It was well known that the Tigers were looking to deal a starting pitcher this offseason in order to move Drew Smyly into the rotation. The potential players to be dealt came down to Doug Fister and Rick Porcello. While many thought Porcello would be the one packing his bags, Dave Dombrowksi surprised us again by sending Fister to the Nationals for infielder Steve Lombardozzi and pitchers Ian Krol and Robbie Ray. Fister, who is arbitration eligible this year and under team control through 2015, is a huge upgrade to the Nats' already strong rotation. As for the Tigers, well, I don't know what they improved here.
Fister is one of the most underrated starting pitchers in baseaball, possibly due to the fact that he was the number four pitcher in a rotation that included three candidates for the last two Cy Young awards. Over the past three years, Fister has posted a 3.32 ERA with a 3.72 K:BB ratio and a 0.62 HR/9 rate. An extreme groundball pitcher (54% GB% in 2013), Fister would have benefited from the addition of Ian Kinsler in Detroit and loved that the Tigers traded for Jose Iglesiasduring the season. The Nationals' infield defense was slightly below average in 2013, but Fister performed just fine with the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta and Prince Fielder behind him. A move to the National League should give a slight bump to Fister's strikeout rate and will add to the only aspect of his game that leaves something to be desired. Fister probably wouldn't have cracked my top-50 starting pitchers before this move mainly due to his pedestrian strikeout numbers and relatively little upside but he's durable and, as I mentioned I expect his strikeout totals to increase as he faces other pitchers at the plate. This move may even push him up into the top-25 at the position. Also, while there is little upside with Fister, he's extremely reliable and that can have value when filling out your fantasy pitching staff.
The biggest impact on the Tigers' side of the deal is the opening of a rotation spot for Drew Smyly. Smyly pitched well in 18 starts in 2012 before shining in the bullpen last season. Smyly has struck out almost a batter per inning in his 175 big league innings and has shown improved control since his promotion. Working mainly with a fastball/slider combo, Smyly works in a decent changeup which will be more important in his role as a starter. I think Smyly will be a trendy sleeper this season and will probably be somewhat overvalued, but if you can get him at a decent price he's an interesting sleeper. Ian Krol has little fantasy relevance as he is most likely destined for middle relief and doesn't offer much upside for those looking to steal some saves. Lombardozzi is a utility player and doesn't figure into the Detroit starting lineup. Robbie Ray, a right-handed pitching prospect, is the prize of this deal for the Tigers. Most scouts see Ray as a projectable starter with the ceiling of a number three pitcher on a playoff team. He posted strong strikeout numbers in Hi A and AA in 2013 but, more importantly, Ray improved his control and reduced the number of walks he issued. He probably slots in as the Tigers' #2 prospect albeit in a relatively weak farm system.
Overall, a weird move from the Tigers perspective, but perhaps now they go and sign a big-time free agent in Orlando next week. If they don't, this is sort of a head-scratcher for Detroit, though one with huge fantasy gains for Doug Fister and Drew Smyly.