The Texas Rangers have signed Doug Fister, free agent pitcher last of the Boston Red Sox, the team announced today. The deal for Fister was announced as a one year deal with a club option for 2019, though, as we discussed on Sunday, when news of the agreement first broke, reports indicate that it is for $3.5 million in 2018, a team option for $4.5 million in 2019 with a $500,000 buyout, and incentives and escalators that could make the overall deal worth $11.5 million.
As Fittz noted in the links this morning, Jeff Sullivan wrote about this deal at Fangraphs, calling it a possible steal. Sullivan breaks down the data, which I encourage you to go check out for yourself, and shows that Fister’s final 11 starts of 2017 essentially mirror his performance in 2012-13, both in terms of pitch velocity and in results. In particular, Fister had lost a couple of miles per hour on all his pitches the previous couple of years, before getting that velocity back over the final couple of months of 2017.
Fister is a fascinating signing...he was a very good pitcher from 2011-14, then was replacement level in 2015 and 2016, was pretty bad early on for the Boston Red Sox in 2017 before something seemingly clicked. Could the Red Sox have fixed him? Could Fister be, if not Rich Hill, or even Charlie Morton, at least someone who revived their career after seemingly being cast aside as useless?
At $4 million guaranteed, its not costing the Rangers much to find out. And as Sullivan warns, every front office in baseball has the same information that we do about how his stuff ticked back up and his performance looked better, and despite that, no one apparently was willing to do better than the make-good deal the Rangers offered. It would seem like most teams aren’t buying the notion that Fister is fixed.
Nevertheless, there’s reason for cautious optimism. Fister may not be the 4 win pitcher he was in his prime, but he doesn’t have to be for this to be a good signing. Hell, give me 150 innings of close to a league average ERA in the rotation and I’d call this deal a home run for Texas.
For a team in the Rangers’ position — trying to fill multiple holes to make an effort to win in 2018 without jeopardizing the team’s future, and while keeping open the possibility of shifting into rebuild mode come July — this is the type of move that makes a ton of sense. Its not sexy, and results in a fair amount of sniggering and mockery from certain portions of the fan base (“oh boy, we’re a playoff team now, with this terrible pitcher added to the front of the rotation!”), but the possibility of landing a starting pitcher who can keep you in games for backup catcher money makes this an extremely reasonable roll of the dice.