchez 574 7% 24% 0.77 0.309 74% 85 78 83 13.5 11.4
Matt Cain 625 7% 21% 0.76 0.260 74% 88 94 99 9.6 11.2
CC Sabathia 648 6% 22% 0.93 0.306 72% 89 82 82 13.9 11.1
Zack Greinke 561 6% 24% 0.80 0.300 75% 87 81 80 11.3 11.1
Madison Bumgarner 614 6% 23% 0.73 0.285 74% 86 85 86 11.2 10.7
C.J. Wilson 638 9% 21% 0.71 0.290 72% 84 90 94 10.9 10.6
Bartolo Colon 507 4% 16% 0.92 0.295 76% 82 90 96 9.1 10.5
Mat Latos 614 7% 22% 0.81 0.283 74% 90 89 94 10.5 10.3
Jon Lester 610 8% 20% 0.94 0.300 73% 95 91 93 10.9 9.9

Those are the top 25 pitchers in baseball by RA9-WAR from 2011 to 2013. Note that Fister ranks 13th, two spots ahead of Scherzer. He ranks ahead of Zack Greinke, who got $150 million as a free agent last winter, and Anibal Sanchez, who got $85 million. He’s basically in a tie with Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, who have both finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting over the last couple of years.

And that’s runs allowed, which penalizes Fister for having to pitch in front of the Tigers defense. By FIP-based WAR, Fister ranks 9th, right between David Price and Cole Hamels. This is not a case where out new fangled math has identified an undervalued pitcher who only looks good on FanGraphs and looks like crap by traditional metrics. By the things we value the most, Fister has been a top 10 pitcher in MLB over the last three years; by the things that MLB has traditionally valued, he’s been a top 15 pitcher over the same time frame.

The easy comparison here is James Shields. A year ago, the Rays decided that they couldn’t afford the final two arbitration payouts for Shields, and put their strike-throwing change-up specialist on the market. In the three seasons prior to 2013, Shields had thrown 680 innings with a 96/94/81 ERA-/FIP-/xFIP- line, putting up +10 WAR by either FIP or runs allowed based models. He’d been better in the two more recent years, though, putting up an 81/89/79 line in 477 innings. He was a durable innings eater who had been at times among the most dominant right-handed starters in the game.

James Shields landed the Rays a kid named Wil Myers, who was rated as the game’s third best prospect heading into the 2013 season, and ended up winning Rookie of the Year. I was one of many who thought (and still do think) the deal was a massive overpay for the Royals, so the Tigers shouldn’t have expected to land a Myers-style prospect for Fister, but you would think they could have gotten closer than this. Especially because Fister’s track record is even better than Shields’ was, as he’s put up +13 WAR over the last three years compared to Shields’ 10 WAR from 2010-2012. Even if you just go past two years and exclude Fister’s excellent 2011 season, he still grades out as very comparable to Shields’ final two seasons before last winter’s trade.

And yet, the Nationals gave up a good-not-great pitching prospect, a lefty reliever, and a bench guy. Realistically, this is not that different from the return they got by trading away Michael Morse last winter, when they landed A.J. Cole (now rated as their #2 prospect by BA, ahead of Ray), Blake Treinen (a fringy pitching prospect), and Krol, who is changing teams once again. A year ago, the Nationals flipped one year of an injury prone DH for this same kind of package of talent that is now netting them two years of one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.

This cost seems light even compared to other players traded with fewer years of team control on the books. Just this summer, the Rangers gave up four prospects of varying quality for Matt Garza, and it wouldn’t be hard to argue that C.J. Edwards is a prospect of similar value to Ray, and that the secondary pieces in that deal are also superior to what the Tigers just got for Fister. And that was for a half season of a worse pitcher, and the mid-season trade meant that the Rangers weren’t able to make Garza a qualifying offer. They paid a similar (or maybe higher) price for two months of Garza and no pick as to what the Nationals just paid for two years of Fister and the potential of a draft pick as compensation if he leaves after 2015.

It’s not like that deal was the crazy outlier here either. The Red Sox gave up Jose Iglesias for the right to pay Jake Peavy about $18 million over 1 1/2 years; Iglesias is probably a better return than the combination of talent Detroit just got for Fister, and Fister will make roughly $18 million over the next two full seasons. And again, Fister has been a lot better than Peavy.

We could keep running down the line all day. Two years of R.A. Dickey at $25 million cost the Blue Jays Travis D’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, both far better prospects than Robbie Ray. Fister isn’t coming off a Cy Young season, but he just threw 209 terrific innings, and then gave the Tigers two very good starts in the playoffs.

Maybe it’s the fact that Fister’s fastball sits at 89, or that he was a non-prospect for most of his days in the minor leagues, but barring an unknown injury that is about to wreck his value, it seems like 29 MLB teams are missing the boat on Doug Fister. If Fister were a free agent, he’d have been the best starter on the market by a good margin. This is a market where $50 million for Ricky Nolasco isn’t outrageous. As a free agent, I’d have expected Fister to land something in the range of what Anibal Sanchez got last winter. His market value is probably somewhere around $80 million for five years.

Instead, the Nationals will own his rights for the next two years at a grand total of less than $20 million, and the cost to acquire him was one decent pitching prospect and some filler. I don’t get it. Worse pitchers regularly cost far more, even with fewer years of team control. Are teams really still degrading pitchers based solely on fastball velocity, even after 800 innings of excellent Major League performance? Is there reason to think that Fister, at age-29, is about to magically stop pitching well?

I get that the Tigers had too many starters. I get that selling low on Porcello or giving up Scherzer while trying to contend might not be great ideas either. Maybe Robbie Ray is going to turn into an ace, and the Tigers will have turned two years of a good pitcher into six years of a good pitcher. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility, and if Ray develops into a quality starter, this trade should work out just fine for the Tigers.

But that still looks like a pretty big if, given what we know about the success rates of pitching prospects, especially non-elite pitching prospects with some legitimate question marks. It seems to me that two valuable seasons of one of the game’s best pitchers should be worth more than one decent but unspectacular pitching prospect. It seems to me that MLB teams have been paying much higher prices to acquire quality starting pitching, and that the Nationals just got a total steal.

Maybe the Tigers and the 28 other teams who decided not to make a better bid for Fister know something that I don’t. Maybe he really is about to suck, after four years of being consistently above average, and with no obvious warning signs in sight. Maybe he spent the off-season burning down orphanages in third world countries and we just haven’t heard about it yet.

Short of that, though, this just an outright robbery. In a market where the prices for mediocre pitchers are very high, the Nationals paid a moderate price for a very good pitcher. They might have had a disappointing 2013 season, but with Fister slotted in behind Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimermann, they’re going to be very tough to beat in 2014.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

247 Responses to “Nationals Steal Doug Fister From Tigers”

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  1. Teddy Rochlis says:

    IN RIZZO WE TRUST

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  2. Colin says:

    Just when I think you couldn’t possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this….and totally redeem yourself!

    +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      Who are you talking about?

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    • Detroit boy says:

      I would personally like to thank Doug for his tenure in Detroit. A class act and a great pitcher that really elevated our team. I wish him all the best in Washington and further on in his career.

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      • Doug Fister says:

        Thank-you for your kind words on this internet blog.

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        • Crotchety Old Sam says:

          What a nice young man. Good to see some manners these days.

          +23 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • tigerfan001 says:

          You are a class act as well as a great pitcher. Tiger fans all over are in shock. Thank you for helping the Tigers get into the post season. I have a feeling that their success of the past three years will begin to fade. Sorry to see you go Good luck with your new team,

          +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Franco says:

          If there was ever a time for that Heath Ledger/Joker screencap….

