When Doug Fister was traded for Robbie Ray, Steve Lombardozzi, and Ian Krol, the internet absolutely erupted. All over, people ripped Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski to shreds. It's been a couple of days, and while the original panic has subsided, some people (including me) are still left scratching their heads. My one problem with the outcry is, and I apologize for being blunt here: 99.9% of the people analyzing this trade couldn't pick any guy the Tigers received out of a crowd of two. Looking at MLB.com's rankings and citing prospect stats tell .5% of the overall story. So, I reached out to writers within the prospect community, and asked them some questions, because I wanted their unbiased opinions. These are people who have laid actual eyes on Ray, Krol, and Lombardozzi, and know these players as more than 2D names on a page with statistics.
I apologize for a bit of a delay in my own personal piece, but I wanted to let a few days pass while the original shock of the trade subsides. Writing about a big move like this the day after it happens is never a good idea.
Jason Parks (JP)- National lead prospect writer for Baseball Prospectus
Josh Herzenberg (JH)- prospect writer for Baseball Prospectus
Al Skorupa (AS)- prospect writer for Bullpen Banter and fangraphs.
Remember, not everyone thinks the same way about every prospect, or feels the same way about this move. Opinions differ, even in this Q/A.
Can you describe Robbie Ray's repertoire? He looks like a high ceiling, mid (#3) floor LHP.
JP: Good lefty FB; sits low 90s; touches a bit higher; some arm-side wiggle; High 5 or 6 pitch. CB has some depth; he can snap it; more of a solid-avg pitch; changeup lacks consistent arm speed deception; more sink than fade; turns it over but below-average at present. Command is fringe at best; chance to be average; secondaries could be solid-avg at ceiling.
JH: I’d be a bit hesitant to peg him that high, as I see him more able to settle into the back of a rotation (#4 or #5) in the future. While his command issues have improved, he still walked 62 batters in 142 minor league innings last season. That, combined with the relative polish of his off-speed stuff, may knock him a bit despite the clean mechanics and good fastball. I don’t doubt he’s a big league pitcher- and probably a pretty good starter- but I don’t see him becoming anything more than a backend guy.
With that being said, Dave Dombrowski is somewhat of a genius when it comes to trades and, as I believe you mentioned last night, the Granderson trade is a great example of a deal that has paid off enormous dividends after some public speculation. Ray’s mechanics aren’t perfect and there could be some tweaking made. The Tigers, who have an outstanding player development (specifically pitching) track record, could see something fixable that I don’t.
Al combined his Ray thoughts into one answer.
Ray wasn't ranked in the baseball prospectus top 10 for Nationals prospects pre season. What improvements did he make over the course of the 2013 season?
JP: CB and CH improved; mechanics were a little smoother, which aided in the improved ability to throw strikes. Delivery can get out of whack.
JH: I can’t speak specifically to last year’s preseason top 10 because I wasn’t a part of putting that together. However, 2012 Robbie Ray was night and day in comparison to 2013 Robbie Ray. After posting very subpar numbers- both traditional run prevention and peripherals- in 2012, Ray saw an uptick in velocity and command in his repeat performance in 2013. I didn’t see Ray in 2012, but there were a few outings in 2013 that he showed more consistency than A.J. Cole, who was his teammate in both Potomac and Harrisburg. He’s not the prospect Cole is because of ceilings, but he was certainly a very solid pitcher at those levels in 2013.
I saw [Jason] tweet last night that you liked Ray more than Jon Crawford, and BP ranked Crawford #2 in Tigers prospects yesterday. I would imagine that Crawford is somewhere between 100-150 in prospects in baseball. Is Ray around that range, too?
JP:Yes. I don’t think he’s a top 101 guy, but with another step forward with the command and improvements to the secondary stuff, he can be a 101 type. Moderate ceiling but high floor.
JH: It’s hard for me to say. I don’t know if I like Ray more than Crawford- but they’re certainly not far apart. I certainly wouldn’t put Ray in the Top 100, but there is definitely a case for him to be in that next tier.
