Tigers may be underwhelmed by Doug Fister, David Pauley

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The Tigers tried this on deadline day two years ago when they sent two youngsters to Seattle for Jarrod Washburn.  At the time, Washburn had a 2.64 ERA and a 79/33 K/BB ratio in 133 innings for the Mariners.

As it turned out, Washburn was a major bust in Detroit, going 1-3 with a 7.33 ERA in eight starts.  Knee problems had something to do with his struggles, but exiting Safeco Field also played a big role.

Now the Tigers are hoping a pitcher with a 3.33 ERA and a 89/32 K/BB ratio in 146 innings for Seattle can make a difference for them.  They sent left-hander Charlie Furbush, outfielder Casper Wells, third baseman Francisco Martinez and a player to be named to the Mariners for right-handers Doug Fister and David Pauley on Saturday.

It wasn’t necessarily a huge price to pay.  And, for what it’s worth, neither of the prospects the Tigers gave up two years ago, left-handers Luke French and Mauricio Robles, have helped Seattle a bit.

Furbush, 25, will be looked at as the key piece for Seattle.  The 2007 fourth-round pick made his major league debut earlier this season and did an excellent job out of the pen before flopping in a pair of starts.  He throws in the low-90s and has a nice curve.  He’s probably a long-term fourth or fifth starter, but Seattle could make him look better than that.

Wells, 26, wasn’t getting a chance to be more than a bit player in Detroit, but he had a fine .286/.341/.490 line in 206 at-bats since arriving last year.  He probably won’t be good enough against right-handers to cut it as a full-timer, but he makes for an excellent fourth outfielder and the Mariners should give him quite a bit of time in left field right away.

Martinez is a wild card.  The 20-year-old just played for the World squad in the Futures Game a couple of weeks ago, but he’s a career .277/.329/.361 hitter with 13 homers in 1,108 minor league at-bats.  His stock is definitely up this year, as he’s more than held his own by hitting .282/.319/.405 as one of the youngest position players in Double-A.  However, his plate disclipline leaves much to be desired.

The Tigers are banking on Fister and Pauley upgrading a Tigers pitching staff that ranks 11th in the AL in ERA.  And they probably will.  The Tigers had gotten a terrible run of outings from their fifth starters since Phil Coke got hurt in late May.  Fister owes a lot to Safeco Field and Franklin Gutierrez, but he did have a 3.71 ERA in 10 road starts this season.  For his career, he had a 4.40 ERA in 25 starts away outside of Seattle.

I doubt Fister will post a sub-4.00 ERA as a Tiger, but if he can just go out there and give up three runs over six innings, then he’ll be doing his job.

Pauley isn’t likely to be much of an asset.  The journeyman right-hander had an awesome run at the beginning of the season, allowing three runs in 32 1/3 innings through the end of May.   However, he has a 4.09 ERA and a 14/11 K/BB ratio in 22 innings since.  He also had a 0.67 ERA at Safeco for the season, compared to a 3.62 ERA elsewhere.  He may work as an innings-eating middle reliever for the Tigers, but he shouldn’t be entrusted with late leads.

It is worth noting here that the trade wasn’t made with only 2011 in mind.  Fister isn’t even eligible for arbitration until after next year, and he won’t be a free agent until after the 2015 season.  Pauley, likewise, will make barely more than the minimum next season.

And that drove up the price for the Tigers.  Still, the team was able to keep Andy Oliver out of the deal and give up Furbush instead.  I think Oliver is the better of the two young lefties, and I’m surprised the Mariners didn’t insist on him.

So, it looks to me to be a decent trade for both sides.  The Tigers didn’t get a real difference maker, but they also probably didn’t part with one.  Detroit added some stability, and the Mariners won out on talent.  Furbush could approximate Fister’s results next year, Wells will be a fine role player and Martinez has some chance of becoming a long-term major league third baseman.

