Tag: Doug Fister

Doug Fister to Astros: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

Doug Fister is fresh off arguably the most difficult season of his career, and he is ready to change directions.

Rather than re-sign with the Washington Nationals, Fister inked a deal with the Houston Astros on Thursday, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow confirmed.

Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reported Fister signed a one-year, $7 million deal in Houston. Cotillo added the deal could reach $12 million with performance bonuses.

Fister totaled 25 appearances and 15 starts for the Nationals in 2015 and posted a 4.19 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 63 strikeouts in 103 innings. It was a far cry from his dominant 2014 season with Washington when he tallied a sparkling 2.41 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 98 strikeouts in 164 innings and finished eighth in the National League Cy Young race.

Fister had the sixth-best ERA among starters in all of baseball in 2014 but finished with a career-worst ERA and WHIP during his lackluster 2015 season that largely mirrored the Nationals’ disappointing campaign as a whole.

The Nats moved Fister to the bullpen in August even though he only had four major league relief appearances on his resume before the switch. While he did notch his first career save in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, he wasn’t the same pitcher Nationals fans saw the previous year.

Fister also dealt with a right forearm injury in the first half of the campaign and didn’t pitch from May 14 to June 18.

Despite the move to the bullpen, Fister believed he would be a starter again at some point in his career, per Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post:

I don’t feel like right now in my career I’m forced to be a bullpen member for the rest of my career. I still think I have a starting role somewhere, whether it’s here or somewhere else. I still have that capability. That’s still in my heart that I can go out there and get guys out. But I know now I can adjust, I can be a member of the bullpen and be ready to pitch on a day-to-day basis.

Fister‘s team-first approach and willingness to move to the pen in a contract year at least deserve recognition, as Washington struggled throughout the second half to stay in playoff contention.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports ranked Fister as the 45th-best free agent available this offseason but did recognize there was some rebuilding to be done: “Started 2015 thinking a good season could mean a $100 million deal. Ended it in the Nationals’ bullpen. Nobody could use a value-building one-year deal more than Fister.”

Fister will be 32 years old in the 2016 campaign and is coming off the worst statistical season of his career, dealing with health concerns and suffering a drop in performance. The risk factor involved with a new contract for an aging veteran like that likely impacted the offers or interest Fister generated this offseason.

However, the right-hander was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball not long ago. Perhaps a change in scenery will help him tap into the dominance he once demonstrated on the mound.

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Doug Fister: Latest News, Rumors and Speculation Surrounding Free-Agent P

Free-agent pitcher Doug Fister saw a down 2015 season with the Washington Nationals have him removed from the starting rotation and into the bullpen. This offseason, he is looking for a new team. 

Continue for updates.

Detroit Showing Interest

Wednesday, Nov. 18

According to ESPN The Magazine‘s Buster Olney, the Tigers are one of the known teams that have expressed interest in Fister. 

Before his stint in Washington, Fister spent three seasons with the Tigers from 2011-2013, when he went 32-20 with a 3.29 ERA. Detroit traded him after the 2013 season to the Nationals for Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol and Robbie Ray.    

His first season with the Nationals was the finest of his career. He went 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA before his tough 2015 that included a forearm injury that sidelined him for over a month. 

An arm of his caliber, though, is something to be coveted for teams in need of pitching. And Detroit general manager Al Avila has expressed his desire to add arms, per the Detroit Free Press Anthony Fenech.

The Tigers have already done so in the bullpen, picking up reliever Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday, according to ESPN.com. Now they can set their sights on Fister. 

After dealing David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline, Detroit lacked any sort of threat in its pitching staff—especially with a struggling Justin Verlander, who went 5-8 with a 3.38 ERA after starting his season in June because of injury. 

The rest of the starting rotation fared much worse, as the lowest ERA from a pitcher who started more than 10 games not named Price or Verlander was 4.99. In fact, Tigers pitching was ranked third from the bottom of the league with 746 runs allowed in 2015.

Verlander will most likely be Detroit’s ace in 2016, but adding Fister to the rotation would add a nice one-two punch to the Tigers’ starters. Fister has proved he can succeed in Detroit, and his presence in the rotation could help turn things around for the Tigers come next season. 


