The Doug Fister Trade in Mets Prospects/Assets

We’re going to play a (fun?) game that matches Mets prospects/assets to those involved in trades for other teams.
Yesterday, we looked at the Dexter Fowler to the Astros deal. Today, by popular demand, we’ll examine the Doug Fister to the Nationals trade.

Doug Fister, who will always be Dog Fister to me, is a very good, and probably underrated pitcher. By FIP, he’s 10th in baseball in the last three years. By RA9-WAR he’s 15th at 12.4 (nearly identical to Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez and ahead of every Mets’ fans favorite: R.A. Dickey (12.0)).

The Nationals sent LHP Ian Krol, Robbie Ray and infielder Steve Lombardozzi to the Tigers for Fister.

One-Sided Deal
The internet praised the Nationals and General Manager Mike Rizzo for his wheeling and dealing.

Dave Cameron at Fangraphs: “Maybe it’s the fact that Fister’s fastball sits at 89, or that he was a non-prospect for most of his days in the minor leagues, but barring an unknown injury that is about to wreck his value, it seems like 29 MLB teams are missing the boat on Doug Fister. If Fister were a free agent, he’d have been the best starter on the market by a good margin…..though, this just an outright robbery. In a market where the prices for mediocre pitchers are very high, the Nationals paid a moderate price for a very good pitcher.”

Keith Law at ESPN: “I can’t believe the Tigers couldn’t get more total value than this for Fister, who is easily a top 25-30 overall starter in the game; they might have traded more to fill needs than to maximize their return…. A lefty reliever, a backup at second and a non-top-100 prospect is just not a good return for two years of one of the top 30 starters in baseball.”

Ben Lindbergh at Baseball Prospectus is confused too. He calculates conservatively that Fister, who will earn ~$7 million in arbitration this winter, and more next time out,  should be expected to provide ~$14 million in surplus value over the next two years. He writes, “Would a team pay $14 million for six years of Ray, six years of Krol, and four years of Lombardozzi? …. Or maybe there’s something else we’re missing…. It’s hard to believe that no other team would have offered a better package, had they all been aware of what Washington was about to give up …  So where does that leave us? Either Dombrowski failed to shop Fister around, every other team failed to evaluate Fister properly, or none of us on the internet knows anything.”

Part of the answer, and it’s one Law hinted at, is that it appears Detroit was looking for a very specific combination of types of players when they set out to move a pitcher. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, via DJF,  on Detroit’s Dave Dombrowski and his process for this move: “Dave’s great to deal with, he’s very candid and up front– he just said, ‘We looked at all of the organizations, and we’re looking for certain players, and we don’t know that we line up in trade with you guys.’ … So it was one of those things where we didn’t necessarily line up in trade… “

The Prospects
The Headliner – Robbie Ray
The top prospect the Tigers received back from the Nationals is LHP Robbie Ray, a 12th round pick in 2010 who signed for ~ early second round type money – $800k.

Ray cruised through advanced-A in 2013 and finished with 58 good innings over 11 good starts at AA. In AA, he had a 3.72 ERA with a 23.5% strikeout rate and a 8.2% walk rate. There is a solid chance he is ready to contribute to the Tigers’ rotation by the heat of summer 2014.

Baseball America, in their writeup of the trade, on Ray with a note from Aaron Fitt in quotes:  “plus fastball, athleticism and durable frame give him a chance to be a mid-rotation starter if he can develop his breaking ball.” His fastball sits in the 91-96 mph range and he knows how to pitch off it well. His changeup plays above-average, and he has a loose arm that encourages scouts’ projections on his future command. His breaking ball earns below-average grades, though.”

BA is a little bit out on an island with that assessment of Ray’s changeup.

Law is relatively unimpressed with Ray: “a potential back-end starter who shows four pitches but has nothing plus, although there’s some upside here if the Tigers can get him to lengthen his stride. His sharpest pitch is his spike curveball, but like most pitches of that type it usually ends up out of the zone, and his changeup is fringy enough that he’s had trouble finishing off right-handed hitters.”

Per Baseball Prospectus and I think, Paul Sporer: “Ray’s curveball is better than his changeup, although the latter offering showed some significant development throughout the 2013 season, and both could end up as average pitches.”

Ok, so who’s the Mets equivalent? We’re looking for a Top 10 guy in the system with the future in the middle to back of a rotation. Bonus if he’s left-handed. I have two candidates: Steven Matz and Rafael Montero.

Matz is left-handed, but only finished a-ball in 2013. His fastball was consistently 93-95 and he’d touch 97 this summer. I thought his changeup flashed plus. All the same, his breaking ball is very much a work in progress and he’s gone back and forth from a curveball to a slider and then back to a curveball in the last 12 months. He has a lengthy injury history mostly stemming from his Tommy John surgery in 2010 that has slowed his development. Unlike Ray, there is virtually no chance that he is big league ready by 2014, as he is a year behind him.

Montero, like Ray, can likely look forward to his big league debut in 2014. Montero’s performance in AA was better than Ray’s statistically which earned him time in AAA in the second half of 2013. Here are the two pitchers over their identical 11-start runs in AA.

                        IP            ERA                     K%                      BB%
Ray                   58            3.72                     23.5                    8.2
Montero            66.2         2.43                     27.6                    3.8

 

The 6’2″ Ray has better size, but in terms of stuff, Montero’s scouting report is close enough to Ray’s. Montero is regularly 92-94, and can touch 95. He has feel for an average changeup and is still working on improving his flat slider. Oh, and he has outstanding control, particularly of his fastball.

 

The Lefthanded Reliever – Ian Krol
Krol made his big league debut last year for Washington and the 22-year-old put up a 3.95 ERA in 27.1 innings fanning 22 and walking 8 for a 97ERA+. He throws 94 and has a curveball. The Mets have one young left-handed reliever: Josh Edgin.

Compare their MLB time in 2013.

                     Games         IP            ERA         K%           BB%               ERA+  
Krol               32               27.1          3.95            18.8           6.8                   97
Edgin            34               28.2          3.77           16.4            9.8                  96

Krol gets the edge here due to his better walk and strikeout rates, but they’re similar enough.

 

The Utility Piece
Steve Lombardozzi can play second, third and some left field. His fWAR the last three years: -0.2, 0.6, -0.7.
He’s like Justin Turner with more zz. Turner’s fWAR the last three years: 0.5, 0.2, 0.5.

 

The Mets’ Equivalence
So, the Mets’ most similar package to the one the Tigers received from the Nationals for Doug Fister, would be Rafael Montero, Josh Edgin and Justin Turner (who of course was DFA’d).

If you want to stay with the left-handed pitching prospect theme, it would be Matz, Edgin and Turner, although given the extra year before Matz reaches the big leagues versus Montero or Ray (always assuming health/effectiveness), the Tigers would have likely wanted more out of the deal.

The other problem with these deals is that Justin Turner is no longer under the Mets’ control. The next best options would be more defensive-minded players like Wilfredo Tovar, but presumably the Tigers were looking for a guy with a little experience already on a MLB bench, and that takes us back to the “fit” issue Anthopoulos mentioned in his conversation about the Tigers’ preferences.

Could the Mets have assembled a package similar to the one offered by Washington to Detroit? Surely.

Would fans have been pleased?

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