Tigers trade Doug Fister to Nationals... What is Detroit's plan here???

Marc Serota

An attempt to determine what Detroit is thinking is in trading away Doug Fister, and what the move means for the AL Central

The Tigers have traded Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for a package of young talent: 2B/OF Steve Lombardozzi and left-handed pitchers Ian Krol and Robbie Ray.

Lombardozzi, 25, spent most of the last two seasons in MLB, posting poor offense (a career line of .264/.297/.342) and nondescript defense. Krol is a 22-year-old reliever, with numbers that don't really take notice. Ray must be considered the centerpiece of the deal, but he's not exactly a blockbuster prospect. He was ranked 5th on Baseball America's recently released list of top Nationals prospects, but I've never seen him on an overall top 100 list. He did record 160 strikeouts in 142 innings this year, split between Double and Triple-A.

Don't get me wrong, Ray is probably as good or better than any pitcher in the Indians farm system, but he doesn't seem like a blue chip guy, not someone around whom you build a return package when preparing to send away one of the 25 best starting pitchers in baseball, which is what Doug Fister is.

For comparison, look at the James Shields trade from a year ago... Shields and Fister are very comparable pitchers, in terms of overall production and value, and each was under team control for a further two years at the time of the trade. The Rays were able to get Wil Myers, one of the top five prospects in baseball (and now reigning AL Rookie of the Year) in exchange for Shields, while Detroit got the quarter and two dimes I mentioned already. Heck, I think the Nationals are giving up less for two years of Fister than the Rangers gave up to get 13 starts from Matt Garza this season.

It isn't just me who's down on the trade for Detroit, you can find similar sentiments from FanGraphs' Dave Cameron,and from ESPN's Keith Law, and from Baseball Nation's Grant Brisbee.

As an Indians fan, this trade delights me, because it weakens the Tribe's biggest rival. Yes, Fister will be replaced in the rotation by Drew Smyly, who's a solid enough pitcher, better than most team's #5 starter, but he's still a big step down for Fister. Meanwhile, Detroit's bullpen is probably a touch better than it was before.

So why did they do it? My initial thought was money. That was arguably the biggest reason they dealt Prince Fielder away for Ian Kinsler, it saved them $76 million. I figured this was more of the same, a way to save some coin (that might soon be funneled back into the team). The thing is, Fister isn't expensive. He'll likely cost ~$7 million in 2014, his second year of arbitration eligibility, and then something like $10 million in 2015. 2 years, $17 million... That's less than Scott Kazmir just got, less than Tim Hudson signed for... at current prices, it's a massive bargain, while in the Tigers' budget, it's little more than a drop in the bucket.

If it was primarily about the money, they should have traded Rick Porcello, who's not as good, but will cost more money (Porcello is five years younger than Fister, so in theory he's got more upside, but I think that's squinting pretty hard to see things in a particular light).

I'm befuddled. I suppose they feel Smyly is ready, and were thus willing to trade someone, didn't want to trade one of their top three (Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez), and figured they'd get a better return for Fister. If this is the better return though, offers for Porcello must have been centered around warm Natty Light and tickets toDelivery Man, because this is a weak return for someone of Fister's talent.

It does save Detroit ~$16 million over the next couple years, and they will probably put that money towards someone good (I'd bet a lot of money on them landing Proven CloserTM this winter, and I wouldn't be surprised if we're looking at Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury in a Detroit uniform. Sigh...), but that doesn't change the fact that they did very poorly in finding solid value for a very good pitcher.

Their loss is out gain.


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