Three things on the Doug Fister trade

First things first: it’s rarely a good idea to judge winners and losers in a trade minutes after a trade is announced. For one thing, it’s hard to judge prospects and their impact so immediately. More important, it’s better to judge a trade’s context in the bigger picture of a team’s entire offseason.

What made trading Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson work for the Tigers wasn’t just the talent they got in return, from Max Scherzer to Austin Jackson to Phil Coke. It was the payroll it freed up for Detroit to sign Jose Valverde a month later, and extend Justin Verlander’s contract a couple weeks after that. Taken in context, a trade that at first signaled the closing of the Tigers’ contending ways ended up extending their window for several more years.

If the Tigers do end up re-signing Scherzer — still not a safe assumption, but no longer a lost cause — along with Miguel Cabrera and add a closer plus another bat, the trade takes on a different light. Dombrowski, for his part, insisted they’re not cost-cutting.

“We’re not cutting payroll,” he said. “We have a very, very hefty payroll. It’s one of the highest in baseball and it’s going to continue to be that way.”

Second point: Hard-throwing left-handed pitchers are always going to draw Dave Dombrowski’s attention. Always. It’s like Charlie Brown and The Little Red-Haired Girl. In this case, lefty starting prospect Robbie Ray looms as that guy.

“He’s the key piece,” one American League talent evaluator texted Monday night after news of the trade spread. He graded Ray as a legit prospect, potentially a third or fourth starter.

Ray was Washington’s seventh-rated prospect by MLB.com’s rankings, but he’d rank higher on Detroit’s list. That’s because trades, injuries and call-ups had so depleted the pitching depth in the organization that four of the five pitchers on Baseball Prospectus’ Tigers top 10 rankings released earlier Monday had been drafted in the last year and a half. Only Drew VerHagen had pitched above Low-A ball. None of them are left-handed.

“We have depleted our starting pitcher [depth] because we made some deals at the upper levels,” Dombrowski said. “You look at some arms that we’ve moved and again you can’t have everything. We have depleted ourselves in that regard and we don’t feel we have anybody knocking on the door other than Smyly. We did address that ourselves internally by drafting a lot of starting pitchers in the draft and a lot of college pitchers who we feel can move quickly.”

The more Dombrowski talked about Ray, the more he sounded like he had just acquired an impact pitcher in the big leagues. With a low to mid-90s fastball and the makings of a four-pitch arsenal, Ray’s stuff has the Tigers thinking highly of him.

“I think it was a key for us,” Dombrowski said of Ray’s inclusion. “It’s not only what you see in the minors. You see throughout Major League Baseball that young starting pitchers that are on the verge of pitching in the big leagues and being No. 3 or better starters, they’re hard to find and they’re becoming harder to deal [for].

“We felt it was important to get a guy who was knocking on our door to pitch at the big league level. We think this guy’s a premium young left-handed pitcher on the verge of pitching in the big leagues, and they’re not easy to find.”

Lastly, the longer this offseason continues, the more the Tigers look and act like a team that’s looking beyond the next year or two for a window. It doesn’t mean the win-now mentality has died, but it definitely signals at least an attempt to keep a winning team on the field for the future.

It began with the Jose Iglesias trade in July. It continued with the hiring of a first-time manager who not only hasn’t managed before, but whose playing career ended just a few years ealier. It continued with the Fielder trade, freeing up millions of dollars over the next seven years.

The future mentality hit its stride, though, with the Doug Fister deal. Detroit filled immediate needs in lefty relief and utility infield, but it now has its replacement for Scherzer if he leaves next winter, or Rick Porcello if he leaves a year later.

Hard to tell what it means for the franchise going forward, though a bloated payroll and an aging roster seem like two things they’re now trying to avoid. It seems like a strong hint, though, that the Tigers are now trying to extend their window of contention once more against a potentially aging roster and several superstar contracts. It could be a nod towards keeping this team in contention long enough to negotiate a new cable deal in a few years and reap the benefits other clubs are now enjoying. It could be an acknowledgement that keeping this team pitching staff together past the next year or two is fiscally impossible, given the escalating prices on pitching (though the Tigers didn’t have any talks with Fister about a contract extension, according to a source). Remember, collecting young, cost-controlled pitching (signing Verlander before free agency, trading for Scherzer and Fister) is how this team was built. Add Sanchez to that trio, and four of MLB’s top nine pitchers in Wins Above Replacement over the last three years wore Tigers uniforms according to Fangraphs. That same quartet also owned four of the top 21 spots in Fielding Independent Pitching over that same stretch.

Whatever it is, you can sense a shift in mentality helping provide a push.

31 Comments

Unless ray is the next Sandy Koufax ..,
Fister career will career will outlast Scherzer´s.
The Fister trade was floated since the end of the season but I was expecting a GM could be fooled into taking Porcello and his 4.54 ERA instead of my favorite Tiger

Good analysis and quotes from Dombrowski. The next domino is yet to fall..

