March 6, 2015

Report: Washington Nationals sign Max Scherzer

According to the Washington Post, the Washington Nationals have completed a deal with free agent starter Max Scherzer. While terms were not revealed, Scherzer rejected a $160 million dollar offer and reports earlier Sunday evening indicated the sides were contemplating a seven-year deal for $180 million.

Barring any other moves (which seems unlikely), the Nats rotation is, in a word, fearsome. Scherzer joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark in a deep, talented and expensive rotation.

Even before talk of Scherzer came to light Sunday, the Nats were rumored to be entertaining offers on Zimmermann and Ian Desmond, potential free agents at season’s end. It becomes likely, if not prohibitive, that one of the potential free agents (including Doug Fister and Denard Span), or another expensive player — such as Strasburg — could be moved for prospects or to bolster the roster.

Or, GM Mike Rizzo could very well keep everyone in an effort to capture the World Series for 89-year-old owner Ted Lerner, then deal with the repercussions following the season.

Scherzer, 30, was simply the top free agent on this year’s market and one of the top five pitchers of the past two seasons for the Detroit Tigers. He’s been an All-Star the past two seasons, Cy Young in ’13 and fifth in ballots last year. He’s 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.219 WHIP in his career, which obviously includes some difficult seasons early as he learned to command his precious fastball.

In ’13, Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and last season went 18-5, 3.15. Scherzer has a lifetime K rate of 9.6 and BB rate of 2.8, and the past two seasons he’s been on the right side of both (above Ks, below BBs).

Additionally, moving back to the N.L. at this stage in his career should be a boon to his strikeout numbers.

There will be plenty more written about this mega-deal, but the fallout — if there is any — will be fascinating to watch. Rizzo had some big decisions even before this happened, and they become even more intriguing.

It’s been no secret around Nats Park that Jordan Zimmermann would test the free agent waters when he became eligible. Scherzer could very well be Rizzo’s idea to replace the stoic right-hander.

There were plenty of rumors and suggestions by national media Sunday evening that Strasburg could be dangled as a trade target, as he’s due for free agency in the very near future.

Or, Rizzo (and potentially more likely, Scott Boras — Scherzer’s agent) got to the Lerners and said ‘You’ve got a chance here to win it all’ and convinced the wealthy but cautious family to go “all-in” and give themselves the best chance at a championship over the next couple of seasons.

Either way, a competitive and interesting team got more so on Sunday, when most of the country was watching the NFL Conference title games. What comes next could make for spectacular drama, adding to this fascinating and intriguing development.

Nats, Scherzer “close” according to sources

Late Sunday, the internet blew up. Yes, most of it nationally was centered around the Seattle Seahawks kind of ridiculous comeback against the Green Bay Packers. But locally in DC, it’s when first rumors, then unconfirmed sources, then actual reports surfaced: the Washington Nationals were indeed “in” on free agent starting pitcher Max Scherzer.

Scherzer, 30, is simply the top free agent on this year’s market. He’s been an All-Star the past two seasons, Cy Young in ’13 and fifth in ballots last year. He’s 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.219 WHIP in his career, which obviously includes some difficult seasons early as he learned to command his precious fastball.

In ’13, Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and last season went 18-5, 3.15. Scherzer has a lifetime K rate of 9.6 and BB rate of 2.8, and the past two seasons he’s been on the right side of both (above Ks, below BBs).

If you’re going all-in on a guy that you think puts you over the top as a contender, there are none better available.

Of course, there are repercussions.

All winter long, Mike Rizzo’s been making moves that appeared to be stabilizing salary. He didn’t chase down a big bat to fill the second base hole, rather he traded one of the most reliable set-up men in the country for an average at-best shortstop (with a maturity history) to do so. He stayed out of the bidding when other big-name free agents came off the board.

In fact, everyone knows the Nats have some hard choices to make with Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Denard Span all free agents after the season is over, and with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper approaching that status more quickly than any of us would care to think about.

Adding Scherzer to the equation would change the calculus dramatically.

It would seem that by adding a pitcher for seven years at $180 million (the rumored offer at this point), the Nats are making the decision an offseason early, and that they’d allow all that money to come off the books.