Report: Braves not expected to pursue Bryce Harper

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Thanks in part to a rebuilding effort that got ahead of schedule, the Braves in 2018 had their best season in five years, finishing 90-72 and winning the NL East. They were stopped in the playoffs by the Dodgers, falling in five games in the NLDS. Outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and Brian Snitker won the NL Manager of the Year Award. Veteran outfielder Nick Markakis even got some down-ballot love in NL MVP voting, finishing 18th behind teammates Freddie Freeman (fourth) and Acuña (12th).

Markakis is now a free agent and there happens to be a very talented and still-young outfielder available in free agency this offseason who could replace him and then some. He goes by the name Bryce Harper. You might have heard of him. David O’Brien of The Athletic initially said to not be surprised if the Braves became players in the Harper sweepstakes, but quickly retracted it as a source he trusts assured him the Braves are not, in fact, in on Harper and added that he thought there would be no way Braves ownership (Liberty Media) would sign off on a 10-year deal.

Since being taken over by Liberty Media in 2007, the Braves’ Opening Day payroll has been in the $60 million to $137 million range, according to USA TODAY Sports. On average over that period of time, the Braves have had the 18th-highest payroll among the 30 major league teams. The Braves increased payroll to a franchise-record $137 million on Opening Day in 2017, but cut that all the way back to $83 million in 2018, dropping their rank in baseball from 13th to 27th. In April, the Braves disingenuously played service time games with Acuña, then an uber-prospect who was undoubtedly major-league ready, in order to cheaply get another year of team control over him.

Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution wrote in March this year that Liberty Media has $42 billion in assets. This corporation is not hurting for cash. Yet the Braves cried poor in order to bilk taxpayers of $400 million to fund the totally unnecessary new ballpark that moved the Braves’ home from Atlanta to Cumberland (Cobb County). The stadium is not as easily accessible by way of bus or subway, hurting a lot of the Braves’ poorer fans and those who live in the city, sans car. As Meris Lutz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last year, Cobb County found itself in a $30-55 million budget shortfall, even after “raiding $21 million in rainy-day funds to plug a gaping hole in the 2018 budget.” Liberty Media, of course, doesn’t lose anything from this.

The Braves were one of 13 teams in baseball to see an attendance increase from 2017 to ’18, seeing over 50,000 more fans go through the turnstiles. Braves ownership had said that a spike in revenue — from increased attendance as well as from leasing offices and retail space — would lead to increased payroll. Instead, the Braves’ payroll was cut by approximately $54 million and now the organization has reportedly already taken itself out of the running for Harper, unarguably the best free agent outfielder to hit the open market in quite some time. Adding a talent like Harper (or Manny Machado) would solidify the Braves’ legitimacy in the NL East and it would, at minimum, be a show of good faith to Braves fans, whose tax dollars are on constant display during all 81 home games in Cobb County.

This is in stark contrast to Phillies owner John Middleton, who recently said, “We’re going into this [offseason] expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” He added, “We just prefer not to be completely stupid.” This confirms what everyone already knew: the Phillies are major players for elite free agents Harper and Machado. Heck, they might even get both. Either player could exceed the record for the largest contract in baseball history, currently held by Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who signed a 13-year, $325 million contract with the Marlins in 2014.

This past season, the Phillies fell flat on their faces in the second half while the Braves continued to press forward with a better-constructed team. The Phillies didn’t have an Acuña or a Freddie Freeman and their minor league system still doesn’t quite match up with the Braves’. Sniping Harper from the Phillies would seem almost critical, then. Or at least keeping up with the Phillies by signing other free agents to fill the gaps left by Markakis and others.

Sadly for Braves fans, it seems like Liberty Media got what it wanted, largely on the taxpayers’ dime, and is happy to keep the Braves near the bottom-third of the league when it comes to payroll. If the Braves finish behind the Phillies in 2019 and beyond, fans and the players will have only ownership to blame.