By now, we’ve all had time to digest last night’s trade that brought right-hander Doug Fister to the Nationals and sent infielder Steve Lombardozzi, and left-handers Ian Krol and Robbie Ray to the Tigers.
Now let’s break it down a bit more.
There are certainly some Nationals fans who are sad to see Lombardozzi go, given that he’s a local kid who has made an impact for the last few seasons and has done everything that’s been asked of him, including learning new positions, without a single complaint along the way.
There are some who might miss Krol, given his youth and the potential he showed the first couple months he spent in the big leagues. And there are those who are familiar with the Nats minor league system who might be disappointed to lose Ray, a 22-year-old with an impressive curveball who showed promise this year and was ranked by Baseball America as the Nats’ No. 5 prospect.
But let’s take a step back here and look at this trade from a broader perspective. In Fister, the Nationals acquired a guy who can slot into the middle of their rotation (and would be a No. 2 starter on many teams out there) in exchange for a reserve infielder, a promising but less-than-proven left-handed reliever and a solid, mid-level prospect.
In a league that puts such a premium on starting pitching, you won’t find much better value than that.
Look past Fister’s career 44-50 record, and you’ll see some pretty impressive numbers. As I mentioned yesterday, his 13.3 WAR over the last three years ranks ninth - yes, ninth - among qualifying major league starters, putting him right in the mix with Anibal Sanchez, David Price and Cole Hamels. He might not be a strikeout pitcher, but his 3.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio since 2011 ties his former teammate Max Scherzer for 16th-best in the majors.
His heavy sinker allowed him to post a 54.6 percent groundball rate in 2013, the fourth-best mark among qualifying starters. Fister played on a Tigers team with a weak defensive infield this season, but if the Nats’ infield defense can turn things around and play at the level we all expect it to, the 29-year-old righty’s numbers could be in line for a bump. Fister has also proven to be durable and has had playoff success, posting a 2.98 ERA in 48 1/3 postseason innings.
I’ll put it this way: If Fister was a free agent this offseason, he would’ve been viewed as the top starter on the market. The Nats now have control of him for two seasons and will probably pay less than $20 million total over those two arbitration years. This in a market in which Ricky Nolasco (ERA-plus of 91 the last three seasons) got four years and $49 million and Tim Lincecum (ERA-plus of 86 the last three seasons) got two years and $35 million.
The Nats get Fister (ERA-plus of 124 the last three seasons) at a very reasonable price, by today’s standards.
Setting aside the monetary stuff for a second, it seemed that the main concern when it came to the Nationals acquiring a quality starter via trade this offseason was that the organization would need to give up either Anthony Rendon or Lucas Giolito to make it happen. That was something Mike Rizzo really, really didn’t want to do.
In doing the Fister deal, not only did the Nats not trade away their young, highly-regarded infielder or their No. 1 prospect who hits triple-digits on the radar gun, but they also held onto Sammy Solis and Taylor Jordan, two other young starters who could be contributors this season.
As was noted by quite a few people on Twitter and in this blog’s comment section last night, the Royals gave up super-prospect Wil Myers last offseason in order to acquire James Shields from the Rays. We can have a Shields-or-Fister debate all we want, but even if you feel Shields is the slightly better pitcher (both guys posted a 4.5 WAR in 2013, for the record), you have to acknowledge that the Nats got much better value than the Royals in these deals.
The Nats didn’t overpay for Matt Garza or a less-than-stellar free agent starter in order to round out their rotation, which leaves them some financial flexibility to add a quality left-handed reliever and some bench help (their only real needs remaining this offseason). They also didn’t mortgage the future by shipping away one or two of their better young talents.
What they did do was improve their rotation in a fairly significant way by trading away a couple back-of-the-roster pieces and a mid-level prospect. By no means is this a slap at Lombardozzi, Krol or Ray, who could go on to do big things in Detroit. But the reality is that the Nats added a key, controllable, affordable piece without giving up major contributors or high-end prospects.
That’s why this deal is being lauded across the baseball landscape as a coup for the Nationals.