Tigers deal Fister for prospects, talent for possible talent

Greg Fiume

When Scott Kazmir costs $22 million, things are out of balance. The A's didn't want to pay Kazmir that much, certainly. But they were outbid for the 38-year-old coming off an ankle injury, and the out-of-shape 40-year-old was asking for even more money. They didn't really have a choice if they wanted a promising, half-decent starting pitcher.

If you want to buy a pitcher, you pay market prices. I was in a remote area for Thanksgiving, and the only store in town charged $40 for a bottle of Maker's Mark. It's like that for pitchers now, but less delicious. Supply and demand has always ruled, but more teams are giving pitchers like Matt Moore and Madison Bumgarner preemptive long-term deals. Fewer pitchers are making it to free agency.

There should be a trickle-down effect to the trade market, then. The more Kazmirs getting $22 million, the more prospects coming back in a trade for established big-league pitchers. The win-now teams should, at some point, step away from the free-agent market, say, "nuts to this," and be a little freer with their prospects in trade talks. At least, that's the idea. It's what the Rays are looking for in a David Price trade. It's how they got Wil Myers last year.

Which brings us to the Doug Fister trade. The Tigers are a win-now team. They are on a short list of the win-nowiest teams, considering the age and contract status of a lot of their best players. Here's what the Tigers got in return for one of the better pitchers in the American League:

Translated:

  • A 25-year-old, low-powered INF/OF
  • A 22-year-old lefty reliever, just converted to the bullpen last year
  • The #5 prospect in the Nationals' system

It's the biggest head-scratcher of the offseason. I'm typing as fast as I can because there's no way this is going to be the last Tigers-are-insane column, so it might as well come in the first wave. This deal makes absolutely no sense. It doesn't make sense for a win-now team like the Tigers, and it wouldn't make sense if Fister were on a team without much of a chance in 2013, like the Astros. It's a trade posted on a Nationals blog that was quickly laughed at by fellow Nationals fans.

The worst part of it? The early suggestion is the Tigers are using this deal to free up money that would go toward Max Scherzer. In essence, they're using their undervalued trade chip to jump preemptively into that overvalued free-agent market by locking up Scherzer for something close to market prices.

Right now, there are optimistic Tigers fans who pride themselves on being aggressively contrarian, and this trade is set up on a tee for them. They can't do anything. They're paralyzed. They know it's an objectively horrible idea in the short-term, and the prospects don't have the wow factor you would expect in return for a player like Fister, so you'd have to think there was a better long-term trade, too. At least on the surface.

Let's compare the last three seasons from three different pitchers, using Baseball-Reference.com's WAR. Note: If I don't round the numbers, Rob yells at me.


Doug Fister Max Scherzer James Shields
2011 3 1 5
2012 3 4 3
2013 4 7 4


If you prefer FanGraphs:


Doug Fister Max Scherzer James Shields
2011 5 3 5
2012 4 5 4
2013 5 6 5


You can quibble about which one is better. One of them was traded for one of the five best prospects in baseball. The other one is going to get a nine-figure deal after his current team cleans enough salary off the books. And the other one was traded for less than the Rangers gave up for 13 starts from Matt Garza.

The only explanation is that Dave Dombrowski, a smart GM, knows something. He has the biometrics report from his mechanics expert, or the thetan-saturation result from Clearwater, or something that we're not privy to.

Using what we know now? Horrible trade for the Tigers, just awful. Unless the Rays were awfully sweet on Robbie Ray, and this is just a preview of things to come, this is the Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir of its generation -- the trade that looked instantly bad, and never got better. Wonder what ever happened to the guy the Rays got in that deal ...

No pressure, Robbie and Ian. But you'll have a lot of justifying to do with your pitching over the next few years. No pressure at all.

To read a bunch of people exclaiming happy things, please visit Federal Baseball


To read curse words and other unpleasantries, please visit Bless You Boys

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