UPDATE: It’s done. The Nationals just announced that prospect left-hander Robbie Ray will also be sent to Detroit. So it’s Fister for Ray, Krol, and Lombardozzi. Interesting.
Ray has really improved his stock as a prospect over the past year, but it’s surprising that the Nationals were able to acquire Fister without giving up a more significant piece. Put differently, many GMs are probably kicking themselves for not calling the Tigers.
8:28 p.m. ET: Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Nationals are expected to send infielder Steve Lombardozzi, left-handed reliever Ian Krol, and a prospect to the Tigers in exchange for Fister. We don’t know who the prospect is yet, but the return feels a little light at the moment.
7:58 p.m. ET: We have a significant trade on our hands here, as Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish is reporting that the Nationals have acquired right-hander Doug Fister from the Tigers. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal confirms that the deal is done. No yet word on who is headed back to Detroit, but there will likely be other familiar names involved. Drew Storen could be a logical part of a return package, though that’s just speculation.
The Tigers have talked about giving left-hander Drew Smyly a shot in the starting rotation next season, so the club was expected to field trade offers for their starters this offseason. However, most expected that Rick Porcello would be the odd man out, especially after the Prince Fielder trade cleared salary for a potential contract extension for Max Scherzer. Fister is arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter after posting a 3.67 ERA and 159/44 K/BB ratio over 208 1/3 innings this past season. MLB Trade Rumors projected his salary to rise to rise to $6.9 million in 2014.
Fister is set to move from one impressive starting rotation to the next. He’ll join Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Ross Detwiler in Washington.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.