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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Doug Fister Injury: Updates on Nationals SP’s Forearm and Return

After putting together a solid 2014 season, Washington Nationals starting pitcher Doug Fister has struggled to begin the 2015 campaign. His year took another detour Friday after he headed to the 15-day disabled list.

Continue for updates.

Fister‘s MRI Comes Back Clean

Saturday, May 16

James Wagner of the Washington Post reported that Fister has a flexor strain that he will rest and rehab. He will then return to the mound when he’s ready.

On May 15, the Nationals announced that Fister would be placed on the DL after suffering from forearm tightness, and highly touted prospect A.J. Cole will be called up from the team’s Triple-A affiliate.

William Ladson of MLB.com added “Doug Fister flew back to D.C. today to get additional test on his right forearm. Matt Williams didn’t want to speculate on how serious the injury is.”

Through seven starts in 2015, Fister is 2-2 with a 4.31 earned run average and 4.70 FIP, according to FanGraphs. James Wagner of the Washington Post wonders whether the injury, in part, explains why the 31-year-old doesn’t look like himself:

While losing Fister obviously hurts Washington, Cole brings with him a ton of hype. MLB.com listed him as the 50th-best prospect heading into this year, and he sat at No. 30 in Baseball Prospectus‘ rankings.

Cole made one start this year, going two innings against the Atlanta Braves on April 28. He gave up nine runs, only four of which were earned, on nine hits.

The Nationals endured a slow start to the year but have since found their footing. They’re just 1.5 games behind the New York Mets for the National League East lead. Perhaps Cole’s arrival will bring better luck this time around and help keep Washington in playoff contention.

Meanwhile, the team will hope that Fister‘s short stint on the DL isn’t a harbinger of a more serious issue to come.

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Washington Nationals’ Biggest Offseason Questions That Still Need to Be Answered

The Washington Nationals are almost three months into the offseason and general manager Mike Rizzo’s finger is still resting on the trigger of nearly all of the team’s biggest potential maneuvers. 

Washington had a fairly short to-do list entering its idle months after being bounced from the postseason in the divisional series by the San Francisco Giants. As disappointing as it was for the team with the National League‘s best record to fall short in the first round, there were only two glaring issues to address in the aftermath. 

But, as of late December, both of those questions remain unanswered.

Washington has three members of its nucleus that it must either sign to an extension, trade away or risk losing in free agency in 2015. That’s the situation for the trio of shortstop Ian Desmond and starting pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister.

The other pressing matter is at second base. Whether the Nationals use an in-house promotion to fill the position or bring in a fresh face, there will be a different everyday second baseman than last year in D.C.

Those began as, and continue to be, priorities 1A and 1B for the team. And the moves Washington makes to answer those questions could serve as the fireworks that ring in the new year at Nats Park. 


Will Desmond, Zimmermann and/or Fister be leaving the Nationals this winter?

You never want to let an asset go in free agency and get virtually nothing in return when you could trade the player and address other needs. 

We saw the Boston Red Sox avoid that scenario last summer when they traded Jon Lester to the Oakland A’s. Lester was set to enter free agency following the season, just like the three Nats in question will do after the 2015 campaign.

That is, if Washington can’t sign them to extensions. 

But to suggest the Nationals can just pay all three players would move beyond optimistic into unrealistic territory now that they’ve gone this far with little progress. 

At the start of last season, principal owner Mark Lerner suggested Washington’s payroll was already stretched too thin, according to a report from The Washington Post‘s Adam Kilgore.

“We’re not going to do something where we’re losing tens of millions of dollars a year,” Lerner said back in April. “Anybody can understand that. We’re going to be smart.”

This offseason, smart has equaled patience for the Nationals while they take a wait-and-see approach to the rest of the league’s dealings. As marquee free agents like Lester and shortstop Hanley Ramirez come off the board, the trade value of Washington’s pieces at the same position goes up.

As The Post‘s Thomas Boswell suggests, this patience will continue to serve Washington well in the long run.

So the question now isn’t whether or not news will come this winter regarding the Desmond-Zimmermann-Fister triad, but rather the nature of the story. 

