Tigers trade Doug Fister to Nationals for three players
The Tigers are no longer a team with six starting pitchers for five spots. What they are without Doug Fister in their rotation remains to be seen. Detroit pulled off its second major trade in two weeks Monday night, sending Fister to the Nationals for lefty reliever Ian Krol, infielder/outfielder Steve Lombardozzi and lefty starting prospect Robbie Ray.
The move adds more flexibility on the Tigers payroll while adding some badly-needing young arms to a Tigers system that had been low on left-handed pitching. The immediate impact on the Tigers for next year, however, might not be known until the Tigers are done dealing this offseason.
It’s not a deal that addresses several short-term needs, as might have been anticipated had Detroit dealt reigning AL Cy Young winner and potential 2014 free agent Max Scherzer as rumors suggested earlier this offseason. Instead, the return package fills some smaller holes now and some long-term concerns later, while providing another sign the Tigers will try to keep the rest of their rotation intact, Scherzer included.
Fister was one of three Tigers starters who were arbitration eligible with free agency on the horizon. Like fellow starter Rick Porcello, he was two years away from free agency with a salary that was heading up. He was projected to make $6.9 million in arbitration according to MLB Trade Rumors.
However, Fister delivered as a Tiger, going 32-20 with a 3.29 ERA in 68 Tiger starts and two relief appearances. His 8-1 record and 1.79 ERA down the stretch in 2011 reflected his significant role in helping the Tigers to their first of three consecutive American League Central titles. Those numbers leveled out over the next two seasons, but his 14-9 record, 3.67 ERA and 208 2/3 innings pitched this year reflected a workhorse role within a loaded Tigers rotation.
In the postseason, meanwhile, Fister was a cornerstone of the dominant pitching that led Detroit to four postseason series wins over the last three years. His 3-2 record and 2.98 ERA in eight career playoff appearances includes a sub-2 ERA in the ALCS and World Series. He picked up only one playoff win the last two years, but delivered six quality starts in as many outings in that stretch, including six innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts against the Red Sox.
Drew Smyly, who spent this past season as a lefty setup reliever, will slot into Fister’s old rotation spot, giving Detroit a lefty starter. With his pre-arbitration salary, the move will shed about $6.4 million from team payroll. The rest of the rotation is expected to remain intact for next year while the Tigers try to pursue long-term deals.
Smyly’s relief role, meanwhile, will be filled by Krol, who broke into the big leagues this year as a young lefty setup man. The 22-year-old wasn’t a specialist, though left-handed hitters batted .220 (11-for-50) against him with one home run, four walks and 10 strikeouts.
Lombardozzi is a switch-hitting, contact-batting role player with decent speed who can play infield and outfield. He batted .259 with 15 doubles, two home runs and 22 RBIs in 118 games for the Nationals in 2013.
The key arm in the deal, however, might end up being Ray, a hard-throwing lefty starter who ranked as the seventh-best prospect in the Nationals system from MLB.com’s midseason prospect rankings. The 22-year-old went 11-5 with a 3.36 ERA in 27 starts between high Class A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg, allowing 116 hits over 142 innings with 62 walks and 160 strikeouts.
Ray isn’t expected to compete for a Major League job right away anywhere on the staff, likely needing more seasoning at Double-A this coming year. In a system that has traded away several starting prospects over the past few years, however, he provides a much-needed youth infusion.