There have been trade rumors flying around all winter regarding Desmond and Zimmermann, and if this deal goes through, we can expect those to intensify. Rizzo could use either/both to restock the system with close-to-MLB talent to fill the holes created when those players walk.

Or, Rizzo could stand pat with a rotation of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister, move Tanner Roark into the bullpen, and try to win a World Series before the “group of four” go out as free agents.

By the time you read this Monday morning, we may already have an answer. But this will be fascinating to watch play out.

OPINION: Escobar has tough task of making Nationals fans forget he was traded for Clippard

Tyler Clippard pitching at Nats Park, July 10, 2011 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard pitching at Nats Park, July 10, 2011 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Washington Nationals traded two-time All-Star Tyler Clippard to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for much-traveled shortstop Yunel Escobar, the ninth time since he’s become general manager that Mike Rizzo has made a trade with his Oakland counterpart, Billy Beane. On paper, it’s the type of trade Major League general managers dream of making: trading an expensive, fungible asset — in this case, the most-used relief pitcher of the past four seasons — for an at-least average every day player, and saving money in the process.

But fans don’t root for teams on paper.

Escobar, 32, is the very definition of average big league shortstop. At least, he was up until last season. He owns a lifetime .276/.347/.381 slash line in eight seasons. He had been a positive WAR player every year of his career… up until last season, when he hit .258/.324/.340 with not even passable defense. In fact, he was one of the worst shortstops defensively in all of baseball.

Is that a blip? Is it signaling the beginning of the end for Escobar? We’ll have to wait and see. But considering his previous indefensible attitude problems — and the player he was traded for — Nats fans are going to have a hard time hoping for this guy to succeed.

Tyler Clippard was a fan-favorite. Actually, that’s stating it lightly. Acquired before the 2008 season for fellow reliever Jonathan Albaladejo (in what surely is Jim Bowden’s crowning achievement as Nats GM), Clippard arrived as a lightly regarded two-pitch starter with injury concerns. Soon, he would be sent to the bullpen, where his exploding fastball and damn-near unhittable changeup would wreak havoc on batters, first in the International League as a member of the Columbus Clippers and Syracuse Chiefs, then as a valuable member of the Nats pen.

Clippard went on to post All-Star seasons in 2011 and this past season, dominating on an almost nightly basis in his familiar eighth inning role, setting up for the likes of Matt Capps, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano.

Clippard, behind those wonderfully goofy goggles, was a rarity — as affable and approachable off the field as he was dominant on it. The press loved him for his smart, engaging insights after games and during batting practice. Fans loved him for being approachable at the ballpark, at fan events and on social media. He was, succinctly, the perfect guy to have on your team.

Now, that team is the Oakland A’s. At least, for now. It’s no secret A’s GM Billy Beane is rebuilding and rebranding his team, and a veteran soon-to-be free agent like Clippard probably won’t call the Oakland Coliseum home for very long. He’ll probably be shipped off at midseason for a couple of middling prospects as Beane goes about his latest great rebuild.

The bottom line here is, as it so often is, money.

Clippard, in his last year of arbitration before becoming a free agent at the end of the year, will command around $10 million this season after his arbitration hearing. Two-time All-Stars don’t come cheap. Escobar is under contract for two more years, with a team option for a third, and is due a very reasonable $13 million, provided his defensive numbers last season were an aberration and he continues to hit.

2013 NatsFest, 1/26/2013: Pitcher Tyler Clippard signing autographs (Photo by Lisa Milisa)

2013 NatsFest, 1/26/2013: Pitcher Tyler Clippard signing autographs (Photo by Lisa Milisa)

There is another factor. Escobar will probably be slated to play second base for the Nats, a job he hasn’t filled since his rookie year in ’07. But since he’s under contract for two more year at least, he provides the team with insurance should they trade, or simply allow to walk, current shortstop Ian Desmond — like Clippard, a free agent at season’s end. The Nats are particularly vulnerable at middle infield, and most of Rizzo’s moves this offseason have been to address that glaring weakness. He traded one of his most reliable players, in fact, to address it.