News could break tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that any one of the three has been traded or signed to a lucrative extension. 

But according to The Post‘s James Wagner, Zimmermann is the only one to reopen negotiations regarding a contract extension so far. While they are both still under team control for another year, Desmond and Fister are still in a sort of limbo. 

“I wouldn’t respect Mike (Rizzo) the way I do, like I said, if he just sat on his hands and did nothing,” Desmond told The Post‘s Chelsea Janes. “That’s not how this organization got here, and it’s not how it’s going to continue to move forward. Hopefully I’m a part of it, but if not, I’m still going to be rooting for them.”


Who will play second base for the Nationals in 2015?

For the second half of last season, Asdrubal Cabrera was an above-average everyday second baseman for Washington.

But with a number of other players to pay with priority over Cabrera, the Nationals seem less and less inclined to bring the free-agent second baseman back this year. 

With the free-agent and trade market drying up, Washington could find itself plugging that hole on a temporary basis in 2015.

Danny Espinosa is the likeliest name on the current roster to take over at second base. The 27-year-old has spent his entire major league career with the Nats and hit a respectable .219 mostly off the bench last year. 

Utility man Kevin Frandsen is another option, albeit a self-proclaimed one. Frandsen showed some initiative at the team’s annual fan fest in early December when he suggested Washington should consider him for the vacancy at second base. 

But according to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson’s report on the subject, the idea was met with skepticism by manager Matt Williams.

“He is having fun today, isn’t he,” Williams said. “I’m sure at some point during the season, Franny will play second base.”

It’s also worth noting that Frandsen saw his greatest struggles at the plate when he was listed as a second baseman last year. According to his position splits on ESPN.com from 2014, Frandsen hit .279, .288 and .348 as a left fielder, third baseman and first baseman, respectively. 

He hit just .162 coming from second base. 

During this offseason Washington could end up signing a free-agent middle infielder to bolster the position—Stephen Drew is still floating around looking for a team. Or, if the Nats do trade away one of their starting pitchers, they’ll almost certainly want a major league-ready infielder in return. 

But assuming the team sticks with an in-house second baseman for this season, Washington does have some options down the line.

Dominican shortstop/second baseman Wilmer Difo looks like a bona fide stud. The 22-year-old is the Nationals’ seventh-ranked prospect according to Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt, and he could be close to a breakthrough into the bigs. 

“He’s a very talented, exciting, athletic middle infielder that can hit for power and steal bases,” Rizzo said in Wagner’s latest update on the prospect. “He has an extremely high ceiling, and he’s going to help the Nationals in the near future.”

Washington also recently signed former Marlins and Braves second baseman Dan Uggla to a minor league deal. The 34-year-old will get an invite to Nats spring training, and fans of a true comeback story will invite him into their hearts. 

From 2007-2011, Uggla hit at least 30 home runs each year. So if that guy shows up with the change of scenery, and not the Uggla who hit .162 in 48 games with Atlanta last year, he could get a shot with Washington’s big league club. 

After sneaking into the headlines with a number of recent trades and free-agent pickups, we can no longer say the Nationals have been totally silent this offseason.

But all of the minor wheeling and dealing still leaves the major questions regarding Washington’s notable soon-to-be free agents and its need at second base unanswered.

And when it comes to decisions like these that could set the long-term course of the franchise, we’ll have to wait until Rizzo is good and ready before we have any more clarity.

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4 Changes the Washington Nationals Should Make Before Spring Training

The Washington Nationals are taking a noticeably patient approach this offseason, but last week the team put a clock on it with the announcement of spring training dates

Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Viera, Florida, Feb. 19 with position players arriving five days later on Feb. 24. To put it in more dramatic terms, the preseason is less than two months away.

After a silent first two months this offseason, Washington is starting to pick up steam. Most notably, the Nationals have executed trades that sent reliever Ross Detwiler to the Texas Rangers and outfielder Steven Souza Jr. to the Tampa Bay Rays.

But Washington still has yet to answer its biggest offseason questions.

