News broke Monday evening of a surprise move, and once again, Dave Dombrowski and the Detroit Tigers were at the center of it. Chris Cotillo of SB Nation first reported that the Tigers had traded starting pitcher Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for utility player Steve Lombardozzi, left-handed pitching prospects Ian Krol and Robbie Ray.
At first glance, this seems like a steal for Mike Rizzo and the Nationals. At second glance, it seems that way too. And while the general consensus is that this trade is lopsided towards our nation's capital, it may not be as drastic as it seems. While we pretty much know what Lombardozzi is at this point - a versatile utility man with a below-average bat - Ray and Krol could be useful pieces in a relatively short period of time.
Ray was one of the better prospects in the Nationals system and immediately becomes the best pitching prospect in the Tigers system. That's both a testament to the things Ray can do well and the and lowly nature of the Nationals system and pathetic nature of the Tigers system.
It's Ray's fastball that places him where he is in prospect rankings. A young left-hander with a mid-90's fastball gets lots of praise despite his other flaws because of the rarity of the ability and the final product that comes if any additional plus pitches are added to the package. At the moment, Ray doesn't have any other plus pitches, but he does have a change-up that flashes potential. His breaking ball is below average.
He split time between the High-A Carolina League and the Double-A Eastern League in 2013 with success at both. He walks a few too many batters, but he also misses his share of bats, so he can get away with it to a certain extent. As with any lefty, splits are a concern, as right-handed hitters have an OPS 125 points higher than do left-handed hitters, but it's not so extreme that it's a major cause for concern. If his change-up continues to develop, it should alleviate some of that split.
Ray can settle in as a third or fourth starter for the Tigers and could do so as soon as 2015. If his change-up doesn't develop, he'll be a back-end starter that gets by purely on fastball velocity, something which could play up in the bullpen. As a left-handed reliever, however, his lack of a good breaking pitch would be a liability.
Clearly, however, Ray is the centerpiece of this deal for the Tigers, so Dombrowski must like him more so than most scouts.
Krol is another hard-throwing left-hander who should compete for a spot in the Tigers bullpen this season. A former starter in the minors, Krol was shifted to a relief role last season by the Nationals and thrived, dominating Double-A and seeing 27 1/3 innings in the majors.
With a low-to-mid 90's fastball, a tough breaking ball and a violent delivery, Krol is definitely staying in a relief role at this point, thus eliminating the need for his below-average change-up. His stuff is good, but not good enough for a back-end role, likely allowing him to settle into a middle relief role but not a one-batter/LOOGY situation.
Links and Reaction
- Dave Cameron of FanGraphs.com says the Nationals got a "steal" from the Tigers.
- Drew Sharp of The Detroit Free-Press says that Dave Dombrowski deserves the "benefit of the doubt" on the trade.
- Patrick O'Kennedy of BlessYouBoys.com says it's "quite probably the worst deal that Dave Dombrowski has made as general manager of the Tigers."
The initial reaction to trades is typically pretty harsh, especially when they haven't been strongly rumored and come out of left field as this one did. Once everyone settles down, the pendulum swings back towards the middle and everyone remembers that these are really smart guys making big-time business decisions.
That being said, this still seems like a terrible deal for the Tigers. Fister has established himself as a top-10 pitcher in the American League over the past three seasons. He doesn't do it in flashy ways with big strikeout totals, but he did manage to do it by generating a ton of ground balls in front of a terrible defensive infield.
Ray is a quality piece, but he's not at all what the market would have dictated for a pitcher like Fister. With two years left of team control and and a track record of being a strong number two starter, it's impossible not to compare this deal to the James Shields trade of last off-season. Shields may be slightly better than Fister, but Wil Myers is significantly better than Ray, and it goes downhill from there.
Even if Dombrowski is correct about Ray, it's still a bad deal. Even if he was Dombrowski's favorite prospect in the entire minor leagues, it still wasn't enough value for Fister. If he wanted Ray, fine. But he needed to get more.
The best defense of this trade is that Dombrowski is clearing payroll space for another big move, an argument I believe wholeheartedly. Of course, this would've worked better...
I don't get why people think this is a salary dump. Fister was due ~7MM. It's not. If they wanted to ditch salary, get rid of Porcello.— TigersProspectReport (@TigersProspects) December 3, 2013
If Fister was the choice to go, one would think it would be because of the better potential return. This return seems closer to what the Tigers would've received for Porcello than what they should have received for Fister.
The trade does save them roughly seven million dollars for next season, as Fister's replacement will likely be cheap. It does set them up to be big players in the free agent market this winter and add to the offense by dealing from a position of strength.
It just doesn't seem like they got enough in return.