Like most people, I was surprised when I heard Doug Fister had been traded to Detroit in the summer of 2011. Though he was a bit of a late bloomer, Fister was still young, good, and under team control for several more seasons. Where he'd once been considered something of a strike-throwing No. 5 starter, the 6-foot-8 righty had recently blossomed into a solid pitcher, and I was baffled that a rebuilding team would trade such an asset right as he was emerging as a legitimate part of the team's future. I was even more perplexed after hearing the return package: Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin, and Francisco Martinez were all decent players with desirable skills, but none of them had Fister's newfound upside. It was a strange move on the surface.
Still, one could rationalize the trade. There was no guarantee Fister could maintain his newfound ability to miss bats, and besides, Wells might inject some life into an inept lineup. Furbush could end up replacing Fister in the rotation. Ruffin certainly looked like an upgrade over Pauley. Martinez even gave the deal a prospect to dream on. These weren't bad players. There was a chance the deal could work for Seattle.
I hated it anyways. In the way that Felix feels like one of ours, Fister felt like one of mine. No, he wasn't nearly as good as Felix, but that's not the point. Perhaps due to height-related homage, Fister was one of my favorite players, and I had come to love his mannerisms. How he took the ball from the catcher and immediately stepped back on the rubber, ready to pitch. The way he stared at the catcher, standing awkwardly tall with his glove-arm outstretched, peering intently for the sign. That jerky head nod of his, followed by a quick delivery, limbs flopping all over the place. His habit of acknowledging and crediting fielders for a good play. The overall effect of a typical at-bat with Fister on the mound was, for me, rather mesmerizing.
It was particularly so because many of those at-bats ended in quick outs. As a fan, there are few things more satisfying than watching a guy induce weak contact over, and over, and over again. Nothing makes a pitcher look more in control than strike one, a good rhythm, and a weak ground ball. So often, Fister provided all three. He made watching the Mariners fun on the days he took the mound, even when the offense inevitably took a collective vacation and hung him with another defeat. Losing him to Detroit stung a lot, and even today, I miss having Mr. Fister around. I'm happy he's had so much success in Detroit, even if it only makes the trade all the more devastating.
In honor of Fister's return to the Northwest tonight, I thought it'd be worth taking a look back at the worst deals Jack Zduriencik has made as general manager of the Mariners. This isn't to lambast Zduriencik -- executives inevitably make a handful of moves they'd rather have back -- but it's a pertinent topic in light of tonight's matchup, and I thought it would make for a fun post.
This is purely retroactive analysis; I'm not trying to determine which deals were the worst at the time, or which moves had the biggest potential to blow up in Zduriencik's face. Those are well-documented elsewhere. Here, I just want to take a quick and dirty look at which deals have worked out particularly poorly for the Mariners.
Fortunately, there aren't too many candidates. For the number of player Zduriencik has flipped, and for the talent included in some of those moves, there are really only three trades that look all that bad, and one of them is kind of a stretch. For those wondering, I didn't include the Michael Morse-John Jaso swap. I'm doing analysis from hindsight (much easier!) and it'll take a little while before we can reflect on how that one worked out (and I'm not sure it'll be that bad, either).
Anyways, here's my list, in descending order:
3. Mike Morse traded to Washington for Ryan Langerhans, -3.2 WAR.
What was received: 117 games, 318 plate appearances, and 0.6 fWAR from Langerhans.
In contrast to the other two deals on the list, this one was very well received at the time, though hindsight suggests there was probably a little too much collective exuberance over the acquisition of a reserve outfielder. I guess that happens in winning seasons.
As a player, Langerhans was limited. He couldn't really play center, struck out all the time, and didn't quite get on base often enough to deserve a place in the every day lineup. At the time, though, I and a lot of others fell hard for what he could do, namely take a walk, hit for a bit of pop, play against southpaws, and not embarrass himself in left field. He's remained a personal favorite of mine through the years -- mostly because of this and this -- but analytically, he was just a fourth outfielder and a bad return for Morse.
The damage: 378 games, 1.353 plate appearances, and 3.8 fWAR from Morse.
On the one hand, losing 3.2 WAR in the trade doesn't look too bad. On the other, it's fair to say that if Morse had flourished in Seattle instead of in the capital, he would have offered the Mariners more value than he provided for the Nationals. Fangraphs rates his defense so poorly that he would have benefited from playing DH instead of the field, and he would have accrued more value just by playing full time anyways. There's also a chance that he would have stayed healthier if he hadn't been forced to play defense. Regardless, he gave Washington 50 batting runs above average, an output the Mariners sorely needed on days when the lineup looked like this.
Looking ahead: This one is closed, as Morse's return to Seattle ended the loop.
2. Fister and David Pauley to Detroit for Furbush, Martinez, Ruffin, and Wells. -3.3 WAR thus far.
What was received: Wells chipped in 1.8 WAR in Seattle while Furbush has added another half a win in his tenure as a Mariner. Ruffin's impact has been negligible, Martinez remains in Double-A.
The damage: After Pauley used smoke and mirrors to keep runs off the board for several months in Seattle, the wheels fell off for the short right-hander in Detroit, and he made just 14 forgettable appearances in a Tiger uniform.
Fister continued his ascension after the deal, raising his strike out rate without damaging his other peripherals. He's been worth 6 WAR in 38 starts since the deal and, in his first year of arbitration eligibility, is making just $4 million in 2013.
Looking ahead: The Tigers are clearly the winners in a deal that will look more like a rout a few years from now. Wells is gone, Furbush is a middle reliever, and Ruffin and Martinez are toiling in Jackson. On the other side, Fister has emerged as one of the better starters in the American League. He's going to get more expensive in his last two years before free agency, but as long as he stays healthy, Fister should offer the Tigers great value as a vital cog in their excellent rotation.
1. Brandon Morrow traded to Toronto for Brandon League and Johermyn Chavez. -8.1 WAR thus far.
What was received: League pitched 185 mostly high-leverage innings over a span of 181 games, totaling 1.5 fWAR. Chavez is no longer in the organization.
The damage: 80 starts, 466 innings, and 9.6 fWAR from Morrow, and counting.
This was the hardest of the three to justify at the time. If there's a point in defense of Zduriencik, it's that Morrow was a tough guy to project. He'd been jerked between the bullpen and the rotation -- at times, inflicting the changes upon himself -- and there was some doubt about how his Type-1 diabetes would affect his durability. Nonetheless, the M's didn't get nearly enough in exchange for an asset with obvious upside.
Looking ahead: Leon Landry or Logan Bawcom theoretically could help salvage some value from the deal, but neither are likely to contribute as more than role players in the big leagues. The real potential for added-value comes from Morrow. The California product signed a team friendly contract extension that keeps him in Toronto through at least 2014 for only $16 million (with a club option likely to be picked up in 2015, too). If he's just an average starter over the next three years, the Mariners lose this one by about 15 WAR. The ineptitude of previous regimes will likely prevent this deal from going down as one of the franchise's worst trades, but it's undoubtedly a move Zduriencik would love to take back.
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