05 August 2011
I know I’m a little late and the trade is almost a week old, but I wanted to reexamine the Tigers’ main Trade Deadline move. Last Saturday the Tigers acquired RHPs Doug Fister and David Pauley from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Francisco Martinez, and most likely Chance Ruffin. While none of the players that the Tigers gave up have had prolonged success in the big leagues, Fister before the move had a career line of 12-30, 3.81 ERA, and averaged over 6 IP per start. Even with only 6 wins last year, Fangraphs still has him with a 2.9 WAR. Though Pauley has not had tremendous career success, he is in the midst of a fine season. Out of the bullpen this year, he posted a 2.15 ERA with a WHIP under 1.000. Clearly the Tigers were very high on Fister, and Pauley makes a good complimentary piece. But what about the prospects Seattle received? Did the Tigers give away too much?
Casper Wells OF- Casper The Friendly Tiger was always a favorite of mine, particularly after an interaction I had with him at an Arizona Fall league Game in 2009 and I am definitely upset to see him go. Coming into this season, he was listed as the organization’s 19th best prospect according to Baseball America, as well as the player in the deal who had the most big league experience. Last year in Detroit (albeit a small sample size of 99 PA) he hit .324/364/.538, and seemed poised to take over right field duties once Magglio Ordonez’s tenure was complete. This season he was hitting .257/.323/.451 with 4 HR in 125. Though I am high on Casper, truly what he is what he just was- a trade chip to be packaged elsewhere.
Charlie Furbush LHP- Furbush was the other major league ready prospect in the deal, number 26 on Baseball America’s list. He struck 183 minor league batters in 158 innings, and continued his K numbers in AAA Toledo this year, 61 in 54 IP. Strikeouts are obviously his forte, as his career minor league ERA of 3.74 and WHIP of 1.184 were mediocre at best. His minor league BABIP of around .300 show that if he doesn’t strike them out, they don’t get out. Baseball America believes his future may be out of the bullpen, so including Furbush in this trade was wise.
Francisco Martinez 3B- This is where I had to scratch my head a little bit. Martinez was placed as the number 4 prospect by BA, and at only 20 years old, he may have a very bright future in the Bigs. He appears blocked by Nick Castellanos as Detroit’s future three bagger, so had he stayed, he may have become an outfielder which would have hurt his value. And trading an outfielder really isn’t detrimental to a team’s farm system.
Chance Ruffin RHP- It’s not often that a 1st round pick gets traded just over a year after being drafted, but the Mariners may have struck gold. Number 7 by BA, they also have his slider as the best among Detroit’s minor leaguers. He is major league ready as a reliever- evidenced by his cup of coffee earlier this year. He was sent down, but ready he is. Ruffin has starters stuff- a fastball that can touch 95 MPH (though more consistent at about 90 in his starting assignments) to go along with a “78-82 MPH wipeout slider” (Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook). The Tigers made him a reliever to get him to Detroit quicker, but if Seattle is patient with his starting, they could have a future frontline starter.
All that being said, why did the Tigers give up so much for a 28 year old reliever and a right handed starter (which they have a surplus of)? Team control and dependability. Doug Fister cannot become a free agent until after the 2015 season. In fact he doesn’t even gain his arbitration rights until after next season. He is cheap, and under control.
The unfair knock on Fister is his win-loss numbers throughout his career. Even this year before the trade he was “boasting” a 3-12 record, a .200 winning percentage. To put that in perspective, if a team had a .200 win% over the 162 game season, they would finish with around 128 losses, which would be a major league record. For Fister though, he has received 3.18 run support per game. No pitcher can be expected to win if his team doesn’t score him runs. That total is the lowest in the majors; in fact the next lowest belongs to John Danks of the Chicago White Sox, and he gets 3.74 runs.
So let’s look beyond the wins numbers. Fister has a career WHIP of 1.24, thanks to his low walk totals. The scouting report on Fister is that he doesn’t strike anybody out (career 5.1. K/9) but he doesn’t walk anybody either (career 1.85 BB/9). His first start in Detroit certainly lived up to that – 7IP, 0 BB, 0K. The Tigers were looking for a strike thrower, and with Fister they found a man who won’t allow free base runners.
What I see as the selling point on Fister (besides his team control), his is dependability. As I mentioned he won’t walk anyone, but he’ll also give you innings. This is a man in his 2nd full big league season. In his rookie year of 2009, he posted 61.0 IP in 10 starts, and last year logged 174.0 IP in 28 starts (6.2 IP/start). This year before the trade he had 146.0 IP in 22 starts (6.6 IP/start), and after lasting 7.0 IP in his first Detroit start, he is currently on pace to surpass 200 IP, 223.0 to be precise. He is a workhorse at a very early start to his big league career. Granted he isn’t some young rookie phenom- he is 27 years old, but let’s say he reaches his projected stats for the 2011 and duplicates it for 2012. That would lead to a rotation of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and a 223.0 IP, 3.29 ERA, 1.17 WHIP Doug Fister. And with those numbers, to go along with Detroit’s offense, 15 wins isn’t out of the question. Fister isn’t expected to be an ace. But he is going to do what he does best- pitch a lot of innings and not walk anybody.
Obviously I focused mostly on Fister, but let’s give David Pauley some respect too. This year in Seattle he has been a superb bullpen piece, and even garnered some All-Star consideration from me in an earlier post. Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, and Al Alburquerque are still the back end of this rotation; Pauley’s acquisition didn’t change that. Pauley will be expected to be a short reliever who will come in and get people out when he needs to. He also flat out does not allow the long ball. 0.3 HR/9 in Seattle- imagine what that will be in cavernous Comerica Park. 2 HR in 55.0 will certainly grab the attention of GM’s. Pauley is also under team control through the middle of the decade, and if he can keep up his Seattle numbers, 2.15 ERA, 0.994 WHIP, 0.3 HR/9, then he will fit in nicely in the Big D.
Which brings us back to the original question- did the Tigers give up too much? Between Wells, Furbush, Martinez, and Ruffin, they give up 24 years of team control. But none of these players were proven to be even dependable in the major leagues. Fister and Pauley return with 10 years of control, both of whom have proven themselves at baseball’s highest level. I’m not a big believer in trading away prospects, particularly ones of the caliber of Martinez and Ruffin (Wells and Furbush were merely trade chips anyway), but this time, I may have to agree. If Martinez’s future truly is in the outfield, then losing him isn’t quite that big of a blow. And Ruffin is a power pitcher- something the Tigers have always had a lot of. They get in return is a young, cheap workhorse entering his prime, and a solid middle reliever. Did the Tigers give up a lot? Yes. But was it too much? No. Fister is good- and will be wearing that beautiful Old English D for years to come.