Nationals’ Doug Fister, Revisiting the Trade


Mar 2, 2014; Melbourne, FL, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Doug Fister (58) pitches in the first inning as the Nationals beat the Miami Marlins 10-3 in a spring training exhibition game at Space Coast Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

So, umm, yeah.  $292 million. These things happen.  Why not pay an immobile, defensively challenged 1B/DH a Brink’s truckload of cash years before necessary and hope for the best?  When has that plan ever backfired?  Think Ruben Amaro Jr. would take back that Ryan Howard contract right about now?

Still.  If you’re 84, founded a pizza empire, and want a World Series ring, what does 2023 matter?  You’ve fed America for years on your pizza, pizza.  Now it’s your turn to eat.  Cabrera is a superduperstar, crushes baseballs like he swings a sequoia, and makes your Tigers American League favorites.  Carpe diem, Mr. Ilitch.  To make your star happy, sometimes Little Caesar’s has to deliver.

I wonder how Doug Fister feels about now, though.  The Tigers did everything in their power to trim payroll in the offseason.  They traded the incumbent immobile 1B/DH for a 2B that is cheaper long term, then traded Fister to the Nationals for a replacement level Major League utility fielder.  The Tigers were presumably saving Ilitch’s dough to pay Max Scherzer, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, a handsome contract.  Failing to complete that deal, they took that money and delivered it to Cabrera instead.

For most teams, a fourth starter as capable as Fister is a luxury.  In his second year of arbitration eligibility, he’s starting to become expensive after all.  This year he makes 7.2 million, and if he pitches like he did in 2012 and 2013 (3.3 and 4.1 WAR respectively, according to Baseball Reference), next year ten figures is a reasonable estimate.  The year he walks?  The worst possible scenario is you offer Fister the qualifying offer and you’re then stuck with a fourteen million dollar bargain.

For a team that’s all in, what’s the problem here?

The Nationals are all in too.  Along with the Dodgers and Cardinals, the Nationals are heavy favorites to win the National League, and a fourth starter with Fister’s ability is precisely what will get you past the Atlanta Braves and through the meat grinder of October baseball against the likes of the Cardinals’ and Dodgers’ pitching depth.  Fister is what the Nationals thought they had in Dan Haren in 2012.  Anytime you can trade Steve Lombardozzi for a Major League quality arm you do so immediately.

Fister won’t match up against another team’s ace, but if he remains healthy (he missed 22 games in ’10 and 50 in ’12 due to various injuries, and he’s starting ’14 on the DL) he can absolutely help pitch you into October.

Fister keeps the ball in the park, has averaged a solid 116 ERA+ dating back to 2009, and strikes out enough batters that he can offset the increased wildness:  walks, hit batters, and wild pitches were all up last year.  Perhaps the Tigers attributed Fister’s control issues to lugging around a heavier wallet.

Did the Nationals win this trade?  Was it a trade or did they steal Fister outright?

So don’t cry for Fister.  Jettisoned from one World Series contender, Fister landed softly onto the staff of another.  Things could have gone worse.  He could be a Marlin.  Come October, though, Fister might be the one delivery Ilitch regrets most.