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        • Nick O says:

          I’d have thought he’d be a bit more upset about Dave leaking these orphanage rumors.

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      • Farid says:

        As someone who left in Detroit’s first wave in 1984 (back to DC interestingly enough), I thank you for your kind and decent way of appreciating a very good player.

        Didn’t see a lot of that in Detroit(lots of angry people) and in Ann Arbor (a lot of … oh, wow, man, f-a-r o-u-g-h-t…)

        Ray has the possibility to be a mid-level starter, Krol has a good fastball against lefties and Lombardozzi is one of those “I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can” type of players, a grinder, no power, showed speed in the minors (averaged 30 steals or so) and won the only Minor League Gold Glove for second baseman his last year in the minors (they only give one for all minor league position players across all levels of play.)

        As a starter, he’s a quality fielding second baseman with a great love, average arm and .260′ish batting average.

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    • Balthazar says:

      What an absurd trade. The talent coming back for Doug Fister is, oh, 15% of his value to any franchise. So little money is saved one can’t even call this a salary dump. Inexplicable self-injury for the Tiges.

      And that makes it two in a row, punting a diamond in Fister. The Mariners moved him, before he really solidified his repertoire but in the season where that could be seen happening. I’ve tented to give Jack Zd and the Mariners FO about half of a pass on that; they took a package back, and seemed to expect something much prettier in it than what they got. Bad talent eval somewhere, in what became a flop of a deal. But the Tigers should _know_ what they have in Fister, a dependable mid-rotation arm who gets outs and racks up innings; a groundball machine who knows how to pitch and just beats you. Nothing that the Tigers got back has any real value unless Ray has been hiding his real wattage under some bushel, which nobody thinks.

      For the Nationals, another steal, like getting Gonazales for overvalued prospects in the main. Gio’s been better than anything they gave up, and this looks much the same. Either somebody knows something on Fister—or nobody knows nuthin’ about baseball talent. . . . Take the under on that, I’m thinking.

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      • Jack D says:

        You really shouldn’t mix jargon based on one sport with that of another. Especially when you try to use football terms in baseball… That’s just sacrilege. You don’t need to use football terms in baseball, because baseball is clearly the vastly superior sport. There’s no punting in baseball just like there’s no crying in baseball…

        Other than that, I totally agree.

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        • Balthazar says:

          What, you don’t see boating metaphors as fitting to the hazards of navigating the talent marshes?

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  3. hscer says:

    I’m happier than I should be that they got Lombardozzi out of there. Honestly unrelated to that elation, but possibly related to the trade: could the Nats possibly actually be considering Cano?

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    • Cidron says:

      well, Washington is on good terms with Boras. It is considered a ‘competitive’ team, where a Boras client usually lands. They may be willing to pay what another team wouldnt. I didnt think it, but, this idea has possibilities.

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      • IZZY2112 says:

        Cano isn’t with Boras anymore.

        +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • La Flama Blanca says:

        Jay Z is now Cano’s agent. You’re probably thinking I’m just making a bad joke. But no. Robinson Cano actually fired the best agent in the world for a mediocre rapper.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          Eh, the marginal increase in endorsements from working with Jay-Z may very well outweigh the extra money he’d have gotten with Boras.

          Also, there’s no way in hell that Jay-Z is letting Cano leave NYC, so I’m pumped about the switch.

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        • Visitor says:

          I had been wondering why on earth his agent had such a weird name and was getting so much attention for about a year. I didn’t know who he was.

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        • Jon L. says:

          Jay Z is a very gifted rapper, you ignorant bastard.

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        • DNA+ says:

          Jay Z is actually a much more successful businessman than Scott Boras, and it isn’t even close. Jay Z is worth near a billion dollars, and it isn’t from selling records. I’m pretty sure Cano will do just fine with Jay Z. …also, mediocre musicians don’t have 20 year careers at the top.

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        • Steve says:

          Jay-Z is NOT Cano’s agent. He is the face of the sports marketing company that employs CAA, a long tenured sports agency that also represents guys like Matt Cain, Dan Haren, Mark Buerhle, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Howard, Buster Posey, etc. etc. etc.

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        • Antonio Bananas says:

          DNA+ yes, mediocre musicians….ahem….musicians? (Not sure jay z is one) do have 20 plus years at the top because being popular and on the radio is marketing, not musical talent.

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        • DNA+ says:

          Antonio,

          I don’t buy that for a second. One hit wonders might be a combination of marketing and luck, but sustained success means Jay Z is selling a product that the market wants. If it didn’t require talent to be as successful as he is, everyone would be doing it. The market has spoken. Jay Z is not mediocre. Not by a long shot.

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        • RC says:

          “Jay Z is a very gifted rapper, you ignorant bastard.”

          No, hes not. He’s a terrible one.

          On the other hand, hes a fantastic producer, a fantastic businessman, has a fantastic eye for talent, and knows how to convince people much more musically talented than him to appear on his albums.

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        • DNA+ says:

          Terrible rapper but great producer? …I think you are talking about Kanye West…

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        • Steve says:

          My completely subjective opinion about music is more correct than yours!!

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  4. John in Michigan says:

    This has to be one of the most confusing trades I’ve ever seen.

    +39 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • JS7 says:

      This trade makes no sense for the Tigers! There has gotta be more to it.

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    • Slats says:

      It is Cyber Monday after all…

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    • ralph says:

      I think the last time I felt this confused about a trade when it happened was when the Diamondbacks traded Haren for Saunders, Skaggs, Corbin, and Rodriguez.

      Which I think illustrates the point here. Sure, Ray could pull a Corbin and be much better than anyone thinks is possible here at the time of the trade. But that kind of longshot shouldn’t be the only way this trade can work out favorably for Detroit, and yet it really kind of seems like Dombrowski is counting on that longshot coming through.

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      • SKob says:

        Skaggs is 22… lets not write him off just yet. He was a top tier prospect not too long ago. That group of 4 was way better then, compared to this group the Tigers got for Fister.

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        • ralph says:

          Totally not writing Skaggs off.

          I guess I should have been more explicit in saying the D-Backs greatly increased their chances of success in that trade by acquiring multiple guys with chances to be more than a reliever or utility guy. So far, the best guy they acquired isn’t the one they expected to be the best, which means they could still go from doing quite well in the trade to doing amazingly well.

          Which illustrates that as much confidence as Dombrowski must have in Robbie Ray, it’s still a huge gamble to essentially rest the entire success of the trade on Ray. It really seems like he should have pushed for another interesting-but-not-amazing arm or position player, because at best, it’s hard to imagine this turning out to be more than a just okay trade.

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        • Balthazar says:

          Agreed. Dombo seems to be betting that Ray will at least _equal_ Fister in value, since neither of the others projects to more than bit worth. And projecting Ray to equal Fister’s demonstrated value is silly. Most of the starting pitchers in either league grade out below him. Reee-dick-o-lousss.

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        • NatsLady says:

          Apparently, he DID push for Taylor Jordan, but the Nats wouldn’t budge. So Robbie Ray wasn’t even his first choice.

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        • Jason B says:

          “Dombo seems to be betting that Ray will at least _equal_ Fister in value”

          When you’re betting on a prospect becoming a top 10-15 pitcher over two years, that’s…that’s probably not so wise.

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        • ralph says:

          To be fair, the bet isn’t that Ray becomes a top 10-15 pitcher, it’s that Ray (with perhaps contributions from Krol and Lombo) delivers as much surplus dollar value in the next 7 years as Fister does in the next two.

          I still don’t think that’s a good bet, but it’s a much more reasonable one. The core problem is that for a win now team, they shouldn’t be trying to come out equal or even a little head in surplus value at the expense of now.

