Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers had one of the best rotations in baseball last season. Probably the best, if we’re being honest. Keeping such a juggernaut together takes money, however. Lots of money.

Justin Verlander makes a mint, Max Scherzer is due a mint, Anibal Sanchez just signed for 5/6 of a mint, Rick Porcello is a Super Two which puts him on the fast track to mintdom. Which leaves Doug Fister, who just happens to be an excellent pitcher.

Having excellent pitchers is great for baseball business but having all those expensive arms in the fold was bound to catch up at some point. Rather than moving Porcello, it is Fister the Tigers opted to swap, sending him to Washington to join the the new Best Rotation in Baseball.

The package in exchange for the ground ball machine/very good pitcher Doug Fister seems light, mostly because we don’t know as much as about Robbie Ray as we should. This is the second time Doug Fister’s been traded for an oddly underwhelming package.

The Tigers just dumped Prince Fielder‘s enormous contract and are now leaning heavily on the likes of Drew Smyly to fill out their rotation. Even the spendiest, most “Flags Fly Forever” team around has its limits.

The Nationals give up a prospect (thought they have plenty) and gear up for another run back towards the playoffs. They started 2013 as the “best team on paper” and it got them bubkas. Now they’ve replaced Dan Haren with Doug Fister, only making them better for 2014.

Lots of head scratching over the package Detroit received but GM Dave Dombrowski deserves more than a little slack. His team is still one of the best in baseball and more than good enough to win their division. Keeping the books in order is part of his job, and moving out a player set to earn around $7MM this season is a step in that direction.

Dombrowski and his staff must believe the drop-off from Fister to Smyly isn’t enough to derail their title aspirations. Or perhaps they really like Robbie Ray and thought this was the best way to bolster their future rotation at a time when they can most afford to weaken the current version.

The Tigers understand their risks, surely. They know there is no such thing as too much starter depth just as they know that today’s pitching prospect is tomorrow’s punchline.

Just as there is no such thing as a pitching prospect, there is also no such thing as too much depth in the starting rotation. Many a potential World Series champ saw their season fall apart after taunting the baseball gods with improper belief that five good starters. The Tigers gave up a good one because even rich teams have their limits.

Unless, of course, this is all a ploy for the Tigers to sign Masahiro Tankaa and blow this whole theory to high hell. Which would be delightful, wouldn’t it?

Dirty Jim Heads West

As expected, the Orioles dealt closer Jim Johnson, shipping the 50 save man to Oakland in exchange for young second baseman Jemile Weeks. A bit of a twist ending as the A’s take on a bigger salary (on the same day they sign Scott Kazmir to a two year deal. Scott Kazmir!)

Jim Johnson falls victim to the tyranny of round numbers. As discussed yesterday, the saves Johnson amassed over the last two seasons all but priced him beyond his utility. One could make a case that Jim Johnson hasn’t been significantly better than Joe Smith, who signed a three-year deal with the Angels last week.

Rk Player WAR Age G SV ERA+ HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
1 Jim Johnson 6.6 28-30 214 110 156 0.51 2.11 6.07
2 Joe Smith 5.2 27-29 213 3 160 0.46 3.15 6.94
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/3/2013.

Then again, one could argue the increased role (facing more batters, especially tougher lefties) hurts his numbers. Joe Smith was used much more situationally than Johnson. But when you look at what they’ve done, the only fundamental difference is saves.

The Orioles will not struggle to find a replacement for Johnson and the A’s don’t need to worry about what happens to Johnson after this season, as he heads into free agency. Good on the A’s for being proactive while the Orioles will smartly look to spend their money elsewhere.

Every team needs good relievers, even expensive ones. But more and more we see the difference between paying for quality versus paying for compilers. Today’s reminder of the difference between fantasy and reality.

The Red Sox get to pick and choose

Word broke early this morning that the Red Sox agreed to a one-year deal with veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Which is just perfect. Pierzynski is best known as a Grade A pest but, for the most part, teammates love him. He’s a pretty good catcher, too. Opposing fans (all fans, really) hate him but the Red Sox are building winners, not group hugs.

Sure, he almost never walks but he never strikes out and never gets hurt and surely passed the Red Sox battery of personality tests and should mesh with their veteran gym rat culture. Surely other clubs were willing to match the terms (one year at $8.25MM as per Buster Olney) but a player like Pierzynski gets to pick where he spends his time and a team like Red Sox will always attract ring-hungry veterans into which savvy vets can seamlessly integrate.

To the victors go the spoils. Not often a catcher worth about 1 WAR per season can be considered “spoils” but the Red Sox have a more than capable backup in David Ross and more catching prospects than you can shake a stick at. They’re the Red Sox, they always have a plan. And a plan B. The bastards.