Reading between the lines of Dombrowski's presser, it seems like DD loves him some Robbie Ray more than anyone who has weighed in on the trade thus far. One of two parties are wrong on this one: either the prospect community, or the Tigers. How likely is it that the Tigers know something that the public doesn't?
JP:The Tigers either don’t believe in Fister long term or want to save money now (or both). Ray is a decent prospect, but it’s a sales job to suggest Ray is the key to the deal.
JH: As I alluded to previously, there could be a developmental aspect to Ray that some of the Tigers scouts recognize and we don’t. His delivery is quite rigid and he lacks some extension toward home plate. If he is able to gain a greater range of motion in his hips and lengthen out as he strides, then there could be an uptick in perceived stuff. Personally, I don’t know if this tweak would be impactful enough to cause his performance to jump significantly. But Dombrowski has proven that he knows what he’s doing.
AS: It does seem like Ray's stock raised significantly this year. I think the prospect community is probably still catching up to the improved stuff and velo he showed in 2013. Teams always evaluate differently from each other and their pro scouts may very well have seen something different about Ray, though. Scouting coverage in general just isn't as extensive as people seem to believe. Some of these guys have like 16 teams to cover throughout the year. They may only see a guy a couple times. Ray was well regarded as an amateur, too, and some in the org. may have that image still in their head. I think he fits the Tigers org. well and I think he also gives them some starting pitching depth with options for Toledo. Young, major league ready, strikeout, lefty power arms with options left can be both extremely valuable to an org. (especially in the position the Tigers are in) and at the same time not be one of the best prospects in the game.
I look at Doug Fister and see a 200 IP 3.75 ERA/FIP low risk, innings eating, cost controlled starter. Wouldn't every team love to have that? You'd imagine that Dombrowski asked other teams than Washington. Since they pulled the trigger here, you'd have to assume this was the best package of players they could get. How is that possible? Fister SEEMS more valuable than that.
JP: I don’t think it was the best deal available, as I don’t think they were aggressive in their shopping of Fister. I assume they didn’t want to trade in the division (and perhaps even the league) and the Nationals had a package they found acceptable. Timetable is important here. Something else is brewing.
JH: I’m a believer that no trade is considered a separate action from any other action within an organization. It’s obvious that the Tigers have strengths and weaknesses, just as every team does. The logjam in the starting rotation is a wonderful problem to have. Perhaps the team looks to have more faith in Smyly, or looks to package Porcello in a trade at a later date. Perhaps, again, they saw something that we didn’t that may lead to a decrease in performance from Fister. I do agree with you that Fister "seems" more valuable than the package the Tigers received, but the market is dictated not only by what other teams do, but also by the context of the particular scenario. The Tigers are in a much different place than, say, the Royals were during the Shields deal or the Rangers in the Garza deal. On the surface this deal seems like a head scratcher, but I would hesitate to pass full judgment without fully understanding the team’s internal discussions and intentions.
AS: You would think every team would like to have a guy like Fister, yes. From what Detroit gave up to get him a couple years back and then this trade it does make you wonder a little "what am I not seeing here?" Back then Fister was largely seen as a solid 4 starter, though. From a scouting perspective he does lack that big fastball and he doesn't miss a tremendous amount of bats. His value as a pitcher is largely in keeping the ball around the strikezone, on the ground and in the park. Those skills are still undervalued I guess. Detroit as an organization likes hard throwers and there is a lot of good reasons for that approach, too. I think the appeal here was threefold: 1) Added financial flexibility to pursue other players; 2) I imagine their scouts liked the guys they got back more than some around the game; and 3) It gave them the chance to potentially move Drew Smyly into the rotation. They also added a lefty reliever to the pen in this deal that mitigates the loss of Smyly there.
