Trading Doug Fister was not going to be a popular move -- even if the Tigers got a top pitching prospect in return. With the strongest rotation in baseball and fans ready to take another shot at the World Series in 2014, moving a key piece -- any piece -- of the rotation was going to result in a fan uprising. But receiving no rankings blue chippers in return, coupled with a middle reliever and a utilityman, only served to annoy fans all the more. Saturday during TigerFest, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski briefly explained the deal.
The Tigers had apparently asked Washington about left-hander Robbie Ray, who serves as the jewel of the deal, two weeks earlier, only to have the Nationals tell him they weren't interested in dealing him. That's a fact Dombrowski left out when he first spoke about the deal, which also brought left-handed reliever Ian Krol and Don Kelly clone Steve Lombardozzi to Detroit.
"I wanted to get beat up quite a bit before," Dombrowski said sarcastically, noting the second-guessing he has taken on the deal. "But yes, they initially turned it down."
At the Detroit News, Lynn Henning went a bit deeper into the matter:
It was known Tigers scouts raved about Ray, the left-handed starter who had been working his way up the Nationals chain and who was the trade's billboard prospect. The Tigers, in fact, had him on a list of 15 pitching prodigies they intended to make part of any offseason deal involving a Tigers starter.
It is known also the Tigers expect Ray, 22, to be more of a top-of-the-rotation starter when he settles for regular shifts at Comerica Park, which is more likely to happen in 2015.
That fits what I initially speculated in December: that the only way this deal makes sense is if the Tigers are a lot higher on Ray than fans and those who write prospect rankings.
In the end, the Tigers got their man, and we're not going to tell for years whether it was the right move or not. In the meantime, Fister will almost certainly be a huge gain for the Nationals, especially moving to the NL, while all hopes will be on right-hander Rick Porcello returning to an ERA in the 3s, and left-hander Drew Smyly building on his past two years while increasing his innings load to unseen-before figures.