When Mike Rizzo almost quit over Doug Fister

The book won’t be out until next month, but I just can’t wait until then to share this passage from Barry Svrluga’s The Grind: Inside Baseball’s Endless Season about the Nationals-Tigers trade that featured Doug Fister:

The Tigers wanted to include reliever Phil Coke and make it a four-for-two swap in which they would have received pitching prospects Robbie Ray, Taylor Jordan, and Ian Krol along with utility man Steve Lombardozzi. The Nationals didn’t want Coke and his 5.40 ERA, and Rizzo didn’t feel like he could part with both Ray and Jordan, a pair of promising young starters. When they finally settled on a three-for-one trade — Ray, Krol, and Lombardozzi for Fister — the Lerner family, which owns the Nationals, killed the deal, wary of parting with Ray.


… Rizzo had called the Tigers’ Dombrowski to tell him he couldn’t do the deal. But he did something else, too: He threatened to quit. Ownership eventually relented. The deal was back on. Ray, Krol, and Lombardozzi went to Detroit, and Fister became a National.

You might recall that most of us killed the Tigers for this one. I bent over backwards trying to make excuses for Dombrowski (but couldn’t quite do it). At the time, Ken Rosenthal wrote in his reported piece that the deal took two-and-a-half weeks to consummate because, according to Rizzo, the Nationals were so reluctant to part with Ray.

But now we have an entirely different story.

And now, nearly a season-and-a-half later?

Phil Coke, whom Rizzo didn’t want? He stayed with the Tigers for a season, then signed with the Cubs, then was released by the Cubs, then signed with the Blue Jays. He’s still a serviceable LOOGY, probably.

Taylor Jordan, whom Rizzo wanted to keep, and did? Since the trade, Jordan’s 0-5 with a 6.44 ERA in the majors. He has pitched significantly better in the minors, and remains a reasonable option if the Nationals or somebody else needs a No. 5 starter with some potential.

And the guys who did actually get traded?

Robbie Ray got blasted as a Tiger last season, and the Tigers sent him to the Diamondbacks in the three-team trade that netted Shane Greene from the Yankees. He opened this season in the minors but has looked good in a couple of starts with the D’backs.

Ian Kroll was the new Phil Coke until the Tigers sent him to Toledo, where he’s been great this spring.

Lombardozzi never played for the Tigers. They traded him to the Orioles for Álex González, who got 30 at-bats before drawing his release. As near as I can tell, his career is over.

And Doug Fister? He’s been hurt some, but since joining the Nationals he’s gone 18-8 with a 2.78 ERA, plus a great start against the Giants last October.

Who knows? The Nats didn’t get past the Giants last October, and it’s hardly inconceivable that Ray will pitch better than Fister this season. Oh, and maybe Shane Greene will turn things around, too. Which is why we wait for as long as we can before passing judgment on these things. 

I just thought it was a good story. Here’s where you can pre-order Svrluga’s book.