The Tigers seem to be making it a point of emphasis to add velocity and strikeouts. It's strange, because I thought that would have been an obvious step when they still had Prince at 1B and Cabrera at 3B. With that arrangement you're setting up groundball pitchers for frustration. Now with Iglesias in the fold and the infield realigned it would be less important to me... but it's always a good idea, I suppose.
Ian Krol's stuff seems to play better in the pen. Is he a true late inning (but non closer) reliever, or more of a LOOGY?
JP:I don’t see an impact arm. Situational type for me. You can find Krol-types in every system.
JH: I lean more towards a LOOGY, at least until he can prove that he understands how to harness his stuff and sequence his pitches better. He has a well above average fastball and a plus breaking ball, which, combined with his violent mechanics, can (and thus far, has proven to) be miserable for LHHs. If I were the Tigers, I would give him the opportunity to be a late inning reliever but keep him on a relatively short leash, knowing that his profile and past performance screams successful LOOGY.
AS: I don't see him strictly as a LOOGY. He can get right-handed hitters out. He's just better at getting lefties out. He's fastball/curve to LHH and fastball/change to RHH. That change-up gives him a pitch that can get out righties when it's working. His fastball is lively enough and he's tough enough to pick up that he can get out RHHs anyway. He's best used against LHHs, but I don't think you need to immediately pull him if a tough righty is sandwiched between two lefties in an inning.
If Krol were prospect eligible, and he's not far off, where would he rank in the Tigers weak top 10?
JP: I’m not sure he would. I’m not the biggest fan and he doesn’t have much ceiling.
JH: I would think probably somewhere around 5, depending on if you like Knebel/Briceno/VerHagen more than him. He’s pretty much reached his ceiling, but he’s also a major leaguer…which is a pretty good ceiling.
AS: Castallanos and Crawford are the top 2 guys there pretty easily... after that it's pretty much a bunch of arms with set up ceilings. You could argue Krol and Ray right in that group. I haven't gotten to the Tigers system yet in my offseason rankings, but I figure you could place either of those guys anywhere from 4th to 15th and I while I wouldn't necessarily agree I wouldn't take big issue with it. I guess Ray could arguably rank 2nd or 3rd even, but I saw Crawford a few times this year, both for the Gators and as a pro and they may have gotten real good value there.
Steve Lombordozzi was once a highly regarded prospect. Scouts liked the bat to ball and hit tool, enough to drop a 6 on it . He looked like a patient hitter in the minor leagues, and has completely abandoned BBs at this point. What happened?
JP: He was once a prospect, although I’m not sure he was all that highly regarded. He can make contact, but it wasn’t all that loud and the power was always well below-average. What happened? Major league pitching is better than minor league pitching and he was never that great to begin with. He’s a role 4 player.
Josh didn't answer this question.
AS: It's kind of strange. I haven't watched him a lot in the majors, but I do think he's a bit overmatched by frontline pitching. He's encountered more high end arms and many more hard-throwers in the bigs. I also think he's been pinch-hitting a lot and getting irregular ABs. Some guys just aren't wired for that and they start to press.
I know everyone wants to view this move in a vacuum. That's fine. I'd prefer to view it as two moves, or even three, because it's clear that Dombrowski isn't done. With that being said, let's say the Tigers sign Choo/Beltran with the payroll flexibility this offers. How does the trade look if it becomes Fister and a comp pick for Choo/Beltran, Ray, Krol, and Lombordozzi? Is that a fair or silly way to look at it?
JP: I don’t think I can comment without specifics. For now, this move is Fister (player/financial relief) for the player package they acquired. That’s all it is now. I would bet more is to come, but that Fister money could be allocated in numerous ways, so its hard to say without specifics.
JH: I think it’s fair, although I don’t think most general fans would be willing or able to fully grasp the connection between financial gains, roster manipulation and overall on-field performance. In a vacuum, this trade is a win for the Nationals. But in context, especially given some future deals that you’re alluding to, the overall package doesn’t seem too terrible.
