Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Late Thoughts About the Fister Trade

Last week, Dave Cameron at Fangraphs.com published lists of the ten best and ten worst trades of the past off-season. It probably comes as no surprise to find the trade between the Tigers and the Nationals that sent Doug Fister to Washington in return for a prospect with possibilities and roster filler that addressed some key issues within the Tigers' likely 25-men topped both lists. There was a lot of head-scratching at Baseball Think Factory to the amount of 309 comments. It was nearly the transaction that relaunched this blog, even. (In fact, I came closer to writing about the Mets' signing Curtis Granderson.)

Cast your mind back eleven-and-a-half years ago, to June 2002. Dave Dombrowski had a few months earlier fired Randy Smith and become general manager. The Expos were still in Montréal. That horrible Tigers' 2003 season was still in the future. At that time, Dombrowski sent a key member of the Tigers' pitching rotation in a three-way trade that netted him a prospect pitcher, a reliever and a prospect slugger. It was a better return than he got for Fister, but Jeff Weaver was a better-paid pitcher. The players the Tigers got were all relative disappointments in that Jeremy Bonderman did not quite live up to expectations, while Franklyn German and Carlos Peña fell well short.

The thing is, at the time rumours swirled around that Weaver was being exiled from Detroit. A month later, we were able to read more detailed allegations of the kind of behaviour that Dombrowski (or possibly Mr Ilitch) found unwelcome in a member of the Tigers' team. (Note the name of one of the players allegedly using profanity on that occasion was the Tigers' rookie manager for 2014, Brad Ausmus, back then the team's catcher.) The question is whether Fister created some kind of issues in the clubhouse. The answer is that I haven't been able to find any, despite a vague memory of him saying or doing something I thought was a bit much during 2013. (No, as much as I would like to, I am not going to wade through all the 2013 Tigers' broadcasts using my MLB GameDay Audio subscription.)

Using the 2002 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, the Tigers' got back for Weaver the #1 (Peña) and #9 (German) prospects for the Athletics, plus the Athletics' #1 pick in the draft. In 2011, in trading for Fister, the Tigers sent their BA-ranked #4 (Francisco Martinez), #7 (Chance Ruffin), #19 (Casper Wells) and #26 (Charlie Furbush) prospects, and got lefty David Pauley as well. At the time those who knew their baseball knew that Fister was doing an excellent job for the Mariners, so the question becomes how does the haul the Mariners got in 2011 compare with the Tigers who came over from the Nationals? In 2013, the Nationals sent #18 (Ray) plus their #10 from 2012 (Lombardozzi) and the Athletics' #29 (Krol). Ray, however, jumped to #5 in the 2014 list, compiled before the trade.

Looking back over that Baseball Think Factory thread, the analysis of the trade by fans falls into two broad camps. On one side are those who agreed with Fangraphs' Cameron that the Tigers got fleeced ('the Fleecers'). On the other are those who think Dombrowski knows something we don't. Looking at the Weaver trade and the two trades of Fister, I'm inclined to think that Mike Rizzo got a good deal, but more of the '15 per cent off' kind, than a 30 per cent or 50 per cent deal that the Fleecers believe. Dombrowski may have decided to take the deal in order to crack on with other moves, rather than holding out for something that was closer to Fister's WAR value. That seems to be the underlying message in this article. The overall point is that it appears the fans don't judge the value of players available in trade in quite the same way that real-life executives do. It may be that in a couple of years we'll come back to this trade as the moment when the Decline and Fall of the Dombrowski Empire began. But at the moment, I think the Fleecers are being a bit overenthusiastic.

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