July 30, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Tony Paul

Tigers Mailbag: Doug Fister trade looking worse and worse

Doug Fister has thrived in the National League with a 10-2 record and a 2.69 earned-run average. (Al Behrman / Associated Press)

Detroit ó The Tigers have the fans all riled up again, thanks to another mini-downslide, an offense thatís been snoozing since the All-Star break and a bullpen that continues to look absolutely awful, even with the addition of Joakim Soria.

If thereís a plus to all that, it leaves us plenty of fodder for the Tigers Mailbag.

So, letís get right to that today.

Question: Think we can trade Robbie Ray, Ian Krol and Hernan Perez for Doug Fister? Asking for a friend. ó nezzy21

Answer: Oh, youíre a clever one, Nezzy.

His point is obvious: The offseason deal of Fister is the trade that keeps on giving ó as in giving Tigers fans ulcers. While Fister has absolutely soared in the National League (10-2, 2.69 earned-run average, 1.085 WHIP), Krol has imploded in the Tigers bullpen, Rayís stock as a potential 2015 rotation staple has fallen, and Steve Lombardozzi, well, we hardly knew ya.

All that reinforces the Tigers didnít get nearly enough in return for Fister, who not-so-arguably was one of the top 20 starting pitchers in baseball over the last three years. How that deal got done without the Tigers netting at least Denard Span, Anthony Rendon or Drew Storen amazes me.

The return looked weak when the trade was made in December. It looks even worse now, especially with word the Tigers are open to the idea of adding starting pitching ahead of Thursdayís 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline.

Fans are quick to point out, they had that pitcher, and heís now in Washington.

The Tigers wonít acknowledge it, but the trading of Fister has always reeked of payroll management. Both Fister and Rick Porcello are looking at big paydays in the coming years, and with Porcello trending upward the last 18 months and being considerably younger, the Tigers opted to hold on to him, because holding on to both didnít appear financially doable.

The payroll angle was given more credence when, two days after Fister was traded, the Tigers signed Joe Nathan to a two-year, $20 million deal. Itís not out of the question to think someone high up ordered the clearing of payroll if there was to be a contract for Nathan.

If thereís anything good that came from the Fister trade, the cleared-up money helped, at least a little bit, in putting together the long-term extension for Miguel Cabrera. That said, the Tigers swung and missed on re-signing Max Scherzer, now that they gave it their best effort.

Bottom line: This isnít going to go down as one of Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowskiís finest moves. And I sense he had such an inkling, when, in an out-of-character move, he went on the defensive publicly defending the Fister trade.

Question: I was just wondering what the odds might be that the Tigers make a move or two to pull up some minor-league talent (i.e. Ezequiel Carrera or James McCann) to bolster the lineup a little bit heading into the home stretch? ó Scott Kars, via email

Answer: Thatís a very interesting question, Scott.

The odds are different for both.

Letís start with the catcher, McCann. A second-round pick by the Tigers in 2011, heís had a fine breakout season at Triple-A Toledo, hitting nearly .300 and posting career bests in on-base percentage (.352) and slugging percentage (.408). Defensively, heís no slouch, throwing out 40 percent of would-be base stealers.

Do I think he could help the Tigers now? Probably. He bats right-handed, so heíd be an obvious platoon candidate with the left-handed-hitting Alex Avila. He tees off on left-handed pitching, which neither Avila nor Bryan Holaday can say. And heís been absolutely on fire for the entire month of July.

Thereís a reason other teams are interested in him, ahead of Thursdayís trade deadline.

Iím just not convinced the Tigers are ready to dethrone Avila as the starter, and Tigers brass usually doesnít like the idea of bringing up an every-day minor-leaguer to play part-time in the majors. Understandably, they believe it can stunt growth.

So, barring an injury, donít expect McCann up prior to September.

The same is probably true for Carrera, though his case is different. A minor-league free-agent signing this offseason, heís been on a tear all season, but thereís just no room for the outfielder, especially with the emergence of J.D. Martinez. The easy solution is to have him replace Don Kelly, but the Tigers like that Kelly can play the infield, too. Regardless, Kellyís probably a goner when Andy Dirks returns. Itís simply a logjam Carrera just canít crack, despite his .306 average and 43 stolen bases.