And what of the bullpen? Drew Storen was already slated to become the closer. Now, Matt Williams is going to have to come up with another eighth inning guy. Aaron Barrett? Craig Stammen? Blake Treinen? Heaven forbid, Heath Bell??? Everyone of them slots back one inning, regardless of who gets the eighth. Veteran lefty Matt Thornton becomes a stabilizing force, and Rizzo’s ninja-like acquisition of Thornton last season looks that much more important at this point.

This is a tough business, and this isn’t an easy pill for Nats fans to swallow — sending away a universally liked player in his prime for a fairly unlikable one that is probably already past his. It was probably a tough call for Mike Rizzo, too. On paper, this move looks reasonable. More than reasonable, actually. Clippard was going to get prohibitively expensive. Escobar is an at-least average affordable every day player. GM’s make that trade 99 times out of 100.

But fans don’t play on paper.

Clippard was here through the darkest years of the Washington Nationals — he saw damn near 400 losses in four seasons — and made it through to the other side. If the Nats go on to win it all in the next year or two, there will be fans that won’t find it as sweet since Clippard won’t be a part of it.

No, even if Escobar performs up to his career OBP, fans aren’t going to recover from this one. And if Escobar slides any more from last season’s performance, or the bullpen becomes a liability instead of a strength, he’s going to have a tough time of it here in DC.

And for Nats fans, this is — perhaps — just the beginning. With Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Denard Span and Doug Fister all slated for free agency following the 2015 season, this could just be the first goodbye of many to come in the very near future.

Tyler Clippard struggled in the 10th inning - Miami Marlins v. Washington Nationals, 9/7/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard pitching to the Miami Marlins 9/7/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals acquire Trea Turner, Joe Ross from Padres; send Steven Souza to Rays

According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals completed a three-way deal with the San Diego Padres and the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Nats will acquire SS Trea Turner and RHP Joe Ross from San Diego and sent OF Steven Souza, Jr. and LHP Travis Ott to Tampa. Tampa sent Wil Myers and others to San Diego.

Turner and Ross are both former first round picks and were on the Padres Top 10 Prospect List.

Since Turner was drafted this past summer, he will have to be included in the deal as a “player to be named later” and will most likely play in extended spring training next season until the deal can be consummated.

Turner, 21, was the 13th overall pick by the Padres in last summer’s amateur draft. He hit .323/.406/.448 with four home runs and 23 steals in 27 opportunities between low- and high-A last year in 321 plate appearances. He grades out with 80 speed according to MLB scouts with the defensive ability to stick at shortstop.

Ross, 21, was the 25th overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Padres. In 62 minor league appearances (60 starts) he’s 15-18 with a 3.90 ERA, 1.308 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. His strikeout numbers took a tick up last season moving from low- to high-A and he made four appearances in AA at the end of last season. According to one report, Ross features a plus fastball in the low 90’s with heavy life, a slider that projects as above average, and a changeup that is still mostly a show-me pitch.

Souza, 26 on opening day, enjoyed his career last season in Syracuse, hitting .350/.432/.590 with 18 home runs in 407 plate appearances. He will forever be remembered by Nats fans for making the spectacular diving catch to save Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter on the last day of the 2014 season.

Ott, 19, is a former 25th round pick in the 2013 draft. He’s 4-4 with a 3.96 ERA, 1.310 WHIP, 6.8 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 23 appearances, mostly in rookie league and short-season A ball. He’s a soft-tossing lefty with limited MLB upside.

This trade, as with last season’s deal for Doug Fister, is a bona fide and clear win for Nats GM Mike Rizzo. He moved an older prospect and a fringe at best lefty for two of the Padres top minor league prospects, both legitimate MLB talents. Turner obviously becomes the Nats best middle infield prospect, providing strong insurance if the Nats can’t — or won’t — re-sign Ian Desmond to a long-term contract. Ross is added to an already crowded stable of hard-throwing right-handed starters in the Nats minor league system.

