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What the Fister steal means for the Pirates, knowing your talent, and seeing Red


SOUTH HILLS – Given the lack of quality starting pitchers available and the soaring costs of average starting pitching on the free agent market, and given that the entire baseball world knew the Tigers had placed Doug Fister on the trade market, it was stunning to see how little the Washington Nationals gave up to acquire the underrated right-handed pitcher. If Fister was on the free agent market this offseason, he might very well be the No. 1 free agent pitching option.


The Nationals gave up two fringe roster pieces in Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol and their No. 5 prospect in Robbie Ray. It’s a price many teams  in baseball, including the Pirates, could have matched or exceeded.


You might not realize just how good Fister is since he’s been lost in the shadow of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.



Consider these numbers from Baseball Prospectus:


Here’s a list of the 10 best pitchers by FIP from 2011-13, minimum 500 innings pitched:

Clayton Kershaw 697 2.57
Cliff Lee 666 2.84
Felix Hernandez 670 2.87
Justin Verlander 708 3.07
Madison Bumgarner 614 3.07
Zack Greinke 562 3.09
Anibal Sanchez 574 3.11
David Price 622 3.14
Cole Hamels 651 3.2
Doug Fister 587 3.22


Fister doesn’t walk anybody. He had the No. 3 groundball rate in baseball last year and if he pitched in front of a better defense (think Pirates or Rays) he might have put up an elite ERA. He is very creative with his cutter, 12-6 curve and plus changeup.


Said Nationals GM Mike Rizzo to the Washington Post: 


“We really had identified Doug as our primary acquisition target as far as starting pitchers go,” Rizzo said. “We thought he was an undervalued asset.” …


The Nationals believe Fister’s strengths will only be extenuated in Washington. He will face opposing starters rather than designated hitters. The Nationals’ infield figures to suck up more of those groundballs than the Tigers’. New manager Matt Williams brought with him Mark Weidemaier, a coach whose sole job is to position fielders based on scouting and analytics.


“With our defensive alignment I think that he’ll thrive here,” Rizzo said. “He’s a guy that does a lot of the little things that will really translate into the National League.”


He’s under club control for the next two years when he’ll command somewhere in the ballpark of $16 million in arbitration. But, again, given the prospect price and the free agent market it represents very good value.


The rest of the National League might be kicking itself today because the Nationals just got better.


The Nationals were a buy-low sort of team for 2014 before Monday, coming off a year when they failed to meet expectations and now they added a No. 2/No. 3 type starter to an already talented rotation.


What it means for the Pirates, Reds and Cardinals is winning a wild card just became more difficult in 2014. And with the Cardinals improving their overall defense and their offensive blackhole at shortstop, it is a wild card the Pirates might again be fighting for in 2014.




I have no idea if the Priates were serious players on Fister, but he fits the profile of what the club is seeking in a pitcher. Perhaps the Tigers’ asks were higher because the Pirates’ system is so rich. Just a theory.


While much of the hot-stove  talk centers on other team’s players and the free agent market, it’s important to note that the most important skill an organization possesses during the offseason is knowing its own talent.


Baseball America editor John Manuel notes the Blue Jays have failed at this in regard to their catching position.





We know the Reds are unlikely to resign Shin-Soo Choo, which is a considerable loss given his other-worldly OBP. There is talk that Brandon Phillips is also a candidate to be move and on Tuesday the Reds traded catcher Ryan Hanigan to the Rays.


It might not seem like much but the Rays typically win trades. Hanigan had a down year last season but he has a career .359 OBP for a catcher is a is a plus pitch-framer.


And he can also control a running game.



While I like the Price hire as a manager, the Reds still seam to be behind in 21st century baseball thought, and could be in store for a step back this summer.


– TS



  1. BostonsCommon says:

    Fister to the Nats probably eliminates one of the two potential destinations for AJ that isn’t Pittsburgh, the other being Philly. I’m skeptical that he wants any part of a media fishbowl and really expect him to be back in black come spring training.

  2. Travis Sawchik says:

    I think Baltimore could potentially be on Burnett’s radar. His wife is from Md., I believe…Not sure Burnett wants any part of the AL East, though

  3. BostonsCommon says:

    That second part of what you said is exactly why I wasn’t considering them an option at this point… As much as it seemed like BS in the beginning, I think it really is Pittsburgh or retirement at this point.

  4. NMR says:

    I don’t think the AL East wants any part of Burnett.

