Dec 3, 2013, 9:00 AM EDT
Mike Rizzo was determined to bolster the Nationals’ rotation this winter, and he didn’t sound too keen on going back to the same free-agent well he delved into the last two offseasons. No, it became obvious early on the Nats’ general manager wanted to acquire a starter via trade, perhaps one not all that dissimilar to the Dec. 2011 deal that brought Gio Gonzalez to D.C. for four young players.
Early speculation had Rizzo targeting two of the biggest names out there: Max Scherzer and David Price. Trouble is, Cy Young Award winners don’t come cheap, and Rizzo wasn’t about to deal away the likes of Anthony Rendon or Lucas Giolito to acquire one of those aces.
In Doug Fister, though, Rizzo found his ideal match: A rock-solid starter with multiple years of club control who could be had for second-tier talent.
Truth be told, it’s hard to imagine anyone could acquire a pitcher of Fister’s caliber for the seemingly low price the Nationals paid: Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol and Robbie Ray.
Yes, Ray is a quality pitching prospect, a 22-year-old lefty with a golden arm. But the 2010 draft pick remains a long-term project and ranked only fifth in the Nationals’ farm system according to Baseball America, behind Giolito and A.J. Cole and on par with fellow lefty Sammy Solis.
Lombardozzi, while well-liked by teammates and fans alike, is destined for a career as a light-hitting utilityman, an infielder whom the Nationals didn’t trust to play shortstop at the big-league level. And Krol, while promising, was exposed a bit during the second half of his rookie season and remains far from a sure thing at this point.
What did the Nationals get in return for those three? Would you believe one of the 10 best starting pitchers in baseball? Yeah, seriously.
Fister may not boast the public accolades afforded his former teammates in Detroit, Scherzer and Justin Verlander, but he has been remarkably effective. His adjusted ERA over the last three seasons — taking into account ballpark factors — is tied with James Shields and Cole Hamels for sixth-best in the majors. That’s right behind Gio Gonzalez and right ahead of Jordan Zimmermann.
Want more? Fister’s 12.6 total WAR over the last three seasons ranks ninth among all big-league pitchers. His 4.1 WAR from this past season outranked anyone from the Nationals’ rotation.
He also boasts impressive October experience, having posted a 2.98 ERA in eight career postseason starts. The last six all were quality starts.
Fister is one of the sport’s best groundball pitchers; his 55 percent rate this year ranked third among qualifying pitchers. He’s also one of the game’s best at holding runners on base; opponents are only 16-for-30 in stolen base attempts against him over the last four seasons.
Now, the best part: Fister’s numbers should improve thanks to this trade. He gets to face NL lineups, building off his MLB-best 2.04 career ERA against the senior circuit. And he gets to induce all those groundballs in front of a Nationals infield that far outranks the Tigers’ foursome.
And, to top it all off, Fister will be wearing a Nationals uniform for at least the next two seasons. He’ll earn some nice raises through arbitration — likely $6 million to $7 million in 2014, then higher in 2015 — but he can’t become a free agent until the 2016 season.
Which means every member of the Nationals’ projected rotation — Stephen Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Fister, Ross Detwiler — is under club control for at least the next two seasons, with Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan ready and available if the need arises. That’s mighty impressive. On paper, of course.
Still, it seems all but certain Fister will be an upgrade over the two starters who essentially held his spot the last two years. Would you rather have Doug Fister for two years and roughly $15 million, or Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren for two years and $24 million? Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
Every acquisition, of course, looks good in December. The Haren signing was met with overwhelming support one year ago, and we all saw how that turned out.
But if Rizzo’s goal was to add a quality starter to his already-deep rotation, and not to give up too much either in dollars or prospects to do it, he certainly went to bed last night feeling mighty upbeat.
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