Souza was clearly a fan favorite for his catch and power potential, but he had no place in the Nats outfield and, frankly, has limited MLB potential. He owns a long swing and is not a quality defender, despite his tremendous diving catch. The Nats got two of the three best players in this 11-player deal and didn’t give up the third. The Nats got better for the future without giving up any of the present.

Win-win for Rizzo and the Nats.

Should Washington Nationals trade Tyler Clippard?

I usually stay out of the fray when it comes to the Hot Stove league. Generally, I’d rather comment on what happened rather than try to sift through all the noise that the click-baiters are trying to generate this time of year.

But one of the Washington Nationals biggest decisions — among several, I might add — is whether to seize a good opportunity to move a reliable, veteran player that is going to get expensive very quickly before he is eligible for free agency.

Not Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister or Ian Desmond, though the same applies to all three.

No, obviously from the title of the article you know that I’m already talking about Tyler Clippard.

Clippard, 30 on opening day, is already getting bites from general managers across the league. Nats GM Mike Rizzo said on the radio the other day he’s already “penciled in” Drew Storen as closer for next season, which leaves Clippard as the main set-up guy again, a role he’s performed admirably the past six-plus seasons, including two all-star campaigns.

Clippard has shown no signs of slowing down, posting a 7-4 record, 2.18 ERA, 0.995 WHIP and 10.5/2.9 K/BB ration last season. In fact, it might have been his most impressive season, including his 32-save year of 2012.

But here’s the deal: desperate teams will dramatically overpay for a closer, and Clippard could fill that bill. He’s reliable, consistent and excellent. He’s also going to get very expensive for a set-up guy very quickly, but still have a quite reasonable salary for a closer.

Think that’s screwed up? Sure it is. But that’s how desperate teams think. To go out on the free agent market to acquire a veteran closer is a fool’s errand, and it’s prohibitively expensive. One needs to look no further than the two-year Rafael Soriano experiment here.

So smaller or mid-market teams looking for a veteran reliever that can close can do that on the trade market easier than outbid the bigger-market teams in free agency.

Clippard made $5.875 million last season and is 3rd year arbitration eligible, meaning this is his last arbitration before becoming a free agent at the age of 31 after the upcoming season. Considering his track record of excellence, two all-star noms and almost unprecedented reliability, Clippard will probably command $8 million-plus in arbitration this year.

Can the Nats afford to pay their set-up guy $8 million, and have any hope of re-signing Zimmermann, Fister or Desmond? Not to even mention looking down the road at Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper.

Mike Rizzo and the Lerner family are going to have some bridges to cross in the next couple of seasons, and this is one of them. The team has plenty of arms currently in the bullpen and plenty more candidates where they came from. If Rizzo has proven one thing as GM, it’s that he loves stockpiling mid-level starter prospects with big arms and has had real good success turning them into reliable relievers.

Clippard was the first.

Despite the Lerner’s deep pockets, they aren’t limitless — at least when it comes to baseball finances. Rizzo might have to start to pick-and-choose on the players he retains and the players he moves to re-stock the cupboards.

Clippard might be that first hard choice this winter, even before Zimmermann, Fister or Desmond.

Washington Nationals select pitchers with top two picks in MLB Draft

“Early in the year we had him certainly as a Top 10 guy and possibly even higher than that,” Nats GM Mike Rizzo said of their first round pick, RHP Erick Fedde

The Washington Nationals selected UNLV right-handed pitcher Erick Fedde with the 18th overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. With the 57th overall pick, the Nats selected U. of Miami left-handed pitcher Andrew Suarez.

From the press releases:

Fedde:

The 6-foot-4, 180-pound junior is regarded as one of the top collegiate arms in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft.

A native of Las Vegas, Nev., Fedde went 8-2 with a 1.76 ERA (15 ER/76.2 IP) and 82 strikeouts in 11 starts for the Rebels this season.  He was named the 2014 Mountain West Pitcher of the Year and to the All-Mountain West First Team after going 6-1 with league-leading 1.60 ERA (10 ER/56.1 IP) in eight starts in conference play.

For his efforts during the ’14 campaign, Fedde was named a Louisville Slugger Second-Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball and named to the midseason Golden Spikes Award watch list.

