It has been a busy month in the Tigers’ front office.
Only two weeks after Prince Fielder was traded to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler, Detroit has completed two more big moves.On December 2, the Tigers agreed to deal lefty Doug Fister to the Nationals in exchange for second baseman Stephen Lombardozzi, relief pitcher Ian Krol, and minor-leaguer Robbie Ray.
Not even 24 hours later, Detroit made headlines again, signing closer Joe Nathan to a two-year deal from the Rangers.
Fister, the No. 4 pitcher in the Tigers’ rotation, was set for arbitration talks with the team and was projected to earn $7+ million a year if Detroit planned on an extended contract. Fister was 14-9 in 2013 with a 3.67 ERA, solid numbers for his spot in the rotation. While many believe this move was to make money for a large Max Scherzer contract, GM Dave Dombrowski said otherwise.
“It gives us some flexibility for some other things we want to do,” he told ESPN reporters on a conference call Monday.
It didn’t take long to find out what those things were. Just one day later, Detroit made a move it desperately needed, signing closer Joe Nathan and bringing life to the dying bullpen. Nathan pitched 64 2/3 innings in 2013, closing 43 games while only blowing three saves. The 39-year old Ranger was limited in 2011 and 2012 after Tommy John surgery took him completely out in 2010. Questions were raised about his effectiveness in the closing role after the surgery, but only nine blown saves in the last three years seems to have answered the non-believers.
So what changes for Detroit? Drew Smyly will likely move from a mid-innings relief pitcher to a fifth starter to replace Fister. Rumors about Brian Wilson will die down, and fans can be happy with some semblance of an experienced closer in the bullpen for 2014.
Uncertain fans can now start worrying. Was this the right move for the Tigers? Signing Nathan may be helpful in the short term, but the Rangers’ closer has had arm problems in the past and will be turning 40 next year. Combine that with a contract that is worth more than Fister’s, and the trade does not look particularly helpful in the long term. Granted, owner Mike Ilitch and Dombrowski are looking for a championship season immediately, but the 30-year old Fister may have been more valuable asset in the coming years.
All eyes will be on Scherzer now, as a contract extension looks to be in the near future for the Cy Young winner. With over $70 million freed up through the Fielder trade, you can be cautiously hopeful that Max will remain in the blue and orange. It’s been a busy November for Detroit, and expect it to continue into next month and 2014.
Richie Cozzolino is the host of Tiger Talk for Impact Sports.
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