Detroit Tigers Showing Interest in Free Agent SP Doug Fister


The Detroit Tigers are reportedly showing interest in bringing free agent starting pitcher Doug Fister back to the team.

The Detroit Tigers made their first big pitching move of the offseason this week when they traded for closer Francisco Rodriguez, but they still have plenty of need in that department. The next move might be to fill one of the two openings in the team’s starting rotation.

According to noted baseball insider Buster Olney, the Tigers are exploring the possibility of bringing an old friend back into the fold.

Doug Fister, of course, pitched for the Tigers from 2011-2013. Those were Fister’s peak seasons and the Tigers reached the postseason in each of those three years.

Fister put up good numbers when healthy in 2014, his first season with the Washington Nationals, but injuries limited him to 164 innings. He battled ineffectiveness for much of 2015 and was eventually relegated to bullpen duties for the final third of the season.

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I argued a few months ago that Fister doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Tigers given his present position in his career trajectory. The Tigers wouldn’t be getting the sneaky ace they fleeced the Mariners for, they’d be getting a guy trying his darndest to hang on to a rotation spot.

The will-be 32-year-old right-hander no longer strikes out even a modest number of batters (5.5 K/9 in 2015) so the entirety of his value will come from his ability to limit walks, home runs, and hits on balls in play.

The upshot for the Tigers here would be that they could land Fister without the need to commit to him long-term. The FanGraphs crowd pegs him to be worth two years and $20 million while analyst Dave Cameron predicts a one-year, $13 million figure.

The Tigers would be silly to commit long-term dollars to Fister, but a one-year commitment would make his potential failure easier to stomach. If things don’t work out the Tigers can walk away after a season and try again next year.

The downside to a potential Fister deal remains: there just wouldn’t be much room for surplus value. Fister produced 1.4 fWAR in 2014 and 0.2 fWAR in 2015. Steamer projects him to be worth 1.4 fWAR in 2016, which isn’t bad for a fifth starter, but it’s only achievable if he’s healthy and effective for most of the season.

He’s not a guy who appears to have the stuff to shift to the bullpen and provide lock-down relief innings (he was basically league average in his short stint as a reliever in 2015) if things go south for him in the rotation.

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Fister certainly isn’t the worst option for a rotation spot — one could envision him bouncing back and pitching like a solid mid-rotation starter — but the Detroit Tigers might be better served committing a slightly larger annual average value (albeit at three or four years) and landing someone like Wei-Yin Chen.

Perhaps there’s room for both.