Will any or all of the Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Doug Fister trio be signed to extensions before becoming free agents after 2015? Who will be the everyday second baseman this season? 

The Nationals don’t technically have to make any more moves this winter, but general manager Mike Rizzo is smart enough to know that they should. 

With two short months before the team reconvenes, here are some changes Washington should lock in before the rubber meets the road on the way to spring training. 

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Reassessing Washington Nationals’ Offseason Plan and Breaking Down What’s Next

The Washington Nationals have been decidedly quiet so far this offseason. But with more than two months down and just one trade in the books, it feels like the dominoes are about to begin tumbling down in D.C.

The Nats have a relatively short to-do list this winter—add some depth in the bullpen and the infield and decide the future of some soon-to-be free agents. But now that the winter meetings are over and some of the biggest free agents are off the market, it could be Washington’s turn to have a go at the hot stove. 

“Different moves beget other moves,” general manager Mike Rizzo said at the winter meetings. “It’s a very fluid situation. When one move is made, there’s usually a reciprocal move that falls into place.”

The only deal the Nationals have made thus far is the trade that sent left-handed pitcher Ross Detwiler to the Texas Rangers. But that move could be the catalyst that helps bring some clarity to Washington’s bullpen.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported earlier this month the Nationals were “likely” to trade late-inning stalwart Tyler Clippard. With the departure of Detwiler and some of this offseason’s biggest free-agent relievers now off the board—David Robertson latched on with the Chicago White Sox and Luke Gregerson signed with the Houston AstrosClippard could now be poised to remain in Washington.

Righty Drew Storen is set to begin this upcoming season as the Nats closer, a role that he earned after putting up 10 saves in Washington’s last 11 games of 2014. But Storen‘s production suffered a severe drop-off in Washington’s one postseason series. The 27-year-old registered a 6.75 ERA and one blown save in two appearances against the San Francisco Giants

Clippard will be a necessary safety net in the event Storen struggles, and MASNsports.com’s Brian Eller reports Clippard could even compete for the closer role before the onset of the 2015 season.

It can’t just be one guy in the ninth that’s going to make a good team or a good bullpen. So, I have perspective on that,” Clippard told reporters Saturday at the team’s annual fan fest. “Some of the innings that I pitched in the sixth and the seventh have been more important than some of those innings I was throwing in the ninth when I was a closer.”

Washington could make another move to add depth in the bullpen, but the unit should remain largely intact.

Now, the biggest mystery surrounding the Nationals this offseason remains their starting pitching. The contracts of both Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister are set to expire following the 2015 season, and it’s highly unlikely Washington lets that happen. 

In the case of both starting pitchers, the Nationals will either extend their contracts or, if a deal can’t be agreed upon, ship them off in a trade.

According to a report from The Washington Post‘s James Wagner, Rizzo reopened discussions with Zimmermann‘s agent during the winter meetings, but no such talks have started in Fister‘s case. 

“It was a re-acquaintance, if you will, to talk about philosophies and parameters and that type of thing,” Rizzo said. 

With Zimmermann in extension talks, the interest around him hasn’t cooled off at all. After MLB.com’s TR Sullivan reported last week that the Rangers inquired about the Nats starter, Rosenthal is now reporting the Boston Red Sox and “other clubs” have entered the mix.

Each passing day without a new contract for Zimmermann or Fister increases the chances that one or both leaves Washington in a trade. In that event, the Nationals will most likely use them as trade bait to shore up the middle of their infield.

In terms of immediate need, Washington’s most obvious weakness is at second base.

Looking ahead, shortstop Ian Desmond’s contract also expires in 2015. Without an extension for him, a versatile, young infielder that could moonlight at second and short becomes increasingly valuable for Washington. 

The Nationals came relatively close to a move that addressed that need, among others, when they engaged in talks with the Seattle Mariners recently. 

In the same report from Rosenthal, he said Washington proposed a trade that included “Zimmermann and Desmond for right-hander Taijuan Walker and shortstop Brad Miller.”

That’s how close the Nationals came to dealing two of their stars. But somewhere near the top of the rules of the baseball business is a warning to never let a valuable player’s contract expire without getting something in return.   

