Mensching: Tigers' Fister deal could look even worse

Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News

It was hard not to notice who was on the mound Friday afternoon when the Washington Nationals clinched the best record in the National League.

Doug Fister.

The former Tigers starter threw a three-hit shutout of the Marlins, capping a 16-win regular season with a 2.41 ERA.

He was good in Detroit, but he's been great in D.C. Now the question in that city is whether Fister should get the ball in Game 1. That's a staff that includes Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Jordan Zimmermann, who just threw a no-hitter on Sunday. The Nationals finished with an MLB-best 3.05 ERA, with starters combining for a 3.07 ERA.

That's what the Tigers expected to do themselves, yet fell far short of the goal.

Not that Detroit's rotation isn't pretty good itself. Max Scherzer has produced similar numbers to his Cy Young year. David Price hasn't been quite up to his normal standard since being traded to Detroit, yet still finished 2014 leading the AL in strikeouts to go along with a 3.26 ERA.

But with Justin Verlander stumbling much of the year and Rick Porcello appearing to run out of gas at the end of the year, well, Fister might look pretty good right about now if he were still a Tiger.

When the Tigers shipped him to the nation's capital in the offseason, critics panned the move from the start. The Tigers were supposed to be going for a World Series title this year. What could possibly be the logic in trading a rotation mainstay like Fister when you're going for it all?

The retort then, as it is now, is that the Tigers thought they had a strong enough rotation to make a run to the World Series while bringing in a talented, hard-throwing left-hander, Robbie Ray, along with left-handed help for the bullpen, Ian Krol, to help them compete for the next several years. All the while saving money to be spent elsewhere, which they did by signing closer Joe Nathan.

The thought process makes sense. The results, however, were dismal.

Ray, in nine appearances, six starts, had an ERA of 8.16. Krol was shipped to Triple A Toledo midway through the year and finished with a 4.96 ERA. The third player from the Fister trade, infielder Steve Lombardozzi, didn't even make it out of spring training, despite the Tigers losing their starting shortstop and giving him an opportunity to play there.

And you know all about Joe Nathan.

It would be unfair to grade the "Fister trade" based on the results of one year. After all, the Tigers never hid the fact this was made with a long-term view in mind. Ray very well may turn out to be the player the Tigers expect him to be. Judging a player by a handful of appearances his rookie year can turn out to be an embarrassing mistake.

Yet "embarrassing mistake" seems to be the best description of trading Fister in the first place.

It's generally advisable to have faith in Tigers president / general manager Dave Dombrowski. He's had far more successful trades than poor ones -- just think back to when he brought Fister to Detroit in the first place. Dombrowski has put together a roster that has won four consecutive AL Central titles and made two World Series appearances in the past eight years.

But he doesn't have a World Series title in Detroit, and you can't deny trading Fister makes ending that streak this year that much harder.

If the Tigers make it to a third World Series under Dombrowski's tenure, they very well might be looking across the field at the Nationals, who for all appearances look to be the best team in the NL.

The Fister trade appears bad enough already. Regardless of how Ray turns out in the long run, seeing Fister and the Nats celebrate would be far too much to take.

Kurt Mensching is editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog ( He can be reached at