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        • Jason B says:

          Ralph, that’s a fair point.

          Plug Skaggs has tantalized before. Lido Shuffle is not terrible.

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        • Balthazar says:

          So Ralph, no, I don’t think that’s really how GMs evaluate this kind of deal. Seven years is a long time; for a pitcher, it’s a _long_ time. Guys get hurt. They get moved. They may be slow to develop. _GMs_ finish out their contracts and move on. Nobody can bet on how a non-major signing is going to be playing 5-7 years on in making a deal now, particularly on a ‘we’ll net 1.7 WAR ahead of the other guy on this one’ kind of basis. Deals have to get made on return over the next 2-4 years, and on ceiling. And from that perspective, there’s NO way for Ray to be in any conversation which both makes sense and which also includes Doug Fister. To me.

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  5. Frag says:

    This is such a weird trade by Detroit. I really don’t get it.

    +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Slats says:

      Doug Fister has now been traded twice for Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells, Chance Ruffin, Francisco Martinez , Robbie Ray, Ian Krol and Steve Lombardozzi.

      Nice collection of talent!!

      +15 Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Hoppy says:

    Daylight robbery

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  7. Charlie says:

    WHAT THE FUCK?

    What the hell, Detroit. This has got to be one of the worst trades in recent memory.

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  8. Wes says:

    As a Tigers fan, the only thing that makes sense is that this is some sort of pre-emptive salary dump. Has DD finally reached the limits of Ilitch’s wallet?

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  9. Lenard says:

    Dave, you are some sort of magician with getting these posts up so quickly.

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  10. This is a good old-fashioned hosing,and it makes life harder for any NL team on the fringes of contention. Seriously, Rendon would have been a reasonable return for Fister.

    +14 Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. walt526 says:

    When I heard that Fister was headed to the Nationals, I just assumed that Rendon was going to be part of the package.

    If you add Rendon to Ray and the two dwarfs, then it seems like a reasonable trade. But without Rendon, I don’t know what the heck the Tigers are thinking.

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  12. Zach says:

    Are we sure Anthony Rendon is not in this trade? Really the value seems that far off.

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    • Colin says:

      I feel like there is going to be a report later that says Rendon was a part of this deal. There just has to be for it to make any kind of sense.

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    • Wobatus says:

      Dombrowski: OK, Ray, Krol and that kid you got, early to mid 20s, plays some 2b, some 3b, Anthony somebody, Italian?

      Rizzo: Lombardozzi?

      Dombrowski: Yeah, that’s him. Let’s do it!

      +81 Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Colin says:

    You would think there was some kind of extreme pressure to pull the trigger on this deal for the Tigers based on how little they got, but really ,there was absolutely no pressure. Absolutely no reason to deal Fister here and they are now pretty much instantly worse for having done it.

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  14. Nick says:

    Some kind of medical thing that only front offices know about? That’s about the only rational explanation.

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    • Cidron says:

      unlikely, as that would show up in the physicals that players take. If he fails that physical, the trade is void.

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      • Dan says:

        not as unlikely as you might think. There is reasonable evidence that teams that let FAs walk may know something more than the rest of the league about that player and the same logic applies to trades.

        Fister seems as unlikely as any pitcher to breakdown, but you never know.

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        • Anon21 says:

          Still makes no sense. Either Rizzo was also aware of the hypothetical/probably imaginary injury issue but has a different evaluation of its seriousness, or Dombrowski still fucked up royally, because he could have fleeced at least 15 other clubs for a much better prospect haul with his broken pitcher.

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    • hamster recess says:

      Another rational explanation is that Rizzo has some naked pictures of someone’s wife.

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      • Dave Dombrowski says:

        Actually, it was naked pictures of me with my mistress. To think I’d let Rizzo have Fister for just naked pictures of my wife….how dumb do you think I am?

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  15. JS7 says:

    A fun new drinking game for Mariners fans: For every prospect the Nats send to Detroit for Fister better than Furbush/Wells/Ruffin/Martinez take a shot.

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  16. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    So Doug Fister is worth one completely average reliever, one below-average utility infielder, and one high-risk-high-reward pitching prospect?

    This reminds me of another Rizzo special: Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos.

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  17. Stringer Bell says:

    As a Tigers fan, I’m so angry.

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  18. Detroit GM says:

    Fister? Buddy I hardly knew ‘er

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  19. Charlie says:

    The only explanation is Dombrowksi’s son stole his phone.

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  20. Brendan J. says:

    I mean I knew today Cyber Monday….

    +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. Cidron says:

    the only way it even remotely makes sense (and that is a stretch anyways) is if Tigers are really uncertain about their infield, and are desperate to get a warm body there at a cheap dollar price. Lombardozzi might do that. Its a reach, but… Fister could have netted so much more than what he did.

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  22. triple_r says:

    Has there ever been an example of a GM making a universally acclaimed blockbuster trade, and then following that with a universally panned one?

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  23. pastlives says:

    odd trade. serious question, how many teams would NOT have given up at least their top prospect for Fister?

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    • Bernie Carbo Loading says:

      Good question. Boston wouldn’t surrender Bogaerts. Houston and Minny wouldn’t give up Correa/Buxton, I don’t think. Also, St. Louis and the Cubs would likely keep Taveras and Baez/Bryant, respectively. And that’s about it, I’d say; just those five.

      It’s a weird, weird trade for Detroit. The kind of trade that would *seem* to be money-motivated…except Fister doesn’t make much dough.

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    • Zen Madman says:

      I don’t think the Mets would give up Syndergaard (or TDA) for two years of Fister.

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    • SF 55 for life says:

      Probably not too many teams would give up their top prospect.

      Just about every team would give up one ranked outside the top 100 though like Ray is.

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    • MBDC says:

      Don’t you think if Rizzo would have given up Giolito, Dombrowski would have taken him?

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  24. Tom says:

    My only hope as a Tigers fan is that there is some super low level prospect that I haven’t heard of on the Tigers also named Doug Fister, and we traded him away, not Doug Fister the top 10 in all of baseball over the last 3 years pitcher.

    That’s what happened, right? Dave Dombrowski traded the OTHER Doug Fister, right? RIGHT????

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  25. Mr Punch says:

    It seems to me that this is a repeated pattern: a team with “too many” starters unloads one (not necessarily the one considered most likely to go) for too little. The front office first devalues the player in their own minds, deciding in effect that he’s their sixth-best, and then feel glad to get a halfway decent return. Wily Mo Pena, for instance.

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  26. Will says:

    Wow, just, wow. This is so f-ing awesome. Stras, JZ, Gio, Fister, one of (instead of two of, making another available as a long man) of Detwiler, Jordan, or – I guess, if you can actually believe his RA – Ohlendorf… this means that if Det’s back is an issue, you have other options MLB-ready, which was depth they absolutely didn’t have last year. They still need to bulk up the pen, but to get this kind of “#4″ for a fungible reliever and bench bat, along with Ray (who could end up being really good, but it’s worth the gamble) is amazing. The one thing I thought Dave would bring up (in an otherwise great writeup) is that the team is in win-now mode, with two years of control of their whole team and (hopefully) healthy Harp and Stras… five years ago, I’d want to see what Ray could do, but this is the time to go for it, and they gave up nothing that can’t be replaced to improve for this near-term run.

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  27. Nick says:

    Insane. If you say AJ Cole roughly equals Robbie Ray (which probably isn’t the case), then the Nats essentially got Fister for Steve Lombardozzi and one year of Michael Morse. That’s almost literally unbelievable.

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    • Forrest Gumption says:

      Fister should have bought back what the Mets got for Dickey, right? This doesn’t even come remotely close.