“I think you have to have a strategy and a plan to look long-term,” Rizzo told The Washington Post‘s Chelsea Janes. “We’re always about trying to win now in 2015 but we also have to have a global view towards the future. We don’t want to be just good for 2015 but good on a consistent basis.”

According to Rizzo and the general consensus, Washington is poised to make a run at the National League East title this season if the roster remains as is on Opening Day.

But with sustainable success in mind, it would be naive to think the Nationals will be quiet for the rest of the offseason. 


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The Deals Nationals GM Mike Rizzo Needs to Be Pitching at the Winter Meetings

For the Washington Nationals and the rest of Major League Baseball, winter is coming. 

Starting in less than a week, general managers from around the league will gather in San Diego for the annual winter meetings. And no roster is safe from a blockbuster trade or a marquee free agent signing—not even a team like Washington that could sit on its hands all offseason and still contend for a title in 2015.

Even though the Nationals don’t have a desperate need to fill any particular hole in their lineup, general manager Mike Rizzo still has a to-do list that will mostly focus on the future beyond this upcoming season. 

The clock is ticking on all-star caliber starters Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister. Their contracts are set to expire in a year, and this winter is the time to ink either one or both of them to extensions—or use them as trade bait.

There’s also the matter of second base, the most obvious position at which Washington could use an upgrade if the deal is right.

The Nationals could also find themselves kicking the tires on bullpen help. With Drew Storen stepping into the closer role, a free-agent reliever could serve as a setup man or a contingency plan (should Storen’s postseason struggles carry over into this year). 

At the start of the 2014 season, The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore reported that the team’s payroll was “beyond tapped out,” according to principal owner Mark Lerner. But last month, The Post’s James Wagner reported that, despite having a the fourth-largest projected payroll in baseball, Rizzo won’t hold back this winter. 

There’s nothing off the table,” Rizzo said. “There [are] no restrictions. We’re going to make good, prudent baseball moves regardless of payroll.”


What to do About the Pitchers

Washington’s first, second a third priorities should be extending the contracts of both Zimmermann and Fister. 

The Nationals have arguably the strongest rotation of starters in the bigs, and these two were vital to that success in 2014. Only three teams had multiple pitchers finish in the top 10 for ERA in the National League. Zimmermann and Fister put Washington on that list.

The last thing Washington needs is change on the starting-pitcher front, but everything has a price. 

USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale recently reported that Washington is, in fact, open to hearing trade offers for the duo. 

For Rizzo to deal either Zimmermann or Fister, the price would be decidedly steep. So if one of the two is to leave D.C., the incoming replacements (in theory) wouldn’t be a downgrade. MASN’s Pete Kerzel suggests Rizzo would demand “at least one major league-ready player and a couple of decent prospects” out of the deal. 

According to two separate reports from Wagner, the Nationals haven’t made any progress in talks with either Zimmermann or Fister this offseason. But for the former, at least, there’s no rush to leave Washington any time soon.

I like D.C.,” Zimmermann said. “I like the ownership. I like the manager, the coaches. I like everything about D.C. It’s just a waiting game right now to see what happens.”

The two pitchers should be high on Rizzo’s list of priorities during the winter meetings—whether it’s locking them down for the future or forcing another team to empty the cupboard in a trade. But do expect the winter-meeting news on the Nationals front to center around this duo.


Second-base Scenarios

The free-agent market this offseason is decidedly scarce compared to other years, so the winter meetings would be a perfect time for Washington to address its need at second base via a trade. 

One place Rizzo could look is the north side of Chicago, where the Cubs have more middle infielders than they know what to do with.

Entering the offseason, they already had the likes of Addison Russell, Starlin Castro and Javier Baez on the payroll. Now Tommy La Stella joins the mix after the Atlanta Braves shipped him off the Chicago in a trade last month.

However, despite their surplus of potential second basemen, the Cubs could have a higher asking price than Washington is willing to pay. If the Nationals get to a point where trading Zimmermann is a forgone conclusion, this kind of deal becomes more of an option. But until then, it would be irresponsible for Washington to give him up to fill a position that current National Danny Espinosa could capably step into. 

