Friday night in Oakland, Doug Fister will throw the first pitch of his Nationals career. If the Nationals had their preference, it would be the start of a relationship that lasts years into the future.
After they acquired Fister this winter from the Detroit Tigers, the Nationals approached Fister with the hope of signing him to a long-term contract extension, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.
The talks never gained traction, and Fister ultimately signed a one-year, $7.2 million contract to avoid arbitration. The Nationals control Fister’s contractual rights through 2015, when he will again be eligible for arbitration.
Fister declined comment on the talks.
In five seasons with the Seattle Mariners and Tigers, Fister has gone 44-50 with a 3.53 ERA. Despite his standing as the Nationals’ No. 4 starter, he has become one of the most underrated in baseball. Over the previous three seasons, Fister has accumulated 13.3 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs.com, which ranks eighth in the majors, right between David Price and Cole Hamels.
Fister has also been excellent in the playoffs. In eight career playoff appearances, seven of which have been starts, Fister has gone 3-2 with a 2.98 ERA.
Under General Manager Mike Rizzo, the Nationals have previously employed the strategy of trading for a starter and signing him to an extension before throwing his first pitch in a new uniform.
The Nationals acquired Gio Gonzalez from the A’s in December 2011. In January 2012, Gonzalez signed an extension that guaranteed him $42.5 million over five years and included two team option seasons worth $12 million each. At the time, Gonzalez was still one year away from arbitration, and so those figures would have no bearing on any potential deal for Fister.
The Nationals also engaged Jordan Zimmermann, a homegrown product, in discussions for a contract extension this winter. The Nationals’ best offer did not come close to the market Zimmermann’s performance has warranted, and he ultimately settled on a two-year, $24 million deal that will last until he becomes eligible for free agency.
The Nationals traded utility player Steve Lombardozzi, lefty reliever Ian Krol and pitching prospect Robbie Ray to the Tigers for Fister. The Tigers considered Ray the centerpiece of the package. Ironically, Ray will pitch for the Tigers before Fister takes the mound for the Nationals – Ray will replace the injured Anibal Sanchez on Tuesday against the Astros.
Fister’s return will give the Nationals one of the most imposing rotations in the majors. Remove Taylor Jordan’s 16 earned runs over 25 2/3 innings, and the Nationals’ starters have a combined 3.47 ERA.
“It’s comforting to have him,” Manager Matt Williams said. “He knows how to pitch. He’s got a proven track record. Loads of experience. And his first time out, he’s facing a club that he’s fairly familiar with.”