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    • Pig.Pen says:

      Or you could look at this way, the Nats traded one, yup that’s right, one year of Michael Morse for AJ Cole and Ian Krol. AJ Cole is significantly better than Robbie Ray, so the Nats got more for one year of Michael Morse than the Tigers got for 2 years of Doug Fister. This is even better than Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos.

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  28. Rippers says:

    Dave, I just wanted to commend you on a great job! This is exactly why I love FanGraphs so much. The trade was only reported in the last hour or two and you already have this written and posted! Well done.

    +12 Vote -1 Vote +1

  29. Kevin says:

    I presume he’s banging Mrs. Dombrowski, and Dave just wanted him gone pronto, not caring what he got in return.

    Either that or Fister was beaning minorities in Brightmoor for laughs.

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  30. Anon21 says:

    “They might have had a disappointing 2013 season, but with Fister slotted in behind Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimermann, they’re going to be very tough to beat in 2014.”

    Sweet music to this Braves fan’s ears after all the success analysts had pegging the Nationals last offseason.

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  31. Crotchety Old Sam says:

    I’d buy that for a dollar!

    …No seriously, here’s a dollar, son. Go buy yourself a nice starting pitcher.

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  32. Teddy Rochlis says:

    This is a swing of 5.5 Wins for the nats at the cost of 5.5 million now thats called being effecient

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  33. Radivel says:

    Meanwhile, 28 other teams are wondering what happened to Fister and why couldn’t their GM give Dumbrowski some random junk that’s slightly better than this..

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    • JUK says:

      Exactly! As a Jays fan, Loup, Nolin and Goins matches that deal pretty closely, and who wouldn’t have done that in a second??? Just a really weird trade

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  34. Ruki Motomiya says:

    This is simply crazy. First off, the Tigers shouldn’t have traded a starter at all: Smyly is awesome in the pen and having him around means you have excellent 6 pitcher depth, propping you up if any of your 5 starters go down (or more than one, even!).

    Second, the return is basically nil. I was expecting some high end prospect or Rendon or something, but it’s just…not really anything.

    Thirdly, the Nats have a great rotation now with Stras, Gio, Zimmermann and Fister all on the same team.

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  35. cass says:

    Will the Nationals benefit at all from the velocity difference between Fister and Strasburg/Gio/Zimmermann? Like the R.A. Dickey effect? Has anyone done a study on that? Cause the other three members of the rotation are all very hard throwers.

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    • snack man says:

      that’s what I was thinking. Last year, teams would describe, “adjusting to the speed” by the third game against the Nats. With Fister, that’ll be harder.

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    • MBDC says:

      I would think so — so long as he pitches well. Haren’s average fastball is similar to Fister’s, but as a Nat’s fan I’m hoping Fister won’t leave as many of them belt-high, center of the plate.

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  36. coldseat says:

    Well, one has to assume that Detroit shopped Fister to all the other teams and that was the best offer out there. For some reason it seems like mid rotation guys are more valued as free agents than as a trade target. Lombardozzi may be a bit of a sleeper, too – “gritty”

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    • Tim says:

      Well, one has to assume that Detroit shopped Fister to all the other teams and that was the best offer out there.

      No, one doesn’t. In fact that seems phenomenally unlikely. Even if you leave out their divisional rivals, most of whom would have been thrilled to get in on this, I can’t imagine the A’s preferred Kazmir to trading for Fister at similar money.

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      • coldseat says:

        True, but the question is what the A’s offered…Kashmir cost them nothing but money and the tigers prob preferred the nats pkg over jamile weeks. Apparently the tigers also preferred the nats pkg over howie kendrick plus…

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    • snack man says:

      It’s possible Detroit didn’t want to trade within the AL so they didn’t see Fister in regular play or in the ALDS/CS. Ironically, it would have made the most sense to trade him to a team within the AL Central since they wouldn’t ever see him in the post season then.

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    • The Party Bird says:

      You know what you do if this is the best offer for Doug Fister? Don’t trade Doug Fister.

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  37. Z..... says:

    I really like Lombo as an outside observer. I still think he could have played every day had he been on a different team that didnt already have his positions filled, though he was bad in 2013. He also didnt run much with the Nationals and adding that to his major league game will/would make him look better…It should be interesting to see what Detroit plans to do with Castellanos b/c Lombo can play 2b, 3b, or LF. He could be an option at a spot that doesnt get filled…The Nationals still didnt give too much to acquire a really good mid rotation pitcher, as was obviously stated throughout this article. I obviously like the deal better for them since they get the best player on a very good contract while giving up a very small amount, especially considering those pieces’ fit in their own organization, but it still has some decent-good implications for both sides. I thought the Tigers should have got 1 more prospect in the deal, but they did add some talent. Whatever the case, I’m sure Dombrowski has something planned

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    • Z..... says:

      …perhaps they needed to open up the money to make improvements in their bullpen? or make some other signing? I’m trying to figure out anything here lol.

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    • NatsLady says:

      Lombo TRIES to play LF and 3B. In LF he has chancy jumps and a noodle arm. He is seriously bad at 3B. Given the choice, the Nats put Chad Tracy at 3B rather than Lombo. He is adequate at 2B, a real trier, and capable of making nice plays. He doesn’t walk, doesn’t steal. He can lay down a bunt very well.

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    • MBDC says:

      As a biased observer (Nats fan) I love Lombardozzi. All the same, if he’s going to play regularly anywhere, it’s going to be at second. He can fill in at third or outfield or even once in a while at short. But, honestly he’s not going to start anywhere on a good team. His strength is as a bench/utility guy. You can argue that the Nats were wrong, but it might be telling that when they needed a second baseman this past season they promoted Rendon faster than they wanted to and put him in a position he hadn’t played much rather than starting Lombo.

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  38. Is this cos Fister is a no. 4? Probably the best no. 4 in the game. As a Nats fan, this is awesome. Now we need a bench IF guy – if Espinosa can return to something nearish what he was and hit .230/.300/.350 w/ top defense and good BSR we are set.

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  39. tigerfan001 says:

    Has DD lost his mind? This must be an April fool’s joke in December! I just cannot believe it…makes no sense at all.

    Doug I really enjoyed your pitching performances in Detroit. We will really miss you. Wish you well in Washington…I have a feeling we are going to see you next October pitching against the Tigers and DD will really have egg all over his face!

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  40. Jacob Rasch says:

    From the Nats’ perspective, this is a ridiculously good deal. For almost nothing of real value, they picked up (by fWAR, the 13th-most valuable starter in baseball. A lefty reliever can be acquired on the (relatively) cheap, and Ray has the ceiling of a 3-starter, what Fister already is for this team. You can read more about my opinion on the trade here.
    http://seriousjammage.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/nationals-acquire-doug-fister-from-tigers/

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    • Dan says:

      The 13th most valuable starter in baseball? Really? Because that was in the past. He doesn’t project as the 13th most valuable starter in the future. Steamer projects 173 IP for 3.3 WAR (3.79 ERA, 3.50 FIP) with a K rate falling to 6.54 per 9 IP.

      He probably projects as somewhere around the 25th to 40th best starter in baseball the next 2 seasons. Still a good deal, but not an absolute steal.

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      • Jason B says:

        25th-40th best starter = #1 starter for some, #2 for most.

        Which was acquired for a relative pittance.

        = absolute steal.

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  41. MrKnowNothing says:

    Maybe the Tigers forgot they already traded for a 2B.

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  42. ralph says:

    Dombrowski must really love him some Robbie Ray.

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  43. pft says:

    His last 18 starts he had a 4.07 ERA. Maybe the Tigers suspect his arm is shot. Maybe they saw more potential in Kay than others. If he is close to MLB ready they can keep Smyly in the pen, and have a LH starter to balance out the rotation.