Wagner reported early in the offseason that, before settling on a trade with the Cleveland Indians for Asdrubal Cabrera at the deadline this summer, Washington also tested the market elsewhere.

After the Nationals inquired about Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets and Didi Gregorius of the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, the two can be viewed as potential trade targets during these winter meetings.

But if Rizzo is to gauge the value of any of these options at second base, it would be more out of doing his due diligence than a burning desire to bring any of them in.


Bolstering the Bullpen

As goes the rest of Washington’s roster, the Nationals don’t have a desperate need for help in the bullpen. But that is one area of the roster that Rizzo could conceivably look to tweak during the winter meetings. 

Don’t expect Washington to pursue any relievers in a trade, but there are a number of free agents who could draw interest from the Nats. 

Washington’s relievers combined to earn the fourth-best ERA in baseball last season, but that was thanks in part to former closer Rafael Soriano (who is now gone after the Nationals declined to pick up the option on his contract). 

Drew Storen will serve as Washington’s closer for the upcoming season, but USA Today‘s Gabe Lacques did list D.C. as a potential landing spot for David Robertson in a preview of free agent relief pitchers. 

Robertson is considered by some to be the class of available bullpen help, so it hurts the Nationals’ chances of signing the New York Yankee if he isn’t promised the closer role. 

Francisco Rodriguez, Casey Janssen and Sergio Romo are also conversations that Rizzo is likely to have during the winter meetings, but any signing would be used as a setup man for Storen.

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Is Max Scherzer Worth Nationals Breaking Up Title-Level Rotation For?

Coming into the MLB offseason, you could look at the Washington Nationals and conclude within, oh, three seconds that the last thing they needed to tinker with was their starting rotation.

But now it sounds like general manager Mike Rizzo might do that anyway. And if he does, he could do so in a big way.

First, one word around the campfire has the Nationals linked to free-agent right-hander Max Scherzer, otherwise known as the guy who won the 2013 American League Cy Young. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports had a conversation with a “prominent agent” about Scherzer’s market, and that conversation led him to put the Nationals at the top of a list of teams that could be interested in the 30-year-old.

Where Rosenthal was only speculating, Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish has heard from sources that the Nationals may indeed be positioning themselves for a run at Scherzer.

…But also that there would have to be at least one corresponding move. If Scherzer comes to Washington, Jordan Zimmermann and/or Doug Fister may have to leave.

That helps explain these tweets from Bob Nightengale of USA Today:

If the Nationals are really a player for Scherzer, this makes sense. As much as they would probably prefer to simply add him to a collection of starters—Zimmermann, Fister, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez—who posted an MLB-best 3.04 ERA in 2014, that’s a tall task.

It’s going to take a lot of money to sign Scherzer. Nobody knows how much just yet, but Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors’ projection of $185 million over seven years sounds about right.

That would be an average of over $26 million per year, which would make Scherzer the highest-paid player on the Nationals by about $5 million over Jayson Werth. For a team already projected for close to $150 million in expenditures in 2015, we’re talking about arguably too big of an addition.

And that’s where dealing Zimmermann and/or Fister would come in.

Dealing Zimmermann would clear $16.5 million in payroll room for 2015. Going off Dierkes’ arbitration projections, dealing Fister would clear $11.4 million. As such, the Nationals may not be able to bring Scherzer aboard unless they deal both of them.

Whether Scherzer is worth so much trouble is a question that addresses several scenarios, but it starts with a big one: Just how good is he relative to Zimmermann and Fister?

Let’s keep this simple by looking at what these three guys did in 2014. And while there are dozens of stats we could look at to evaluate who’s better than who, let’s keep the simple motif by looking at the usual suspects plus a couple of ERA estimators in FIP and xFIP and Wins Above Replacement.

Courtesy of FanGraphs, we get:

By ERA, Fister was the best, Zimmermann was second best and Scherzer was the worst. But according to the ERA estimators, Scherzer and Zimmermann were essentially the same pitcher, and Fister drastically overachieved.

