The Washington Nationals acquired towering right-hander Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers for three young players, pulling off a deal that gives them one of the best rotations in the National League without significantly weakening their team.
The Nationals sent utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi, reliever Ian Krol and pitching prospect Robbie Ray to Detroit for Fister, who brings to Washington a vicious sinker, two years of postseason experience and an affordable contract that will keep him here through the 2015 season.
With a groundball-heavy style, the 6-foot-8 right-hander has become one of the league’s most reliable starters. Fister went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA in 208 1/3 innings for the AL Central champion Tigers last season. Over the past four seasons in the American League, Fister has a 3.48 ERA.
“This is an exciting day for the Washington Nationals,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said in a press release. “We feel we’ve added a talented, young veteran to our starting pitching corps. Doug is battle-tested through playoff experiences, and the depth he brings to our staff is exceptional. We are thrilled to welcome him aboard.”
In recent seasons, the Nationals had backed their top three starters – Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann – with expensive, one-year free agent signings. They added Edwin Jackson for 2012 and Dan Haren for 2013 at $11 million and $13 million. Fister will be owed roughly $7 million through a raise in arbitration, and the Nationals have a right-hander who will be eligible for arbitration again for the 2015 season.
The relatively light cost to acquire him surprised some across the sport. Lombardozzi, an Atholton High grad who still lived in his hometown Columbia, had become a beloved teammate and a fan favorite for his hustling, intelligent style. But he hit just .264/.297/.342 over his first three seasons, a span of 257 games.
Krol arrived with the Nationals last winter as part of the trade that sent Michael Morse to Seattle. Krol, 22, helped stabilize the Nationals’ bullpen upon his call-up in early June, but his high-90s fastball became more susceptible as the season wore on. Without Krol, the Nationals will be more pressed to add a left-handed reliever through free agency or another trade. Already, they have contacted numerous free agents who fit the description.
The best player of the trio in the long run may turn out to be Ray, a 22-year-old lefty who reached Class AA Harrisburg this season. The Nationals signed Ray with a $799,000 signing bonus in 2010, which at the time made him the second player drafted after the fourth to be given a bonus that large. Ray went 11-5 with a 3.36 ERA this season. Baseball America ranked Ray as the Nationals’ No. 5 prospect, behind pitchers A.J. Cole and top prospect Lucas Giolito.
And so, the Nationals surrendered a set-up reliever, a utility man and a strong, but not elite, prospect for a pitcher who has become a groundball-inducing workhorse. Over the past three seasons, only pitchers have accumulated more wins above replacement than Fister, according to FanGraphs.com. His performance in that advanced metric rates behind between stars Cole Hamels and David Price.