    While it does not seem they got much for him, the money saved on top of what they saved from the Fielder trade could put them in position to go after Cano or Ellsbury and after a premium closer/setup guy like Nathan/Rodney.

    I think the ALCS showed that no matter how good your SP’ing is, you need a good pen, more balanced lineup, better defense and speed.

    The painting is only 1/2 finished, and while it does not look pretty at this point lets see what it looks like in March.

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      Cherry-picking much? ERA’s not very useful considering the Tigers’ defense. Over the time span you specified, Fister allowed a .346 BABIP, about 50 points higher than his career average.

      Unfortunately I’m stupid and can’t figure out how to see his FIP over his last 18 starts. But I don’t think they’re a major problem with his performance.

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      • pft says:

        Sometimes high BABIP is an indicator of solid contact, although the weak corner defense did not help him. ERA is simply more available than FIP over stretches like this. FWIW his K/9 was down and his WHIP was up. He had a 4.73 ERA against 500+ teams.

        Not saying he is not good, but maybe he is a bit overrated pitching in a weak division, and the Tigers figured out they have got the best years out of him, and decided to free up some money to fill some other holes.

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        • coldseat says:

          Good point re babip, especially for a control, sinker guy like fister; the slightest loss of wiggle or placement can mean a lot in terms of hard contact (but the nats still seems to done well).

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      • RC says:

        “Cherry-picking much? ERA’s not very useful considering the Tigers’ defense.”

        That’s only true if

        A) You expect the Tiger’s defense to radically improve
        B) You’re trying to find Fister’s talent level, not his continued performance as a Tiger.

        And I agree with pft – rising BABIP doesn’t mean luck. It very often means the guy is getting hit harder. (It could also just be a symptom of Detroits terrible defense)

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    • The Party Bird says:

      Umm, Smyly entering the rotation already “balances” it because he’s a lefty.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      What’s with this “balance the rotation” stuff? It doesn’t matter, who cares?

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  44. rubesandbabes says:

    Krol is young, got to the big leagues quickly, possibly an immature teammate or something,

    but deserves better than to be explained out of this trade as to why the Nationals won.

    He could very well go on to be the top piece in this trade, well after Fister plays out his current contract.

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    • Pennsy says:

      Agreed. He could bloom into a bullpen ace. They can come from anywhere. And he was really impressive at times in 2013.

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      • Pig.Pen says:

        Yup, and we all know a bullpen ace is pretty valuable. 4-5 years of a bullpen ace, would almost be worth one year of a top 20 starter.

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  45. Josh Coleman says:

    For a team with World Series aspirations the Tigers have had a miserable offseason thus far. The loss of Fielder in favor of Kinsler hurts the offense, and the departure of Fister hurts the teams biggest strength. Unless the move was to free up money to sign Ellsbury or more likely Choo the Tigers would appear to be slowly closing the door on this era of the franchise.

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    • pft says:

      The offseasons not over. When they sign Cano and move Miggie to 1B and Kinsler to 3B you will be happier, especially if they can sign another OF’er and Nathan or Rodney.

      I think both the Fielder and Fister trades were designed to free money for a blockbuster signing or two. When the painting is complete the team should be stronger

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      • The Party Bird says:

        If Fister’s meager salary was what was holding back the Tigers from signing Cano, I just completely give up on understanding the finance of baseball.

        +17 Vote -1 Vote +1

  46. The Nicker says:

    I hate this trade with the fire of a million suns.

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  47. Forrest Gumption says:

    Fister is better than Dickey, Dickey got a kings ransom for the Mets. This got pretty much nothing for Detroit. AJ Cole would have had to been in the deal, not Lombardozzi, for this to be even.

    Also: did not expect to see Kyle Lohse that high in the last 3 year WAR totals. He’s worth his deal everyone called overpriced, interesting…

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      Fister is not better than Dickey was at the time.

      Fister is very good, but he’s not better than the pitcher the Blue Jays thought they were trading for.

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    • coldseat says:

      WAR is valuable, of course but its not fail safe. Sometimes WAR likes certain guys, like Von Hayes who WAR thinks was an elite OF’er for a good stretch.

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  48. snack man says:

    Isn’t it also possible that Detroit thinks they can get a lot of Krol, Ray, or Lombo? i.e. if a top scout says that one of them is just going to work within their system (especially Ray) this trade might have made some sense, no?

    Really, I see this fitting into a pattern of trading away the 6+th starter for peanuts though because, who ever heard of a starter getting injured?

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    • Tim Wakefield says:

      No. If you want to be optimistic, you see Krol as a good situational lefty who can get out a few righties in the 7th or 8th innin; Lombo as a .5-1 WAR guy over a half season; and Ray as a high risk potential #2/#3 starter. That’s no way in which that’s worth 2 years of Doug Fister for $18 mil.

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  49. Matt says:

    Wait, doesn’t moving Smyly to the rotation only further their bullpen woes? I don’t think that’s the reason for this move at all. The Tigers are obviously scared of going over the luxury tax limit and having money to extend their superstars. That’s why they traded Fielder. Fister also stands to receive a significant raise in arbitration. To me, this is a salary dump and the precursor to a huge free agent signing or two. Starting pitching was a position of strength for the Tigers and they obviously feel the players they’re about to add exceed the value of Fister alone. I think they’re about to fail miserably but I think I see where they’re coming from with this deal.

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  50. Franco says:

    If you take the worst case scenario of the Tigers having some kind OCD crush on Ray, didn’t bother to call any other teams, and the Nationals having little interest in picking up a great cheap starter… you’d still think the Tigers could’ve gotten more out of this trade.

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  51. Pat says:

    It’s pretty clear the Tigers could’ve gotten more for Fister than this return, but he’s a RH pitcher with a fastball that hovers just south of 89MPH. I’m not sure if it’s fair to compare him to Shields, Garza, or even Peavy in that respect. The ground balls and walks have yielded impressive results the last 3 years, but if he loses a mile or two off of his fastball, is his success sustainable? Honest question.

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    • pft says:

      FWIW Bill James wants nothing to do with guys like Fister. Your right on the FB velocity, he does not have much room to play with on the downside.

      Teams know their own pitchers pretty well, I would not be surprised if they saw some evidence of wear and tear. Not enough to do an MRI or skip starts, but more time spent in the trainers room and more frequent Toradol injections give them an idea of whats ahead.

      My old motto is when something looks too good to be true it probably is not as good as it looks.

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  52. Gertrude says:

    I like this for Detroit. Really do. You’re vastly underrating Lombardozzi. He has the potential to be a top 5 2B while Fister lets in run after run. I’ve seen him pitch on the tv. He’s decent, but I like the Tigers taking a chance on him, Why not, when Smyly is right there??

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    • Preston says:

      Please be a troll…

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    • Daniel says:

      You don’t have a very good understanding of baseball or economics, do you?

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    • gnomez says:

      Drugs are bad, kids.

      +10 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • NatsLady says:

      Have you WATCHED Lombo play 2B (not to mention his bat)?

      The Nats brought Rendon up, a guy who had basically NEVER played the position, and he quickly supplanted Lombardozzi. (The Nats only played Lombo late in the season because Rendon was fatigued.)

      Lombo is a gritty player, a professional from a baseball family, he won’t embarrass you, but a star he ain’t.