Ellsbury talks going faster than expected.
He has a draft pick attached
The Tigers trade for a very low package but for a good prospect.
Is Ellsbury coming to town?

I can see Choo a little more than Ellsbury. One of the questions Tigers folks always ask with speed guys is how their game will change as they age. Choo might age a little better with OBP, power, arm.

Ellsbury is already on the decline. Steamer predictions for his 2014 WAR is 1.9!

How many 25th players does a team need? They signed Kelly in the morning and then traded for another Kelly

They still have the option of letting Kelley go and having to minimally pay him. I agree on having a bunch of 25th players. Have you seen Lombardozzi play? If you haven’t, IMHO I believe you’ll love his infectious energy and talent. The play by play guys in Washington loved him. He can do a lot of things and do it well. Don’t forget he’s also a switch hitter.

Morosi:
Dave Dombrowski said Max Scherzer trade is unlikely but didn’t explicitly rule out. “I’m not making any declarations whatsoever,” he said.

Ok I understand he couldn’t afford the luxury of 6 starters but was hoping it would be Porcello. But what I don’t understand regardless of what comes down the road is from all appearances is you traded a very good starting pitcher for a Romon Santigo and two pitchers who have shown that they are pretty avg prospects in the minor league level. He didn’t even get a reliever with major league experience. Strange, and seems like very inadequate compensation for Fister? I don’t get it?

Agree with you in this but to get more for Fielder they had to eat 18 MM more

By the way I didn’t think we didn’t get enough for Fielder either.

“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.”

So long Doug – I really, really like Doug and love his mentality in the game – best of luck to him, this off season sure has been interesting!

hopefully DD’s next move isn’t another bone head decision. NO ALBATROSS FAs, DD!

Extremely well thought out an well written Jason. I just hope you are right. We trust DD in his job but he has made some pretty sceptical decisions. He does tend to think players are ahead of their game sometime. (Sizemore, Rondon)
One thing for sure–he gives us lots to talk about in the off-season.

he sure does (keep things interesting). Agreed about the good writeup too.

So the key is Ray and if he truly is all that. Another key is Smyly in the rotation. It’s assumed by most everybody that he’ll do well, and he probably will, but we haven’t seen him in the rotation for an entire season yet.

For comparison:
Darin Downs in 2012: in 20.2IP, 86 (primarily AL) batters faced: 3.48 ERA, 8.71K/9, 3.92 BB/9, 0.44HR/9, 3.24FIP
.
Downs (28) in 2013: in 35.1IP, 151 (primarily AL) batters faced: 9.42K/9, 2.80 BB/9, 1.02 HR/9, 3.53FIP
.
Ian Krol (22) in 2013: in 27.1IP, 117 (primarly NL) batters faced: 3.95 ERA, 7.24K/9, 2.63BB/9, 1.65HR/9, 4.69FIP
.
Downs claimed on waivers, Krol 1/3 of return for Doug Fister.

downs had a 4.84ERA in 2013 – sorry

the key stat here is age difference. at age 28, Downs is what he is, in Leyland-speak. at 22, you would hope that Krol has some further development left. 2nd time Krol has been traded in a year (started with A’s), so the scouts must like his potential.

By the way, Lombardozzi is 25 years old with three big league seasons under his belt. He’s fine as a utility infielder. Cheap too.

Lombardozzi is the one part I don’t understand. We now have three weak hitting utility players, none of whom can play short. Why?

the question about who backs up SS is a good one. it might be Perez from AAA, with Lombardozzi as the emergency SS. Lombardozzi’s minor league record suggests that he might hit more than what he’s done so far at the major league level.

I have been told that Lombardozzi’s arm renders him essentially useless at 3B or SS.

The question: will Danny Worth ever get a fair shot at 2B in Detroit? Sure seems answered now. My bet is the org gets nothing in return for him, similar to darin downs.

unfortunately, I think you are correct. Worth is trapped between AAA and the majors. it seems his career has stalled just short of being a 25th man. there are a lot of guys like that, just hoping for an opportunity. Quintin Berry was in the same spot. the Crash Davis character is representative of these players’ struggles.

to boot: I feel like DD can just cut Coke and Donny their 1/6th portions now and save Ausmus the time in ST.

the answer has arrived: We will be overpaying for Joe Nathan! Whoo Hoot! Now the bullpen consists of a proven closer, Rondon, two Loogys and AL ALBQ!

Let’s not forget about Charlie the furbush and how well he’s done with Seattle. DD’s fingers and toes are crossed on these 2 arms. McCatty knows talent there and Krol started out well when they brought him up, and then he was pushed aside towards the end of the yr. The Nats had a number of power arms at the ML level that they were supposedly considering trading.

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