[UPDATED] Fistered: Tigers lose starting pitcher to the Nationals

News broke last night that the Detroit Tigers traded starting pitcher Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals, the team’s second major move of this young offseason. (They traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler last month.)

In exchange for Fister, the Nationals sent Detroit Steve Lombardozzi Jr., a utility player; Ian Krol, a left-handed reliever; and Robbie Ray, a left-handed starting pitcher in the minor leagues. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said that Krol “can step right into our bullpen and has the potential to be a No. 1 lefthanded reliever,” and he called Lombardozzi “one of the best utilitymen in baseball.”

It’s tough for me to evaluate this trade, because I’ve never heard of Lombardozzi, Krol, or Ray. I’m far from a league-wide expert on players, but that may be an evaluative statement, however. I know Dombrowski has committed to moving Drew Smyly into a starting role, but I thought it would be Rick Porcello, or perhaps Max Scherzer, who departed to make room for Smyly. The decision to move Fister surprised me, and although I don’t know anything about Lombardozzi, Krol, or Ray, I can’t help feeling like Detroit got too little in return for the very solid Fister.  

Statistician Lee Panas does not like the move. In a post last night, he described Lombardozzi as “a 25-year-old Don Kelly.” The Tigers already have a Don Kelly, and they signed him to a new one-year contract yesterday. Now they have two things they don’t need. Panas panned Krol as well, noting that Krol is not “ranked high at all on any prospect lists and he has gotten more publicity for off-the field incidents (alcohol-related issues in high school and racial slurs on social media).” Welcome back Delmon Young? As for Ray, whom Panas refers to as the “centerpiece” of the trade,

He was ranked only 18th in the Washington system by Baseball America prior to the season, but has moved way up the charts since then.  Jason Parks, a minor league analyst at Baseball Prospectus, says that Ray is now the top pitching prospect for the Tigers.  That’s not saying much for the weak Detroit system, but it’s encouraging.  I’m assuming the Tigers are very high on Ray, because I’m not seeing anything else positive about a deal where the Tigers lose arguably one of the thirty best pitchers in baseball.

I agree with Panas’ conclusion that this move challenges his faith, however strong, in Dombrowski: “It’s hard to like the return they got in today’s deal. I’ve been told by a few people that I should trust Dombrowski because he never makes bad trades. I’m going to need more convincing that that though.”

Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron wrote about the trade last night too, and he referred to Lombardozzi, Krol, and Ray as “a shockingly low price” for Fister, considering Fister “is one of the game’s most underrated pitchers.” Cameron summed up the swap like this:

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.

Contextualizing Fister, Cameron explains: “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.”

Like me, Cameron finds this trade mystifying:

I don’t get it. Worse pitchers regularly cost far more, even with fewer years of team control.

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.

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.

It’s apparent that Dombrowski is working on changes to the team that require multiple transactions. Since those individual transactions are publicized at the time they happen, rather than all at once upon completion of the multi-step program, we find ourselves judging the individual component trades in isolation, unable to know the end goal. The Fielder trade was sad. This trade is confusing, because it looks like a play for a future prospect, which is difficult to square with a team that is built and financed to win now. With plenty of offseason remaining, there’s little choice for Tiger fans but to wait and see what comes next.

UPDATE: That didn’t take long. In what looks like the other shoe of the Fister trade, the Tigers have added closer Joe Nathan.

I had a post on Nathan in the works when rumors about him joining the Tigers cropped up a few weeks ago. We’ll have something on him when the terms of the deal are public.

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3 thoughts on “[UPDATED] Fistered: Tigers lose starting pitcher to the Nationals

  1. Pingback: Flying Tigers: Waiting for Takeoff | ALDLAND

  2. Pingback: Flying Tigers: Closing Time? | ALDLAND

  3. Pingback: Mr. Scherzer goes to Washington | ALDLAND

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