The 21-year old entered the 2014 season rated as the No.12 pitching prospect and the No. 17 overall prospect in collegiate baseball, according to Baseball America.

Suarez:

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound southpaw went 6-3 with a 2.95 ERA (36 ER/109.2 IP) in 16 starts for the University of Miami in 2014. He struck out 87 while walking just 15 batters.  His 109.2 innings led the Hurricanes’ pitching staff and were second-most in the Atlantic Coast Conference, while his 87 strikeouts were good for eighth in the league.

A native of Miami, Fla., Suarez attended Christopher Columbus High School where he was named All-Dade County First-Team and an AFLAC All-American. He was previously selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

Fedde was considered a top-15 talent in the draft but was available to the Nationals at 18 as Fedde underwent Tommy John surgery on June 3. Fedde will not be expected to pitch for at least a year.

Suarez required labrum surgery as a freshman at Miami due to a shoulder injury he sustained in high school.

Nats GM Mike Rizzo and Scouting Director Kris Kline spoke to the media following the Fedde selection, and naturally has glowing praise for their newest draft pick, while acknowledging the risk of selecting players with an injury history.

“You really do have to balance the risk and the reward,” Rizzo explained to reporters. “What we’ve looked at in the past, is that the upside has to really trump the risk of a player not coming back from injury. Usually we really weigh elbow injuries a lot more favorable than shoulder injuries, so that goes into it. And a lot goes into the character of the player and the type of makeup that he has. The rehab process is not a simple one, so you have to have the right character and makeup to go through it and to come out the other end better than when you started it.”

“We’ve known [Fedde] for a long time,” Rizzo said. “He went to high school with Harp [Nats OF Bryce Harper] and he said a lot of good things about him. And we talked to, obviously talked to his college coach and did an extensive background on the guy and like I said, we’ve known him, we feel comfortable with him and have known him, have a history on him, known him for a long time back to his early days at UNLV and also Team USA and his junior year at UNLV. So we felt we know the player well, we know the character and the makeup of the player and you could tell on the field he’s a very competitive, athletic, bulldog-type of mentality.”

“He’s a plus stuff guy,” Rizzo explained. “We’ve scouted him intensely over the last three years. He’s got two plus-plus pitches and his third pitch, the changeup is on the come. We think that’s going to be an above-average pitch. Big physical guy, and we had him towards the top of our draft board and we thought the risk of him rehabbing and coming back to pre-injury form was worth the draft pick.”

“I actually saw his first start of the year at UNLV, and it was really, really good,” Kline added. “I walked out of there thinking that we’ve got no shot at getting this player because he’s a Top 5-type guy. Through the sixth inning he was still 95-98 [mph]. He doesn’t throw anything straight. A lot of life, very heavy. Above-average slider, up to 88 and the makings and flashes of an above-average changeup. A lot of strikes. Very competitive guy. Looks a lot like, if you guys remember Jack McDowell, body-type, delivery, that type of thing with a little more fastball.”

The deadline to get draft picks signed is July 18. The allotted signing bonus for the 18th pick in $2.145 million. Fedde is represented by the Boras Corporation.

Nats acquire LH reliever Jerry Blevins from A’s

The Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo made another checkmark on his offseason shopping list, acquiring left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins from the Oakland A’s in exchange for speedy outfielder Billy Burns, recently named the Nats minor league hitter of the year in the minors.

From the press release:

Blevins, 30, has spent parts of the last seven seasons in the Athletics’ bullpen, where he’s worked to a career 3.30 ERA while averaging 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Working against both left-handed batters and right-handers, Blevins has thrown back-to-back 60-plus inning seasons (60 IP in 2013, 65.1 IP in 2012).

In 2013, Blevins held opponents to a .218 batting average against while possessing a 5.60 strikeout-to-walk ratio against left-handed batters in particular. Blevins also held opponents to just a .202 batting average in games away from the O.co Coliseum.

“We are thrilled to welcome Jerry Blevins to our bullpen,” Rizzo said. “We look forward to him bolstering our depth in that unit.”