There is something to that assessment of Fister. It’s not too alarming that his strikeout rate suffered a drop-off in 2014, but you don’t want to see ground-ball pitchers suddenly stop getting ground balls at their usual rates. That’s something that could come back to bite him in 2015.

Based on that, the absolute best thing the Nationals can do is sign Scherzer and trade Fister. They’d basically be swapping out a faux ace for a real ace and could look forward to an otherworldly Scherzer-Zimmermann-Strasburg trio with which to chase a championship in 2015.

As for signing Scherzer and trading Zimmermann, that’s where things get really interesting. 

That the two were essentially equals in the eyes of the advanced metrics in 2014 isn’t misleading. It’s not worth nothing that Scherzer did his thing with more strikeouts and in the American League, but Zimmermann did his own thing to transform into a legit ace.

Zimmermann’s strikeouts experiencing a spike was overdue and not an accident. Brooks Baseball can show how he took to pitching up in the zone with his fastball more often, and how that bought him the whiffs he’d long deserved with his mid-90s velocity.

Take that adjustment and combine it with Zimmermann’s superb command, and he’s just as capable of overwhelming hitters using his stuff and pitching smarts as Scherzer does with his almost unfair collection of nasty stuff.

And that essentially means signing Scherzer and trading Zimmermann would result in the Nationals having basically the same pitcher for an extra $10 million or so per year. On the surface, that doesn’t seem overly logical.

But you have to factor in what the Nationals would be getting back if they were to trade Zimmermann. And in the opinion of Drew Fairservice of FanGraphs, he “surely carries more trade value than any other walk-year National, given his dominant 2014 season.”

Indeed. And knowing that the Atlanta Braves just turned one year of Jason Heyward into four years of Shelby Miller, it’s not hard to imagine the Nationals getting a similar controllable young talent for Zimmermann. Perhaps the second baseman they need to round out their infield, for example.

As for the long-term aspect of signing Scherzer and trading Zimmermann, that would obviously be punting on the idea of signing Zimmermann to an extension. That’s actually not the worst idea in light of what he told James Wagner of The Washington Post.

“If the deal is right, I’ll definitely sign a multiyear deal,” Zimmermann said. “I never once said I didn’t want to stay in D.C. But at the end of the day, the deal has to be right and the deal has to be fair and that’s all I’m asking for. Just pay me what I’m worth and I’ll be happy to stay. If we can’t come to common ground, I guess free agency is the next step.”

In other words: The Nationals need to give him market value. Knowing that Zimmermann is only 28 with a strong track record and one year to go until free agency, “market value” for him may mean something more like Cole Hamels’ $144 million extension than Homer Bailey’s $105 million extension.

As such, a choice between Scherzer or Zimmermann likely boils down to spending a whole lot of money on Scherzer and taking advantage of Zimmermann’s considerable trade value or spending a whole lot of money on Zimmermann and taking advantage of Fister’s lesser trade value.

It’s a tough call, but yours truly thinks the needle tips slightly in favor of the sign-Scherzer, trade-Zimmermann idea.

That leaves just one last scenario: signing Scherzer and then trading Zimmermann and Fister. And compared to the other two, this idea isn’t as easy to get behind.

What the Nationals would be doing is turning a very deep and very good rotation into a not as deep and not as good rotation. By far the club’s biggest strength from 2014 would be gone, and conventional wisdom suggests they’d sorely miss their loaded rotation in the postseason.

However, we just saw conventional wisdom get turned on its head. The Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit Tigers all got bounced from October despite having elite starting pitching. The overarching message sent by their defeats was that a deep rotation is no longer a guarantee of success in October.

The Kansas City Royals stamped that home when they made it to Game 7 of the World Series without great starting pitching, riding a top-level bullpen and inspired overall team play instead. The San Francisco Giants, meanwhile, showed that merely having one excellent starting pitcher can be enough to win it all.

By signing Scherzer and dealing Zimmermann and Fister, the Nationals could conceivably follow either blueprint. The Zimmermann and Fister deals would presumably make them a deeper team around their rotation, and said rotation would still have at least two titans in Scherzer and Strasburg who could lead the way both in the regular season and in October.

So sign Scherzer and trade Fister? You can win.

Sign Scherzer and trade Zimmermann? You can win.