The good news for Detroit: If thereís an injury at outfielder or catcher, thereíll be help on the way.

Question: I do think Jim Leyland was underappreciated during his time here. Iíd have more confidence in him right now over Brad Ausmus. ó Dan Drouillard

Answer: This is not that surprising of a statement. And itís not the first time Iíve heard it, either.

Leyland had his critics, no doubt. He played Don Kelly too much. He rested his stars too much. He gave Justin Verlander a leash a mile long but pulled Rick Porcello in the seventh inning of a masterpiece.

All it took were a couple bad stretches of baseball under Ausmus for Tigers fans to show a little more gratitude toward Leyland.

Look, managing in the major leagues is not easy. Every fan sitting on the recliner thinks he or she could do it, but itís simply not true. As a manager, you have to manage the egos, as well as the game. Very often, the two donít mesh.

Leyland was one of the best at keeping a clubhouse together, and letís face it, he did it during some testy times, like the off-field issues with Miguel Cabrera, Dmitri Young and Delmon Young. And thatís not something you can learn at the Sabermetrics Seminar; Leyland picked that up from more than 50 years in professional baseball, and it was a big reason behind his success.

Ausmus, meanwhile, never managed a game, at any level before the Tigers hired him. So there were going to be bumps in the road, and it was going to take time to learn his personnel, both on and off the field. The Xís and Oís, heís not much different than Leyland ó outside of maybe some struggles with bullpen management.

But intangibles matter, too, and those take time. Like Leyland, heíll get there.

Question: I will be hella bummed if the Tigers trade Steven Moya. The potential for homegrown lefty power excites me as a fan. ó Christopher Burlew

Answer: I think youíll be pleased, Chris. It doesnít appear the Tigers are all that interested in shopping Moya. In turn, there doesnít appear to be a lot of teams asking about him, either. Thereís are knocks on him: He strikes out way too much and doesnít walk enough.

That said, the power is there, and itís spectacular. The sweet-swinging lefty can smash a ball with the best of them. On the year, he has 26 homers but also 27 doubles. More than half his 108 hits this season have gone for extra bases.

That earned him invitations to the Futures Game and the Eastern League All-Star Game, in which he was named MVP after hitting a grand slam.

The offense, not to mention some fine defense in right field, naturally is making the Tigers front office smile, especially since there are concerns for the outfield moving forward. Torii Hunter will be gone after this year and Rajai Davis after next year. They like the future for Martinez, but thereís no guarantee heíll stick, just like thereís no guarantee Dirks will be the player he once was.

In short, the Tigers have a whole bunch of reasons to keep Moya around.

Plus, most of the teams scouting Tigers prospects are more interested in their young pitching anyway. Single-A shortstop Willy Adames is the only position player whoís highly coveted by the opposition.

Question: Do you think the Tigers will be looking at any of the big pitching free agents this winter? I would prefer they donít. ó Jeremy White

Answer: Good news, Jeremy. I donít think they will.

The Tigers offered Scherzer $144 million during the spring, with the hopes he would give them a hometown discount and sign for well below market value. No surprise, he said no thanks. And the Tigers all but conceded they were going to lose Scherzer this offseason.

Thatís because while Scherzer was smart to decline, the Tigers also were smart to not go any higher.

Itís also doubtful the Tigers will offer Scherzer money to Jon Lester or James Shields.

Long-term deals for starting pitchers are among the riskiest propositions in professional sports. When these guys get in their 30s, all those innings and pitches from their 20s suddenly start to catch up with them. Their velocity usually dips, and their overall health usually follows suit.

The Tigers have seen this first-hand with Justin Verlander, whoís on Year 2 of some extended struggles ó and his big-bucks extension doesnít even kick in until 2015.

I believe the Tigersí focus will turn in-house for the future of the rotation. That means extending the contract of Porcello, who could be looking at anywhere from $75 million to $105 million, and grooming the prospects to join the rotation by 2016.

If thereís a void to fill in the interim, Dombrowski could always look for a second-tier solution on the market, either via a trade or free-agency.

tpaul@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/tonypaul1984