    And I don’t think Burnett particularly cares to play out his remaining year on a .500 team in Philly.

    We can see why the qualifying offer business means nothing, right?

  5. BostonsCommon says:

    “Perhaps the Tigers’ asks were higher because the Pirates’ system is so rich. Just a theory.”

    This is an interesting idea. But if recent history tells us anything, NH has no interest in moving any legit prospects. Rightly so I believe.

    I know the Tigers didn’t take much, but a couple relief pitchers like Duke Welker and Vic Black and fringy bats like Dilson Hererra and Dickerson probably wouldn’t have been enough for Fister.

  6. NMR says:

    -Speaking of knowing your talent, this is the SECOND time Fister has been badly undervalued in a trade.

    -I don’t think the Nats improvement means as much to the Pirates and Reds as it does to the Braves.

    -Is any GM in baseball yet to reach any measure of success as highly regarded as Alex Anthopolous?

    -Walt Jockety’s tenure in Cincinnati seems to be trending in much the same manner as his tenure in St Louis.

    -We can learn something about AJ Burnett’s situation from the A’s trade with Baltimore.

    I think it is fair to assume that Billy Beane knows better than to budget an $11m closer on a low payroll team, or else he would probably not have let Grant Balfour walk as a free agent. But after signing Scott Kazmir to improve the rotation and seemingly confident in his ability to trade Brett Anderson (and his $8m salary), Beane found himself short a closer with no other major holes to fill.

    Cash + need = Jim Johnson

    Situation changed, and so did Beane.

    If AJ Burnett wants to pitch in 2014, the Pirates look to find themself in a similar situation.

  7. NMR says:

    Timing is a cruel mistress. This time last year the Pirates were dangling Joel Hanrahan and more with Rick Porcello as the supposed target.

  8. NMR says:

    Oh, btw, I think I owe YOU a beer this time around. Weren’t we debating how much Carlos Beltran would get a while back?

    I’m already preparing my concession speach. :)

  9. BostonsCommon says:

    Wow, 3/$48M on the table?

  10. NMR says:

    And by the Royals, apparently.

  11. Jeff King says:

    Because of all the extra money coming in for most of these teams, the majority of them are just throwing money out there. And we just aren’t going to do that. Right or wrong that’s the plan they’re going to follow.
    We are going to continue to find guys coming off sub-par years and hope they can turn it around.

  12. Jeff King says:

    Because of all the extra money coming in for most of these teams, the majority of them are just throwing money out there.
    And we just aren’t going to do that. Right or wrong that’s the plan they’re going to follow.
    We are going to continue to find guys coming off sub-par years and hope they can turn it around.

  13. BostonsCommon says:

    Right or wrong that’s the plan they’re going to follow…

    I don’t think there is a problem with that, as long as they spend the money they’re saving wisely when the time is right. I’m talking about Cutch on a shrewd contract, paying Pedro through his arbitration years.. Cash for Cole and Taillon when they head toward arbitration and beyond..

    I like their plan in fact. Invest in your own talent. You’ve groomed them and you know them the best.. Take your shots on low dollar bounce back guys.

    If getting guys like AJ and Liriano means you have to flush a J. Sanchez down the toilet every now and then that’s fine.

  14. Nate83 says:

    Boston, I agree completely. Staying patient is hard to do but some of these deals being handed out could easily go South quickly and have long term affects on what a small market team can do later when one of their own players is do to make more money. The value of a free agent is going down as the market becomes even more inflated and the age of decline for players level off after the steriod era.

    Just imagine if Edwin Jackson excepted the Pirates deal two years ago. Now imagine that deal this year with the inflated market. It would have been 3 years of 39-45 million. How would a team like the Pirates rebound from a player taking up 16-19% of their payroll for 3 years and performing well below that level.

    Small markets will always have find wins for value. Cutch, Marte, Alverez, Walker and even Mercer will all give them more wins then their contract value says they should next year.

  15. Jeff King says:

    You’re right. At least at this point you have to give NH the benefit of the doubt. Complicating things is Burnett. They need to set a deadline for him. NH can say it’s not affecting them but it has to be. Say you have $20 on the table. That obviously can’t be spent looking for someone else if Burnett is being considered as part of the payroll.

  16. Steve D says:

    reading some twitter feeds that say Pirates are talking Trumbo….what does it take? Locke and Barnes?

