This morning, our own Chris Hannum laid out all the reasons for skepticism that Doug Fister will succeed in Detroit. For the most part, I cannot argue his piece. His reasoning is sound and the numbers show that he may be right. At the end of his post, however, Hannum noted Fister’s ZiPS projection for the rest of the season (4.77 ERA) and then compared that to the 3.10 projection for Ubaldo Jimenez of the Indians.
I understand that the Ubaldo line he threw in there at the end wasn’t the point of the piece, but was anyone honestly expecting that Fister would be better than Jimenez? I wasn’t. I think the price paid for each reflects the difference in the two pitchers. That said, in my opinion, Cleveland paid less (Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, 2 others including a 26-yr old 1B non-prospect) than what the Rockies wanted from Detroit (Jacob Turner, Brennan Boesch, Max Scherzer or Rick Porcello). The Indians got an ace while trading zero major leaguers.
White and Pomeranz are big time prospects, but the Rockies were (reportedly) asking for Turner (one of the best prospects in baseball) PLUS two young major leaguers. Adding Jimenez at that cost would have made absolutely no sense at all. Had the Tigers made that trade, they still would have needed to add another starter, plus they would have placed yet another hole into the heart of the batting order.
If Fister is only post-injury Jeremy Bonderman with better control (as Hannum thinks), then he’s good enough to help this year. If he can come close to his Seattle numbers, he’ll be tremendous. If not, well, as much as I like Chance Ruffin and Casper Wells in particular, the Tigers did deal from depth to get the two Seattle righties.
It’s important to note here that not only did the Tigers get two right handers for their package of four young players, but they got pitchers that both have three years of team control remaining. Jimenez is also under contract for the next few years, and at a very reasonable cost, but the price to acquire Jimenez was prohibitive. Once Dombrowski was convinced of that by Colorado, he moved on to the Mariners.
The comparison shouldn’t be between Fister and Ubaldo, it should be between Justin Verlander and Ubaldo and Fister and Josh Tomlin or Fausto Carmona (whomever you consider Cleveland’s number 4). The Indians didn’t have a true number one, but they had a very good 2 in Masterson, plus some others that were pitching over their heads. The Tribe got their ace, but Detroit already had one, so instead the Tigers focused on paying less and filling a hole (actually two holes).
Now, if you want to discuss how Fister would compare to a Jeremy Guthrie or Aaron Harang (neither of them were traded, but both were of interest to the Tigers), then you might have a better case that Fister wasn’t the best option for the Tigers. But in all reality, you’d have the same ballpark issues with Harang (plus league differences) that Hannum mentions with Fister and you have no idea how much the Tigers would have had to give up to land either of the two (the cost for Guthrie was reportedly high). Also, with each of those guys, the Tigers would have added an older pitcher without the relative cost certainty that Fister brings thanks to his pre-arbitration status.
Hannum is right that Fister is a control artist that relies on his defense. That worked well in Seattle, but probably won’t work near as well when pitching with the Tigers defenders behind him. As much as Comerica Park was labeled a “pitcher’s park” when it opened, it has actually favored the hitters over the years, so the ballpark concerns that Hannum brought up are valid as well. But again, we shouldn’t have been expecting that Fister would be a 1b to Verlander’s 1a. He was, coming in, the third or fourth best starter in a very good Seattle rotation and was asked to be the third or fourth best starter in Detroit. In his debut with the Tigers, in hitter-friendly Texas, he looked the part. More recently he hasn’t, but that doesn’t mean he can’t.
Sure, ideally you’d like to see Fister morph into a dominant starter, but his arsenal doesn’t suggest that will happen. There aren’t that many guys who can pitch 88-91 as a right hander and dominate. Additionally, the outcries over the four players sent the other way caused the fans, in my opinion, to expect more from Fister. It’s as if the masses were counting on Charlie Furbush and Casper Wells to become all-stars for the Tigers as soon as next year.
I know I haven’t even mentioned Francisco Martinez here. That’s simply because I’m just not sold that he’ll ever make an impact at the major league level. Even if he sticks at third, which he probably won’t, his defense is poor and the Tigers have Nick Castellanos already in the system. They really only needed one of them. Of course, that line of thinking assumes that both will reach their potential, and that’s the problem I have with those who scream over trading minor leaguers. Those folks tend to assume that every prospect will meet their potential. The fact is that most of them don’t. That said, I believe that Castellanos has a better chance of reaching his than Martinez does, and that Castellanos has a higher ceiling overall.
If you are one of the people who are expecting Fister to out-perform Jimenez, for whatever reason, you will be disappointed (unless Jimenez regresses significantly). But if you have a clear head and look objectively at what the Tigers actually gave up (four talented but replaceable pieces), what they actually got (an upgrade to the number four spot in the rotation, plus a RH insurance policy in the bullpen and team control on both pitchers), and what the actual, legitimate alternatives were, I think you’ll see that Dave Dombrowski made the best deal he could.