Burns, 24, was selected by the Nationals in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft out of Mercer University. A speedy outfielder, Burns stole a career-high 74 bases in 2013, between Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg.

With the addition of Blevins, the Nationals’ 40-man roster is full.

Burns came to be a fan favorite in Potomac this past season for his work on the bases and speed in the outfield. While an interesting prospect, his physical strength will be challenged as he moves up the organizational ladder.

Blevins was a leader in the A’s bullpen and he’s not necessarily just a LOOGY as he was actually more effective against righties last season (.190/.267/.314) than lefties (.253/.299/.442). Last season, Blevins posted the lowest walk rate of his career (2.6/9) while posting a 5-0 record and 3.15 ERA and 1.067 WHIP in 60 innings, striking out 7.8/9.

OPINION: Rizzo steals Fister from Tigers for spare parts

You don’t need me to tell you that the Washington Nationals flat-out stole Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers on Cyber Monday.

But I’m going to anyway.

If you’re a baseball fan, you’ve no doubt by now read dozens of opinions that Mike Rizzo absolutely robbed his counterpart, Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski. Actually, most of the professional comments have been more of the bewildered sort than any other trade in recent memory.

Let’s not mince words here: The Nats acquired one of the top 25 pitchers in all of baseball, under contract for two more years at a reasonable rate, for a Quad-A middle infielder, a LOOGY with maturity issues, and a mid-level left-handed pitching prospect.

This gives the Nationals a starting rotation with four of the top 25 starters in the game.

Fister is one of the more underrated players in the game today. By all metrics, he ranks among the most durable, consistently excellent starters in the bigs. He’s a ground ball machine, and going to be playing the next several seasons with the best defense he’s had behind him. He doesn’t walk batters, and he very rarely gives up home runs.

There are two reasons he’s largely been ignored when the discussion of the best starters in the league comes up: his fastball sits around 89 MPH and he doesn’t put up gaudy strikeout totals. His career average of 6.3 per nine is rather pedestrian, but coupled with a career walk rate of 1.8, his K/BB rate of 3.46 is awesome.

Number one on Baseball-Reference’s “Similarity Score” for Fister, which compares players based on statistics accumulated and projected, is Jordan Zimmermann. Enough said.

But to get, you have to give. What did the Nats really give up?

Let’s discuss Robbie Ray, the only player the Nats gave up that might have a ceiling, first. The 6’2″, 170 22-year old just completed his 4th minor league season, split between A+ and AA. He posted a combined 11-5 with 3.36 ERA, 1.254 WHIP and 10.1 K/9. He pitches in the low 90s and can hit mid-90s when he dials it up. His command though is still a work in progress, as his BB/9 was 3.9.

He was ranked as the Nats’ third or fourth highest pitching prospect depending on who you like to listen to, but if he can’t develop his changeup in the next year or two he’s going to end up in the pen.

We had Ray as the Nats’ 12th overall prospect and the sixth pitcher behind Cole, Giolito, Karns, Solis and Purke.

Ray could develop into a quality MLB starting pitcher, a lefty to boot. He could end up a quality arm in a big league bullpen. He could be a LOOGY. He could get exposed at Triple-A, where he has yet to throw a pitch.

But we know that Doug Fister is a quality Major League starter.

What about the two roster players the Nats gave up?

I want to be kind here, as I know that Steve Lombardozzi has more than his share of fans in the D.C. area. But he’s exactly like his father with regards to his potential as a big leaguer: he’s already reached it. He is — at best — a utility middle infielder, and really nothing more than a backup second baseman. He barely has the arm strength to cover second at the big league level, let alone trying to make the long throw at short. It’s just not there, not to mention his lack of range.

At the plate, Lombo is a “Punch-and-Judy” slap hitter, devoid of any power whatsoever. He has no plate discipline, and can’t run. What gets him by is his unwavering work ethic and willingness to play anywhere the manager puts him, however out of position that might be. Shoot, he was the emergency catcher last season.

Ian Krol, the “player to be named later” in the Michael Morse trade last season from Oakland, has a decent power lefty arm, but should never be allowed to face a right-handed batter. He is the very definition of “replacement player”.