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      • mockcarr says:

        That’s misleading, NatsLady, it’s not all gritty crapola. Rendon is a much better prospect and athlete than Lombo, and they clearly wanted the offensive upside, but Lombo has actually hit 291/322/384 in almost 100 games as a sometime 2B for his career with a positive defense rating. Granted, that’s a pretty empty BA without any power, but he could just as easily be an average 2B for a few years as Krol could be a more than a fungible loogy or Ray a viable major league starter. Just because he’s been behind more talented players doesn’t mean he can’t hack it. The guy graded out as the best defensive 2B in AAA his last year in the minors.

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        • MBDC says:

          Yes, Lombo’s a decent player (especially if he’s a utility player shoring up the bench), but she’s right that the Nats didn’t want him as their starting second baseman. I think it was widely understood and acknowledged that the Nats brought Rendon up much sooner than they wanted to and played him in a position where he’d only had a handful of minor league starts rather than going with Lombo.

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    • Pig.Pen says:

      Well, it’s pretty much been confirmed that Lombardozzi led the league last year in gamery grittyness. I see an RBI title in his future, perhaps even a batting title. Besides, he doesn’t cheat the game and puts the ball in play.

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  53. Roy S says:

    On paper, it makes literally no sense. Its possible MLB teams know things we don’t about Fister, though, and he might not be useful much longer due to wear and tear, projected decrease in FB velocity, etc. Hence, the minimal return. I don’t think something like that can be discounted. We’ll see what happens.

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  54. Edgar4Evar says:

    If I’m the FBI I start investigating this Fister character post haste. The only way this deal makes sense is if Fister is into some serious shit.

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    • pft says:

      Tigers probably have some sense of his character and physical condition. I am sure many teams hire private investigators for their top players especially those starting to make serious dollars.

      My bet is they sense some wear and tear on his arm and are selling high. Other teams may have the same sense which is why they could not get much. I know some teams stay away from GB pitchers, taking after Bill James philosophy. BABIP on GB is just too high, even with a good defense. Better off with FB high K guys even if they give up a few more HR.

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  55. james wilson says:

    Fister spent an entire Beltre at bat two years ago chewing him up with inside two seamers which were fouled off Betre’s leg and foot, one after another. He could have put him away with a slider outside anytime but he was having too much fun ruining Beltre’s health. Them days is past. Or maybe he could see Colon’s doctor.

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  56. Brian Lonsway says:

    The timing of this trade is as infuriating as the return, December 2nd????? Even if the Tigers have to reduce payroll, why not wait until the remaining pitchers have signed? There will be a number of teams believing they are one top of the rotation starter away from being a contender and then be more willing to dig into thier farm system.. a pile of sh*t would always be available if that is what Dumbroski desired

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  57. kiss my GO NATS says:

    Yipee! Rizzo pulled off a huge steal! That man trades very very well!

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    • Pig.Pen says:

      I’d love to agree with you, but a voice in my head keeps saying, “Leading off for the Nationals and playing Centerfield, Denard Span…” and then I see a vision of him striking out on a nasty slider aimed at his back knee as the camera pans to Alex Meyer.

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  58. SeattleSlew says:

    Was Jack Z sleeping? Mariners supposedly looking for another starter and already missed Kazmir. Garza, Santana and Ubaldo will want too many years and the latter two require compensation. After that it falls off a cliff. Seattle knows Fister and will have a good defense in place for 2014, and certainly has the “pieces” that would have trumped the dreck that the Nationals foisted on the Tigers.

    Oh….just heard, Jack Z was talking with Russ Ortiz while the Fister talks were taking place. My bad

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  59. Cappy says:

    Here comes Cano!

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  60. FeslenR says:

    That was a good trade by the Nationals and surprising one from Detroit.
    I am sure they’re planning to save money for Scherzer though.

    Also, thank you Dave Cameron for stating that $50M for Nolasco IS outrageous, just not in the new market…

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  61. DNA+ says:

    Is it possible that FanGraphs values Doug Fister more than any GM does?

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    • ralph says:

      I think the far more interesting question is whether Detroit is doing FanGraphs-style surplus dollar calculations here. To be clear, the trade seems like absolutely the wrong move for a supposed contender. But money-wise over the next 7 years, it might make sense.

      You figure Fister will be paid $20 million for the next two years. Steamer projects 3.3 WAR for next year, and let’s use that again for the following year. So, if you’re using $6 million per win, there’s about another $20 million of surplus value there.

      Neither Krol nor Lombo seem all that likely to produce much in the way of WAR, but over their Tiger careers, is it really so hard to see $10 million in surplus value out of the two of them combined?

      Then you get to Ray — there’s a decent chance he never produces any surplus value (the other major problem with the trade), but then again, if he can give the Tigers even 1 WAR/year during his first 3-4 years of rock-bottom salary, the Tigers have a very good chance of coming out ahead on the financial side of things.

      For perspective, Kevin Correia put up 1.3 WAR in 2013. And if Ray turns into a 2 WAR/year or greater pitcher, the Tigers are making out like bandits.

      It’s funny, Dave has been pounding the idea of the extreme value of young controllable talent for years now, but pretty much ignores it in the analysis here. I’d be really curious to hear what he (and others) would peg Ray’s expected surplus value to be over the course of his Tigers career.

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      • DNA+ says:

        It is very like that GMs don’t pay attention to the WAR calculations that you are citing at all, since WAR and actual wins on your actual team are not really all that similar.

        Dave’s assumption is that the Tigers could have gotten a much better package for Fister than they actually got. This assumption is based upon a very high valuation of Fister. But how do we actually know that GMs value Fister the same way Dave does? It is quite possible that better packages for Fister were not actually possible. …in that case, maybe it is best to hang onto Fister. However, perhaps the Tigers (who are in the best position to evaluate Fister’s real world contributions) do not value Fister near as highly as Dave does either.

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        • ralph says:

          Yeah, I’m really just grasping at straws here, like everyone else trying to figure what could possibly make a guy known for making excellent trades make this trade.

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        • cass says:

          ” since WAR and actual wins on your actual team are not really all that similar.”

          Actually, they are very similar.

          And it doesn’t matter whether you measure runs allowed or strikeouts/walks/homeruns/popups, Fister comes out well based on either metric.

          So which part of WAR doesn’t correlate to team wins? Is it the strikeouts/walks/homeruns/popups doesn’t correlate to runs allowed? Or is that that runs allowed doesn’t correlate to wins? I mean, even if you don’t buy the former, it’s not like Fister isn’t a proven run-preventer.

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        • DNA+ says:

          Cass,

          Nobody thinks WAR doesn’t correlate with team wins. It does. The important thing with correlations is the amount of variation that the correlation explains. There is a lot of variation that is not explained by WAR. WAR is not designed to explain variation in actual wins, so this shouldn’t be surprising. WAR is meant to describe individual player’s contributions in a contextless environment. However, all players play in some environment that differs to a greater or lesser degree from the “neutral” WAR environment. For this reason, WAR does not really describe the actual contributions of players particularly well. And how well it describes any one player is quite variable. It is certainly possible to build teams that consistently outperform or underperform their WAR. The reason for this is, in constructing a team, you are trying to build a favorable context for as many of your players as possible. Sometimes that is easy (obviously walks are more valuable for a batter hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera than they are for a batter hitting in front of the pitcher’s spot). GM’s might look at something similar to WAR when they are trying to evaluate a player’s actual ability. But when they are trying to evaluate how much a player is expected to contribute to their club, they don’t want to consider the player in a neutral environment. They want to consider the player in the environment they will be placed in (and WAR does not do that).

          I don’t know why GMs might value Fister lower than we might think, however the only evidence we have is that Fister is valued lower. So, maybe Doug Fister’s actual value is worth looking into a bit more rigorously.

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        • Joe R says:

          “[...]since WAR and actual wins on your actual team are not really all that similar[...]”