Sign Scherzer and trade Fister and Zimmermann? That’s arguably the best way the Nationals can win.

If signing Scherzer and dealing Zimmermann and/or Fister is truly Rizzo’s master plan, he has a lot of phone calls to make. But knowing what those calls could do for the Nationals, they’re worth making.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked. Salary and payroll information courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Ranking the 6 Biggest Steals of the MLB Offseason so Far

Undervalued assets, in dollars or production, are the key to fielding a successful team.

Thus far, the offseason has been highlighted by contracts in excess of $150 million to Jacoby Ellsbury and $240 million to Robinson Cano, but it’s the smaller, less talked about moves that could pay major dividends in 2014. 

With revenue rising around the sport, free-agent players are receiving eye-opening offers and signing them without hesitation. Due to the cost of those free agents, general managers are holding onto their prospects, hoping for cheap labor to impact the club within a few seasons.

As the sport takes center stage in Disney World, we await the next major signing or trade, but often, it’s the smaller pacts or less publicized trades that go without the coverage they deserve.

Here are the six biggest steals of the offseason thus far. From one-year contracts to trades, the six players changing addresses all can provide more value than their most recent transaction suggests.

*All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.

Begin Slideshow

Doug Fister Trade Officially a Bust for Seattle Mariners

On July 30, 2011, it was announced that the Seattle Mariners were going to trade young starting pitcher Doug Fister and scrappy reliever David Pauley to the Detroit Tigers for a pile of prospects.  Those prospects ended up being outfielder Casper Wells, pitcher Charlie Furbush, third baseman Francisco Martinez and a player to be named who ended up being closer Chance Ruffin.

At the time of the trade, Fister had a 3-12 record with a 3.33 earned run average for the Mariners.  Pauley had a 2.22 ERA in 39 games through 54.1 innings pitched.  The offense-heavy Tigers needed some bullpen depth and at least one more quality starter.  It seemed to them that they would be getting both from the Mariners. 

The Mariners, already heavy in prospects, were getting what looked like a heavy sum for an up-and-coming starter and a good reliever.  Wells was slugging .451 in Triple-A Toledo, Furbush owned a 1-3 record and 3.62 ERA as a reliever for the Tigers, Martinez (then only 20 years old) was hitting .282 with seven homers and 46 RBI in Double-A Erie and Ruffin was 3-3 with a 2.03 ERA between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo.

The prospect package of Wells, Furbush, Martinez and Ruffin turned out to be entirely a bust, and Fister has continued to excel with the Tigers.  Pauley, on the other hand, struggled in 14 games with the Tigers, going 0-2 with a 5.95 ERA.  He spent 2012 mostly in the minors, but went 0-1 with a 6.48 record with the Los Angeles Angels and Toronto Blue Jays.

Wells struggled with the Mariners, batting .216 with seven homers in 2011 and .228 with 10 homers in 2012 before being waived in 2013.  He was claimed by the Blue Jays, purchased by the Oakland A’s (where he went 0-for-5) and then purchased again by the Chicago White Sox, where he is currently hitting .136.

Furbush struggled as a starter with the Mariners in 2011, going 3-7 with a 6.62 ERA.  In 48 games in 2012, he went 5-2 with a 2.72 ERA.  He is one of the main figures in Seattle’s bullpen today, currently 0-3 with a 3.52 ERA in 23 appearances.

Ruffin, then a closer prospect, went 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 13 relief appearances for the Mariners in 2011.  Since then, he hasn’t played in the big leagues and is being converted to a starter in Double-A Jackson.

What really makes the Doug Fister trade a bust is Francisco Martinez.  The prospect struggled with Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma and was converted to an outfielder.  The Mariners traded Martinez on Sunday back to the Tigers for a player to be named.  Detroit plans on salvaging his career and moving him back to third base.

Fister, who the Mariners practically gave up for free, went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA with the Tigers in 2011.  Last year, he went 10-10 with a 3.45 ERA (after some health issues), and this year he’s 5-2 with a 3.28 ERA.  He is the Tigers’ dominant No. 2 starter behind Justin Verlander.

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