Lesser starting pitchers than Fister have been acquired via trade the past two seasons for far more quality than the Nats gave up in this deal. The Royals gave the Rays Wil Myers for James Shields, and Fister is every bit Shields’ equal, if not better.

Perhaps Dombrowski knows something about Fister health-wise we don’t. Maybe Fister spent his off-season kicking babies and throwing rocks at people at charity events. Who knows? But what we do know is that Fister is one of the top two dozen or so MLB starting pitchers, and he’ll be wearing a Curly W next season, making the Nats rotation one of the top-three in the league.

And all they gave up to get him was a backup middle infielder, a LOOGY and a marginal lefty starter prospect.

BREAKING: Nationals acquire Doug Fister from Detroit Tigers

The Washington Nationals have acquired right-handed pitcher Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for infielder Steve Lombardozzi, left-handed reliever Ian Krol and left-handed prospect Robbie Ray.

Fister went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA in 2013 for the defending AL Central Champions. He allowed just 0.6 home runs per nine innings pitched, which ranked second-best in the AL. The 29 year-old, 6-foot-8 Merced, Calif. native holds a five-year career 3.53 ERA and 44-50 win-loss record.

In eight career postseason appearances, including one World Series start, Fister has earned a 3-2 record with a 2.98 ERA.

The acquisition is – no doubt – a win for General Manager Mike Rizzo. Lombardozzi recorded a less-than-stellar slash line of .259/.278/.338, although his 13 pinch hits ranked second-most in baseball.

“This is an exciting day for the Washington Nationals,” Rizzo said in a press release. “We feel we’ve added a talented, young veteran to our starting pitching corps. Doug is battle-tested through playoff experiences, and the depth he brings to our staff is exceptional. We are thrilled to welcome him aboard.”

At 22 years-old, Krol showed some promise for the Nationals, who acquired him in a three-way deal that brought A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen into the Nationals’ organization and sent Michael Morse to Seattle. Krol’s record sells short the fact he did not allow a run in his first nine appearances in the Big Leagues. He earned a 2-1 record and a 3.95 ERA in a season which few would have predicted to see him take the mound.

Ray, also 22, was rated the fifth-best prospect in the Nats’ system by Baseball America. He earned a combined 3.36 ERA with Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg.

Fister was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2006. He was acquired, along with David Pauley, by the Tigers on July 30, 2011, in exchange for Charlie Furbush, Francisco Martinez, Chance Ruffin and Casper Wells.

By  trading Fister, the Tigers will reportedly save about $6 million. Fister was arbitration-eligible and projected to earn about $7 million.

Rumors had circulated in recent weeks that the Tigers were looking to free up room in their rotation to allow left-hander Drew Smyly to return to a starter role.

Washington Nationals name Matt Williams as new skipper

The Washington Nationals formally announced the hiring of Matt Williams as the team’s new manager via press release Thursday morning.

Williams, 47, becomes the fifth manager of the team since relocating to the District in 2005.

“I could not be more pleased to welcome Matt Williams and his family to the Nationals and the Nation’s Capital,” Rizzo said in the press release. “In some ways, my interview with Matt began during our days together in Arizona, where his undeniable toughness, attention to detail and intensity established a foundation for a Diamondbacks expansion franchise that reached the postseason in its second season and won a World Series two years later.”

Via conference call with media, Rizzo added, “It was a very difficult decision. But Matt, we felt, possessed all the characteristics of a successful manager and a guy we  think can take us to the next level.”

Williams was known as an intense player, nicknamed “The Big Marine”, but he’s earned a reputation as a coach that’s tough but fair and is well respected among his former teammates and players on teams that he’s coached. Williams brings no full-time managerial experience to the job, but had a short stint managing Arizona’s Double-A team after former teammate Brett Butler suffered a stroke. He also skippered an Arizona Fall League team in 2012.

“I feel privileged and honored to be a part of this team,” Williams said in the press release. “It’s a wonderful group of guys and a great organization. I’m simply here to help take us to the next level.”

Williams is to be introduced in a press conference Friday at 2:00 pm ET at Nationals Park.

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