          So false, and so demonstrably false. Last year, team WAR values (Batting + Pitching) had an R-squared (unadjusted) of .802 with actual team wins. That means that over 80% of team win variance was explained by WAR.

          Teams likely have their own proprietary metrics that they use, versus a catch-all like WAR, but for a catch-all, it’s not doing a very bad job, and is likely close to how teams evaluate.

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        • DNA+ says:

          Joe R,

          20% of the variation is a lot when you consider that the difference between winning and losing the division often comes down to 1 or 2 games out of 162!

          …in any case, that is 80% of variation averaged across teams. Because there is variation in how well WAR explains the contributions of any individual player, averaging across many players will naturally do better (e.g. across entire teams). However, we are really talking about WAR as a tool for GMs for individual players, not for teams.

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        • Joe R says:

          That would actually be 80% across individual teams.

          Not to mention that’s an absolute strawman, claiming imperfect information is useless information. If that were true, then you might as well send every quant working on Wall Street back home to the farm they dreamed to get off of in Iowa, because their roles are useless. Sure, there’s variance, but there is information.

          Now, if there’s some bizarro-world reason why Fister is drastically less talented than a guy with incredibly similar numbers that just finished 7th in NL CYA voting, I’d like to hear it. But in general, guys w/ similar numbers and similar peripherals, tend to shockingly pitch at a similar value! And it’s not like starters w/ career 3.5 K/BB rates grow on trees (K/BB being another stat that shows correlation to overall staff run prevention).

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        • DNA+ says:

          That would be a strawman, claiming that imperfect information is useless. I suppose that is probably the reason that no one here made that claim…

          ….the point is that we know why, in part, WAR is imperfect here. Further, GMs almost certainly know it too. I’m willing to bet that they use something similar to WAR to evaluate player ability, and something a bit different to evaluate how an individual player would fit into the unique environment of their team. Nothing earth shattering here.

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      • Preston says:

        It’s about the quality of young talent they are getting in return. Doug Fister’s two years prior to being traded were very similar to James Shields two years prior to being traded. Shields netted one of the very best prospects in the game and a minor league pitcher that had debuted in the majors and was easily considered a top 100 prospect. Robbie Ray is a nice pitching prospect but he’s got 58 innings at AA, he is not nearly as good of a prospect as Jake Odorizzi, let alone Wil Myers.

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        • DNA+ says:

          Preston,

          That is nice, but there are a few problems with the comparison. First, we have no idea if GMs value Fister equal to Shields. Considering what Fister has fetched in trades over his career, they probably don’t value him the same. Also, just because Moore offered that package to the Rays does not mean anyone was offering a similar package to Dombrowski. …perhaps all the other offers for James Shields were similar to the one that Dombrowski got here. This can only be criticism based upon speculation unless we can know what the competing offers were.

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        • Steve says:

          Right, but it was almost universally acknowleged that the Royals vastly overpaid for Shields. IOW, the Rays were lucky to find their one sucker, but when the Tigers went looking, the Royals had already signed Jason Vargas for 4 years….

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        • Preston says:

          I agree, with both of you. Shields is probably valued higher, and the Royals probably overpaid. But I would be far less critical of this trade if it brought back a prospect of even Odorizzi’s level (although I guess that the Tiger’s could value Ray that way). I’m not saying they should have gotten a Myers type prospect. And I find it very hard to believe that there weren’t better packages out there. If you had proposed a trade for Fister for the Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers etc. would you have not proposed a trade centered around a prospect better than Ray? If I’m the Yankees I’m definitely willing to part with Gary Sanchez now that they’ve signed McCann long term. The Dodgers might balk at Seager, but would defintely ship out Pederson or Lee. Again, maybe the Tiger’s value Ray higher than outside evaluators do, but I find it hard to justify.

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        • DNA+ says:

          Im not sure if the Tigers would consider trades from the Yankees and Rangers, since they are likely competitors and since Fister would improve both those clubs in the short run. …of course, the Tigers have traded with the Yankees in the recent past (Granderson for Coke and Jackson), so who knows….

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      • rubesandbabes says:

        Ralph – your calculation is wrong.

        $20mil in surplus value for Fister is too rich.

        Two methods – take Hiroki Kuroda’s 2013 FA contract from last year at $15mil, and subtract Fister’s 2014 salary, giving a savings for the same performance on the FA market of about $6mil.

        Second method – do the same thing but wait and see what Kuroda gets this year, and subtract Fister’s contract from that.

        The answer is $10-12 million in savings if Fister performs, not $20mil.

        And isn’t Krol gonna ‘save’ the Tigers like $8mil easy before he hits arbitration?

        And what about Lombardozzi’s savings over signing say Willie Bloomquist? Doesn’t count?

        The other side of the calculation is now the Tigers can spend Fister’s salary elsewhere, saving 90% of his cost over the next two years…

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        • ralph says:

          Well, it all depends on how you value a win and what you project Fister will do WAR-wise. And it does look Dombrowski is going to sign Nathan with some of the money freed up, so there’s that.

          My assumptions were Fister manages 6.6 WAR across 2014-2015. At $6M/WAR, that’s $39.6 million in performance value. Since his 2014-2015 total salary should be around $20 million, that’s around $19.6 million in surplus value.

          I don’t think you can just use Kuroda as a baseline. He’s a bit of a special case as he’s pretty much Yankees or Japan at this point, plus there’s more risk because he’s older. Plus, Fister is exactly the kind of guy who might provide surplus value even on a free agent contract. But rather than worry about any of that, I prefer to go with the aggregate data that indicates what Fister projects to be worth.

          Though if you want to compare players, Nolasco might be a better comparison — $12 million a year for a guy who’s probably at least a win worse than Fister, especially when you consider Nolasco’s tendency to put up ERAs substantially worse than FIPs.

          If you want argue with Fister’s projection, the cost of a win, or that pitcher projections should always be discounted even further, those aren’t unreasonable positions, and that’ll of course affect the surplus value.

          Ultimately the exact numbers aren’t as important as whether it’s realistic for the three guys Detroit acquired to match or exceed Fister’s surplus value (noting that their surplus value would be changed in a similar fashion to Fister’s if you’re using different assumptions).

          My guess is that the expected excess value of the three guys is less than Fister’s, but I think we have to assume Dombrowski is pretty confident he can extract at least $15 million in value from Ray’s minimum salary seasons.

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  62. Antonio Bananas says:

    As a Braves fan, I hate this deal. Unless there is something the a Tigers know that no one else knows, like Fister has mechanics such that his shoulder will shred within the first month. Why can’t all the other NL East GMs be more like Ruben and hand us the East?

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    • Howard Eskin says:

      Amaro has been GM for 5 years, you won the East one time.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Amaro inherited a team fresh off a World Series, a good farm, the top payroll in the NL, and an excited fanbase. That shit takes a few years to dismantle and turn into a bad farm, old bad team, and frustrated fans. Amaro took the best possible situation a GM could have and turned it into the worst. He’s the George Bush of GMs basically.

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        • Antonio Bananas says:

          Also, the braves haven’t won more because 3 of the other 4 teams have competent GMs. If the nationals, mets, and marlins were ran by Amaro, the Braves would have more.

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        • coldseat says:

          Taking over a team right at/after peaking is prob the worst time to take over as GM – nowhere to go but down, aging stars, low draft picks, intense pressure to win now….its actually a lot worse than taking over a loser, assuming ownership is willing to help build.

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  63. vivalajeter says:

    In the article, you mention that the Blue Jays got 2 years of R.A. Dickey for $25MM. Didn’t they trade for 3 years of him, not 2? I thought he had a very cheap option for 2013 ($5MM or so), and he immediately signed a 2 year extension on top of that.

