Doug Fister trade: Tigers bank on potential in return for proven pitcher

Leon Halip

What does the Doug Fister trade mean for the Tigers?

There is something about Doug Fister that attracts surprisingly underwhelming trade packages.

Two years and five months ago, the Detroit Tigers acquired him for Francisco Martinez, Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells and Chance Ruffin -- hardly a who's who of the baseball world. The Tigers got two-plus years of well-above-average performance from the 6'8 right-hander before shipping him to the Washington Nationals on Monday in exchange for Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol and Robbie Ray.

In addition to the three players they'll receive in the deal, the Tigers will reduce payroll by roughly $5 million, which gives them more room to work with when negotiating future deals with Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer. However, they lose a proven commodity in Fister who ranks ninth among MLB pitchers in WAR (per FanGraphs) over the last three seasons.

Ray has the potential to be the guy who results in the Tigers someday being talked about as the winner of this trade. The 22-year-old left-hander has struck out more than a batter per inning in four seasons at age-appropriate levels in the minor leagues. Ray struggled in 2012, posting a 6.56 ERA with an increased walk rate and reduced strikeout rate, but rebounded in 2013 to the tune of a 3.36 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 142 innings.

Minor League Ball's John Sickels left Ray unranked in his 2013 Top 25 Prospects list but noted his bounce-back performance:

Lefty Robbie Ray has been very effective throwing strikes in High-A and Double-A and has dramatically improved his stock after a poor '12.

Baseball America liked Ray's improvement so much that the publication rated him as Washington's No. 5 prospect for 2014.

Krol gave the Nationals 27⅓ innings of league-average production out of the bullpen as a 22-year-old rookie in 2013. He spent the majority of his minor-league career as a starter in the Oakland Athetics organization but was converted to a reliever shortly before being traded to the Nationals late in spring training. Krol demonstrated solid control and great strikeout numbers in his short time in Triple-A before making his MLB debut on June 5.

The Tigers will place Krol in their bullpen and will shift Drew Smyly into the starting rotation, general manager Dave Dombrowski said in a press release on Monday. Smyly was used exclusively as a reliever in 2013 but posted a 3.79 ERA with 88 strikeouts and 26 walks in 95 innings as a starter in 2012.

Rounding out the Tigers' return is Lombardozzi, a 25-year-old below-replacement-level player with a career .297 on-base percentage. Still, Dombrowski apparently likes what Lombardozzi will bring to Detroit, according to the team's press release:

"Steve provides our ballclub with versatility in several roles as a switch-hitting utility-man."

Lombardozzi will likely replace longtime Tigers utility infielder Ramon Santiago, who is not expected to return in 2014.

A minor-league starter a year removed from a bad season, an unproven reliever and a guy who has been worth -0.4 WAR in two big-league seasons. Or a potential mid-rotation starter, a left-handed bullpen piece with an ability to get strikeouts and a run-of-the-mill utility player. Only time will tell which version of the package Dombrowski gets, and whether or not it will match what they're losing in Fister who, the last time he was traded, netted a group that totaled 1.5 WAR for the Mariners.

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