The Tigers traded soon-to-be-30-year-old righty Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals on Monday night for three players I honestly had never heard of before. Those players are switch-hitting Don-Kelly-like Steve Lombardozzi, left-handed reliever Ian Krol and left-handed minor-league pitcher Robbie Ray.
Anytime you have to Google the returning players in a trade involving one of the better pitchers in baseball, it's admittedly not going to evoke any initial warm feelings. Coming up with hits from The Wire and Comedy Central when searching two of the three names is also not a great sign. Obviously, Dave Dombrowski does know what he's doing, for the most part, so it's easy to give him the benefit of the doubt before completely freaking out without even giving it 15 minutes of thought, but I admit to raising an eyebrow upon hearing and Googling the return. Notwithstanding raised eyebrow, I'm still willing to smell what Doc Dombrowski's cooking…
Most are not high on the deal for the Tigers — for instance, a respected lawyer says it was a terrible deal for the Tigers and renowned stats-guy Dave Cameron at FanGraphs seems to agree in calling it a steal for the Nats. Others are not as declarative, but perhaps equally skeptical.
Me? Look, I'm fine with the deal. I certainly don't hate it and won't make any final judgments on Dec. 3. I still remember Dec. 2009 when the Tigers traded a center piece for a bag full of prospects and liking that deal. That has worked out really well.
I know, I know; there are no top prospects in this return and trading Jeff fucking Weaver yielded a better return back in the day, relatively speaking, but there's more to it than arbitrary prospect rankings. Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller were once Top 10 prospects. Oops. The rankings are not always accurate.
Of the three prospects the Tigers received, Ray probably has the best chance to turn into something special. The wiry-thin southpaw throws gas with a big bender, which helped him strike out 160 batters in 142 minor-league innings last season. Dombrowski says he's close to breaking the bigs. I can see the Ray of sunshine headlines now. Lombardozzi will likely replace, and be better than, Ramon Santiago and Krol should at least be a big-league LOOGy right away. Yeah, on the surface the return seems pretty meh, but it's too speculative to say the Tigers could have received a better package.
And trading Fister has its perks on its own, as trading him for even a bucket of seeds would still add needed flexibility — the Tigers don't have to pay Fister $18 million over the next two years, as cheap as that is — and it paves the way for Drew Smyly to join the starting rotation, where he belongs. Krol and potentially Ray will be Smyly's bullpen replacements.
Smyly, 24, had a remarkable '13 season and wasn't far from being as good as Fister in just his rookie season. The hope is that Smyly will take his bullpen success to the rotation and be as good, if not better, than Fister for significantly less money. There's also hope Rick Porcello, 25, will continue to improve, especially with a better infield behind him. If he improves, he could also be as good, if not better, than Fister. Oh, and they still have Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. The Tigers aren't lacking on depth in the starting rotation any, and they got younger.
Further, the Tigers aren't done. Dave Dombrowski said as much on Monday night and Verlander tweeted the same on Tuesday. If DD says this deal was necessary to open doors for the Tigers to improve in other areas of need, then the trade needs to be evaluated in that light, too. Fiscal responsibility has never really been DD's modus operandi, as he's been afforded an unusually large budget, but it has to be considered to an extent. How the Tigers spend to fill other needs can be the kicker in labeling this deal a winner or a loser down the road.
Either way, I'm on board with it right now and I'm excited to see how it plays out.