Insta-reaction: Nats trade for Doug Fister

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Now we know what Mike Rizzo had up his sleeve.

Most of us were predicting a quiet offseason for the Washington Nationals.  Add a few bench pieces.  Perhaps a reliever or two.  No big shakeups.  Go into 2104 with, more or less, the same squad that ended 2013.

We should have known better.

Mike Rizzo was never going to war with the army that lost him the last war.  Mike Rizzo is a wheeler and dealer.  He makes moves.  He’s aggressive.  He’s not afraid to make a mistake.

Rizzo probably surveyed the entire landscape.  I’m sure he asked about Max Scherzer.  Hell, he’s probably kicking the tires on Robinson Cano as we speak.  Rizzo makes things happen, and he never settles for less when there’s a chance we can improve his roster.

Doug Fister for Robbie Ray, Ian Krol and Steve Lombardozzi.

Did the Nats win the trade? Time will tell, of course, but this is looks like a win for the Nationals.

Doug Fister solidifies a soft spot for the Nationals: pitching depth after their “Big 3” of Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, and Jordan Zimmermann.  The Nationals have several young prospects capable of holding down spots 4 and 5 next year–Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark chief among them–but certainly no one with the track record of Fister, who has averaged nearly 30 starts a year over the past four seasons.

Fister is not a Mike Rizzo prototype pitcher.  That is, he doesn’t strike people out as often as Gio, Stras or Zimm.  Last year, he struck out 159 batters in 208.2 innings.

But the Nats probably don’t need that right now.  They don’t need a number one starter.  Fister can easily hold down the back end of the rotation.  More importantly, he’s not a huge investment.  Fister will certainly earn a high salary through arbitration for the next two seasons, but he’s not a long-term commitment.  Interestingly enough, he’ll hit free agency the same time as Jordan Zimmermann, providing the Nats a decent back up plan should Jordan decide to test the free agent market.

Did the Nationals give up too much? My gut reaction says no.  Robbie Ray is the big catch for the Tigers.  Last month, I ranked Robbie Ray as the Nationals 15th most valuable asset (the full rankings are available on Red Porch Report).  Among Nationals pitching prospects, Ray is furthest along in his development, ending last season in AA.  He’s also 22.  All together, Ray alone might make this trade a windfall for the Tigers.  He has enough talent to develop into a pitcher exceeding anything Fister has ever achieved.

But Mike Rizzo, once again, traded from strength.  He still has Taylor Jordan, Matt Purke, Sammy Solis, Nathan Karns, AJ Cole and Lucas Giolito.  The last five are still a few years away from holding down a major league rotation spot, but Rizzo has time.  Zimmermann and Gio don’t hit free agency until 2016.  Strasburg in 2017.

Ian Krol was an intriguing young left-handed reliever for the Nats last season.  He’ll pay the most immediate dividends for the Tigers.  I wouldn’t even be surprised to see Krol worked his way into the closing role in Detroit, who struggled all year to find the answer in the 9th inning.

Lombardozzi was well past his expiration date.  Lombo had many opportunities last season to prove himself as a full time player and he never seized the chance.  Lombo’s ceiling right now looks like a utility player.  His exit opens a roster spot for Danny Espinosa, whose defense can play a valuable addition to the Nats even if he never finds his bat.

The most interesting aspect of this trade?  Lombardozzi was an 18th round draft pick and Krol was a player to be named later in the Michael Morse trade.  This is another example of Mike Rizzo developing assets and then utilizing them to improve his roster.

Fister will help the 2014 Nationals’ chance to win the World Series.  And Rizzo didn’t have the mortgage the future to do it.

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