AS: I think you have to view it in that context because I do think that was their thought process. I wonder if it may have been "we want to save $7 million or so... so we have to move either Porcello or Fister." So it's understandable in that framework. Now that doesn't actually make the trade any better. If they could have got more from another team then it doesn't change the equation if you add in Choo. I don't think this move goes down as any great blunder or anything, but neither does it look like a great piece of business. At the end of the day it's not all about value. It has to be about making your team better and Dave Dombrowski has always down a great job of keeping his eye on the prize.
The Cubs have been reported to be fielding offers for Jeff Szmardzjia. His age, contract status, and overall success are in the same class as Fister. It seems like Shark is going to net a bigger package than Fister, even though his results haven't been as good. Is there a reason for this?
JP: The Cubs are actively shopping Shark, which isn’t the same strategy as the Tigers used with Fister. If Fister goes into a completely open market, the Tigers would receive a better package than they received.
JH: Public perception, mostly. I’ve heard some pretty ridiculous speculation surrounding Shark that includes some teams giving up their top two prospects for him. Personally, I’d prefer Fister.
AS: The reason is strikeouts and hard throwers are sexy. I'd still rather pay the lesser price for Fister and his 88 mph. Samardzija definitely appeals more to scouts and flashes some frontline stuff. Some front offices would rather pay for the velo and K's. it's not silly or anything - velo and K's correlate really well with success. One fear with softer throwers is that they're feasting on poor lineups and getting hit by the good ones whereas a guy like Samardzija has the stuff to succeed against anyone.
This trade puts Drew Smyly into the rotation. I love Smyly, but do have some concerns about his durability. This is a two part question. 1) Do you think he can handle a 190 IP work load?
JP: I have all kinds of concerns about Smyly, workload being one of them.
JH: I think his build and his arm action are both athletic and fluid enough to warrant the opportunity, although I do have some skepticism about a relatively young arm seeing an uptick of almost 120 innings in one year. I think he is capable of it, but there is a high risk of decreased performance over time due to his inexperience in doing so.
AS: I'd worry about the jump in innings from this year, but no major concerns in particular. He's a good arm who deserves a chance. If he gets a sore arm again then you move him back to the pen. Not everyone is destined to start for 10 years in the big leagues, but if he can help with 2, 3 or 4 years of 180 real quality IP then why not? The Tigers are obviously poised to win now.
2) Smyly wore down at the end of last year. His stuff wasn't as crisp. The fastball didn't pop, and his slider wasn't nearly as sharp. I have a theory. Smyly has been a starter his entire career. A starter workload, preparation regiment, and overall mindset is completely different than a reliever's. It seemed like Smyly was up in the pen almost every game in the first half last year. Is it plausible that Smyly, a starter his entire life, struggled because he wasn't used to throwing in short bursts 5x a week instead of 3x every 2 weeks?
JP: Yes. Vey possible. Good theory. I would buy that.
JH: Certainly, and I agree with you wholeheartedly that it could be both physical and mental. There is very different preparation that goes into relieving in comparison to the preparation that goes into starting. That doesn’t only involve the daily physical routine to get your body ready to perform, but the mental routine to get yourself prepared to focus at that level of intensity. However, to play Devil’s Advocate, if the stuff was down a tick as the season wore on, perhaps it wasn’t due to a struggle in preparation and perhaps a result of a bit of overuse. 76 innings in 63 appearances is a lot for a 24-year-old arm being utilized in those types of high leverage situations. I don’t have an answer, but it’s probably something to think about internally before moving forward.
AS:It's definitely a very different mindset. Getting ready to come in the game is a major issue and especially in the minors I see guys come in not ready fairly often. It goes beyond the game day mind set and workload, too. Moving from rotation to pen changes your throwing program, gym days, etc... and all that can obviously make you and your arm feel a lot different. It's obviously just speculation on our part, but I think your theory makes a lot of sense.
So, there you have it, folks. What do you think?
Thanks a whole lot to Jason (@professorparks) Josh (@josh_herz) and Al (@alskor) for answering my questions.
You can follow me on twitter @tigersprospects