  17. Steelkings says:

    A deadline for Burnett? Seriously? No….If the Pirates truly want AJ back there is going to be some…Lots of groveling involved. This isnt about money. Its about the knife he has hanging out of his back.

    Before game 5 of the playoff series with the Cardinals I said if Hurdle passes up AJ for Cole and Cole loses, we have likely seen AJ’s last game as a Pirate. That wound goes deep I’m sure. And payback is a bitch with teeth. If NH really wants AJ back he is going to need to say publically that the Pirates as a team really hurt without AJ. Massage the ego is the only thing that will heal that wound.

  18. Leefoo says:

    God, I hope not. Trumbo is a strikeout king on a par with Pedro. Plus, a lot of his power gets negated by our park. His OPS has been over .800 ONCE! Last year it was a pedestrian .747.

    I’d rather keep Sanchez….at least he can play some defense.

  19. BostonsCommon says:

    Despite being an All Star last year, I don’t know that Locke qualifies as “top notch young pitching”. But he’s definitely a guy I would consider moving for the right return. No way he should be untouchable.

  20. BostonsCommon says:

    FWIW, I think Colorado gets a steal with Morneau at 2/$13M. I think he brings his glove with him and sees his numbers bounce back big time at Coors.

    Good value sign.

  21. NMR says:

    Can’t hit lefties and hasn’t rated defensively in the top half of 1st basemen since 2010.

    I’m having a really hard time seeing how he can even be a 2 WAR player.

  22. Nate83 says:

    Before free agency began this year I would have said that is too much for him but based on what is going on it seems about right. He’s a quality baseball player. Probably not a difference maker anymore but he definately won’t hurt your team. You can write his name on the lineup card everyday and feel good about it.

    What I’m most excited about is we can now trade Polanco, Lambo and Hanson for Tulo and Morneau both……just kidding.

  23. NMR says:

    +1 $6m/yr seems to be the floor for regular position players at this point.

    Had to figure Morneau would find it from someone.

  24. Nate83 says:

    Well if an aging 30 year old center fielder who has been hurt a majority of 2 of the last 4 years and relies on his legs for most of his value can get 150 Million for 7 years anything is possible. I have to imagine that contract would put Cutch at 250 million for 7 years. Thankfully he signed that extension. It will end up being the best thing this front office ever did no matter what they do going forward. Just think about it. Cutch will be making Nolasco money in the last year of that contract.

  25. BostonsCommon says:

    For $6.5M platoon him if you don’t want to see him face LHP. Give him 450 PA against RHP and you get value on that contract. He basically ony needs to be a 1 WAR player and I would bet he exceeds that at Coors.

  26. You’re right, because the Tigers wanted a starting pitcher in the package. But Dilson Herrera is a legit prospect. He was well above average as one of the yougest players in the SAL, and many scouts love his tools. Some thought he was the best position player prospect on the WV team last year. He was selected to play in the Futures Game at age 19.

    And Vic Black will be the Mets closer in April. The idea that Huntington hasn’t traded prospects doesn’t hold water.

  27. Steve D says:

    eventually NH will have to make a bold move to improve the holes as SS and 1B or another position in the future. Do i think that time is now, NO, but i dont really love Gaby/Lambo platoon right now. Maybe a mid season trade would be the answer at this point.

  28. NMR says:

    WAR is park adjusted, so Coors doesn’t mean anything to his value analysis.

    And I just do not think this strict adherance to $/WAR makes any sense.

    A 1 WAR player is below average. Logically, I cannot understand how paying over $6m for a below average player in the Rockies market can be seen as good value.

  29. Nate83 says:

    I agree moves will have to be made. Perhaps they are trades instead of free agents. If the Pirates feel that the return on investment of free agents isn’t worth it they will not just throw an extra 2 or 3 million a year at a player just to get them. It’s not how they have operated in the past and I don’t think being competitive now changes that. The stated goal has always been to make this sustainable.

    I personally am not convince SS is a need. At least not at the price Drew will cost. I’m not sure a Drew type player really improves the team enough over Mercer to justify spending 10-15 million over Mercer’s minimum salary. I would really like to see what Mercer has too offer and allow Hanson to see if he can stick at SS. If a good SS is available through trade that has team control years then I could see that being done but young shortstops are not traded often and would require giving up a lot to make happen.

  30. NMR says:

    Jacoby Ellsbury is an excellent baseball player, and he’ll only be taking up about 10% of his teams payroll.