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  64. Al Einstein says:

    If any of you, especially the writer, think you are a better judge of talent than the best GM (and probable next commissioner) then you are being grossly underpaid.

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  65. mpmeers says:

    If there were hidden injury concerns that caused the Tigers to sell low, changes in pitch usage might be an indicator of Fister or the Tigers trying to protect his arm. According to pitch f/x on this site, Fister swapped almost all of his sliders for cut fastballs in 2013, which at first had me thinking the Tigers were curtailing his slider usage out of injury concerns, but upon further examination that’s almost certainly a pitch classification issue (velocity and break are nearly identical between classified “SL” and “FC”).

    I think the consensus is that he relies heavily on a sinker, which doesn’t even appear here. Brooks Baseball has him consistently at 45-50% sinkers over the past four years, and other than a gradually increased usage of his curveball, there doesn’t appear to be much that we “know” to be a strain on the arm. I think someone mentioned above that Bill James is a big proponent of the idea that extreme grounballers are uniquely injury-prone, but Bill Petti seemed to discredit that idea earlier this year: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/is-bill-james-right-about-ground-ball-pitchers-and-injuries/

    Can any Tigers fans who are more familiar with his mix of pitches over the past few years weigh in on this?

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  66. PKJ says:

    This doesn’t bode well for the Cubs trading Samardzjia.

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  67. Nathan says:

    As a Tigers fan, the only way this deal makes any sense to me is if the Tigers are making a hard push to sign Ellsbury, Choo, or hell, even Cano (though, c’mon, that’s crazy talk, right?!?!?)…

    The Fielder deal made a ton of sense. And certainly moving Fister is a situation of the Tigers moving a guy from a huge position of strength… yes, it’s likely a downgrade, but probably very very small, and it’s not out of the question that Smyly could provide equal or more value than Fister in 2014.

    To be clear, I’m strictly looking at value in 2014 in terms of WAR/FIP because the bottom line is the Tigers are a “win now” team. Don’t get me wrong… I like moving the Fielder contract for what it affords the team in the long-term, but it also affords the team a lot in the short-term (fill the 2B hole, improve 1B and 3B defense, and likely keep Cabrera much more fresh and healthy).

    But the confusing thing about this is that the trade of Fister isn’t bringing back a “win now” player from a previous position of weakness. I guess if you really really really like Ray, the calculus is that Smyly to the rotation can equal Fister’s value, while making the rotation a bit tougher on some of the AL’s lefty-heavy lineups, and you can hope that as a LH reliever Ray has the skills to replace most of what Smyly did in that role. But even so, it’s a totally lateral move for their chances in 2014, unless this is moving a soon-to-be-costly player so that Ellsbury or Choo can be fit into the salary structure.

    I’m not holding my breath, but I sure hope this means Ellsbury or Choo are coming to town to solidify LF and get a LH bat into the lineup. Dirks is actually a solid player but he looks so much better on the bench than he does as an everyday player. I give Leyland credit for handling the Dirks/Tuiasosopo platoon fairly well, but for a team that really should be desperate to win a WS now, that is a spot where significant improvement is clearly possible.

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    • MediumNick says:

      That is a fair assessment of Dirks. He is a quality player, but the cold bat in the first half of 2013 leaves some concern. I would be fine with taking the risk of platooning Dirks and Castellanos in Left. With Dirks, you have an above average defender and a player one year removed from a full year of quality plate appearances. If he bounces back at the plate, Dirks would add value. If Dirks continues to struggle at the plate, then you have another roll of the dice with Castellanos who may provide enough power to negate the sub par defense.

      So I guess I am trying to make an argument for not signing another big name. As a Tiger’s fan, it would be fun to see the effect of adding Choo or Ellsbury to the top of that lineup, but I have to wonder if it is really necessary. Imagine that team after adding 3 or four quality bullpen arms instead.

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    • Mark says:

      …”And certainly moving Fister is a situation of the Tigers moving a guy from a huge position of strength… yes, it’s likely a downgrade, but probably very very small, and it’s not out of the question that Smyly could provide equal or more value than Fister in 2014.”

      Probably a “very, very small” downgrade? I’m a Smyly fan, but let’s get real here. There is going to be a fairly massive difference between what Fister can give you and what Smyly will give you for 2014.

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      • Nathan says:

        I was intentionally being somewhat generous to underscore how little sense this trade makes, unless it is followed by a surprising UFA signing or another big trade that improves one of the Tigers’ weak spots (high-end relief and one of left field or third base).

        But the gap isn’t likely to be “massive,” I don’t think. Steamer likes Fister (teehee) for a higher FIP than Smyly. If you figure that Smyly as a starter is probably due for a higher FIP than what he’s projected at now, we’re still not looking at a massive gap.

        The problem the Tigers are going to have is, again, if this is literally a trade unto itself, and no follow-on signings or trades that improve the team’s “win now” chances come up.

        But hey, I’m not trying to say this is a good trade for the Tigers. It isn’t as far as we can tell today. But Smyly does have potential, so I don’t think it’s fair to expect that trading Doug Fister away is a -5 fWAR move, immediately.

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    • coldseat says:

      Otoh, why would a GM give up a lot of talent for a mid-rotation guy, albeit a good one….you can get those guys on the free agent market or promote from within, unless you are the nats with the specific need.

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      • mockcarr says:

        Even if you think Fister hasn’t been than Garza, Jimenez, or Santana, he’ll be close to 10 million a year cheaper, and won’t cost you a pick like the last two. That’s worth some guys. Otherwise you end up paying too much for Arroyo…

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  68. tz says:

    Tigers must have some last-minute jitters on Kinsler and/or Castellanos. Wow

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  69. Mommy says:

    Doug Fister, Doug Fister,
    Doug Fister fists his sister,
    His Sister, His Sister,
    His Sister loves… Doug Fister.

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  70. Green Mountain Boy says:

    The only way this deal makes any sense for the Tigers is if they know something about Fister that nobody else does. That said, the only thing I saw was Fister’s early inning troubles starting in about late June or early July. He had multiple games where he gave up 3-4 runs in the first inning or two, only to shut the other teams down through the 6th or 7th. I believe his K/9 was down in the second half as well.

    And why would that be? Not being able to get loose. Does that indicate some sort of elbow or shoulder problem? I don’t know… could be… I’m just sayin’.

    In any event, you’d think the trade is “pending Fister passing a physical”, where the Nats certainly would find out if something is amiss and void the deal if there is.

    I just don’t feel Dombrowski is that stupid to make this deal in its current form unless he knows something. He’s been good at this GM gig for a long time. Now if Ruben Amaro were the Tigers’ GM………

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    • coldseat says:

      Ruben is no genius, but I’d say he wins on his trades more times than not and by a wide margin….this might change if cosart, villar, or singleton become stars…

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  71. greg says:

    tigers aint gertting cano

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  72. KCDaveInLA says:

    This could be about that “embarassment of riches” that I’ve heard so much about…*sigh*

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  73. Wobatus says:

    Well, one things clear: Dombrowski is a huge fan of Carson Cistulli and his fringe five series:

    Robbie Ray’s first appearance:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-fringe-five-baseballs-most-compelling-fringe-prospects-6/

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  74. JuanPierreDoesSteroids says:

    Since Detroit apparently thinks so little of Fister, maybe they should have sent him to Texas with Fielder. Jesus Christ this is a bad trade.

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  75. Colin says:

    The big market inefficiency? How about baseball front office staff?

    Seems like every week there is a trade that the market for recruiting intelligent people to work in a front office and make decisions isn’t even remotely close to perfectly efficient.

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  76. nsacip says:

    Fowler for Fister would have been a better and more alliterative trade.

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