  31. Nate83 says:

    Jacoby Ellsbury is a very good player. Take a minute to look at his stats. That MVP year is very strange. He had 32 HR’s that year in 660 at bats. He barely has 32 HR’s in his other 2500 at bats combined the rest of his career. Other then that year he has never topped 60 RBI’s or 100 Runs. His on base is good but not elite. He is a player who’s value is mostly in his speed which will start to decline because he just turned 30. He is an older version of Carl Crawford with less power.

    He is a good player but they are paying him as an elite player. That MVP year has really distorted the perception of him as being an elite player. I like him a lot and would love if players like him and Pedroia played for the Pirates. I would have thought it was a good deal for the Yankees at 5 years for 90-100.

    It’s the years more then the % of payroll that he received that I’m not a fan of. However at the the end of the day that is what it took for the Yankees to get him. I’m sure somebody else was offering almost as much so they did what they had to. However if this prevents them from signing Cano I think the better move would have been to keep Cano even if it cost 8/200 because he is much more of a + player at his position then Ellsbury is at his postion and his power numbers would add more value.

    I’m sure we won’t agree on this one but that’s OK.

  32. BostonsCommon says:

    You’re correctly poking holes in my argument.. And we might just have to revisit this one because I don’t have a lot to stand on. I just think even if you platoon him, you’re going to get enough production to justify $6.5M, regardless of $/WAR.

    You might find a cheaper option making league minimum, and it might not be the smartest use of $13M. But given 900 PA vs RHP over the next two years, I don’t think the Rockies are going to be disappointed that they signed him.

  33. BostonsCommon says:

    Dilson is a nice player, but hardly a building block of the future. You’re right too. He was a 19 year old in low A, years away from the bigs, with a ceiling of an MLB 2B. Might he get there and contribute? Yea sure, but he’s not an impact guy, and certainly not untouchable.

    If you want to call him a prospect, okay, but he’s not one of the impact guys I was referring to.

    If Vic Black is closing for the last place Mets in April, okay. Neil has proved he can put together a bullpen. And I don’t think I’m alone in pushing relief pitchers waaay down the prospect list.

  34. NMR says:

    I agree with every part of that, Boston.

    Ironically, Garrett Jones and his expected arbitration seems to be a pretty darn close comp. to Morneau, and I would’ve been happy to pay it if I believed he could come close to his 2012 numbers.

    That seems to be what you expect of Morneau, and so sure, I think your last post makes complete sense.

  35. Andrew says:

    About 40% of players observed performance is worth between 0-1.0 WAR, so a 1.0 win player is above replacement and a win is a win.

    But Morneau issue is that he is going to struggle to perform at replacement level. He barely average 0.2 WAR the last three years, maybe the Rockies watched tape and saw that rumored mechanical adjustment. The Jones comparison is spot on, does anyone think Jones will get $6.5 million/year.

  36. NMR says:

    Sorry Nate, but you’re never going to change my mind by citing HR, RS, and RBI. Game is just so much more than counting stats.

    I don’t believe his MVP season hasn’t distorted anything.

    If people in baseball saw him as he was in 2011, you can be damn sure he’d be getting paid more than he is now. What 2011 did was establish a ceiling for his power skills, which is important as he ages. If Johnny Damon could hit 25 homeruns at age 36 while playing in Yankee Stadium, Ellsbury certainly could, too. So while you’re certainly correct that his elite baserunning won’t keep up, it is completely plausible that his defense can remain elite and hitting could become more productive.

    Sure, seven years is a long time, and he’s very likely to be overpaid by the end of the contract. But you also have to acknowledge that he’s very likely to be UNDERpaid at the beginning. He’s essentially trading higher salary per year at the beginnning for more certainty at the end.

    All Boras has done with Ellsbury is get the market to pay for baserunning and defense. It was bound to happen eventually.

  37. BostonsCommon says:

    NMR, think me and you both agreed that bringing back G. Jones wouldn’t be the worst thing that the Pirates could do this off season. If you get him back and take a $3-4M flyer on him bouncing back then the platoon could be all set.

    Or they’d be no worse than they are now. I really wouldn’t mind giving him a couple months in the platoon to see if he bounces back. I think he’s waaaay more likely to go somewhere else and hit 25 HRs than Snider is anyway.

  38. Andrew says:

    I think it is correct that this is an overpay I saw that the comparison for Ellsbury run from Kenny Lofton/Ichrio to Derek Bell. But overpaying does not hurt New York as a bad as a mid-market team, and somehow Prince Fielder and Carl Crawford were moved. I just saw something that says if Boras gets a player signed this early it is bad for the team.

  39. NMR says:

    “…so a 1.0 win player is above replacement and a win is a win.”

    Only in a vacuum, and we know that isn’t how this works. If the Rockies, or any team, allocated that much money per win, they would be horrible.

  40. NMR says:


    I’ve gotta trust the major league coaches and scouts on Jones. Outwardly, yes, it seems like he’s a perfect bounce back candidate and well worth that money in this market as we’ve discussed before.

    But if the guys who know what they’re doing far more than I do believe 2013 wasn’t a fluke, then I think they have to try something else.

  41. NMR says:

    If the Yankees and other teams of their revenue level judge value on the scale of the league as a whole, they are essentially giving up their competitive advantage.

    Look at it this way (via Dave Cameron at FanGraphs), Ellsbury is projected to be a 4-WAR player next year. Even if you assume he’ll lose 0.5 WAR each year of his contract, he still will accumulate about 18 WAR over the duration. The math works out to $8.7/WAR. The Yankees can absolutely afford that, and refusing to pay those premiums for stars simply brings them down to everyone else’s level. Why would they want to do that?

    Carl Crawford’s contract wasn’t an overpay because his speed regressed due to age, his contract was an overpay because EVERY part of his game regressed. Immediately. For some reason. If that happens to Ellsbury, then the number of years won’t matter a bit.

  42. Nate83 says:

    As I said I’m sure we will continue to disagree about this signing. I personally do not see him outplaying this contract over the first 3 years. They should be happy if he stays healthy and plays up to it. Cano is much more valuable in my opinion. If they keep both then I think it’s not as bad of a deal. However with their starting pitching needing help I don’t see how they take care of that as well as sign Ellsbury and Cano and stay below 189 Million.

    In a perfect world we would revisit this 4 years from now but their is absolutely zero chance we remember to do that. By then I won’t even remember if I thought it was a good deal or not.

  43. NMR says:

    Good post, Steve.

  44. Andrew says:

    The dollars/win refers only to the free agent market, and answers the question that how much would a team have to pay to replace a player’s current level of performance on the free agent market. No one assumes you teams pay market value for every win a player produces, to get to 88 Wins a payroll of $250 million would be needed.

  45. Nate83 says:

    The WAR projection assumes he plays 145-155 games a year. He hasn’t had much luck doing that in recent history. I agree teams like the Yankees can do this but they can only do it for so many players. I think it would have made more sense to do it for Cano. Maybe they do both but I’d be surprised.

  46. NMR says:

    Speak for yourself. I’m holding Boston to that beer he owes me! :) :)

    If the Yankees do miss Cano because of Ellsbury’s contract, then I agree it would be a poor choice. But $189 won’t end up meaning squat to them, as it should. Nothing but greed makes that number relevant for a team with as much revenue as the Yankees.

  47. BostonsCommon says:

    It wouldn’t be my first choice to bring him back, or second, or third really… But if they did, I wouldn’t think that they have their heads in the sand either.

  48. Leefoo says:

    According to MLBTR, Pirates are looking at Adam Lind and James Loney for 1b.

  49. Leefoo says:

    I’m still a Lambo fan and I’d love to see him get ABs.

  50. BostonsCommon says:

    Good to at least see that Neil isn’t just hanging out watching cartoons. I was beginning to wonder if/when the Pirates would actually be rumored to some players.

  51. Nate83 says:

    I think them going over the 189 mark is one of the more interesting stories this year. They have been saying for over a year they would stay below that but they didn’t know they would miss the playoffs last year. They could go well over that amount and still be profittable with the local TV contract but they don’t see the point in just giving money away to other teams.

    I really don’t understand why the luxary tax/revanue sharing is set at 189. It seems insanely high when you compare it the amount the 10-15 small market teams spend on payroll. It’s such a unique sport in that they play 162 games a year and their local TV contracts are so large compared to other sports. The NFL is almost entirely National. Nobody watches NBA until the 4th quarter and the NHL outside of Pittsburgh and maybe a few other cities just don’t get the ratings.

  52. Nate83 says:

    Loney seems like a safer signing. Lind would be more of a wild card. Unless he comes for something reasonable I would just rather roll the dice with Lambo or even Jones at a lower price then his arbitration would have been.

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