We’re a few weeks into the season, the traditional time when those players on the edge of the major leagues see their hopes of major-league contracts renewed by the first wave of injuries or lack of performance. Doug Fister, three years removed from an 8th-place finish on the Cy Young Award ballot, finds himself in this position thanks to the raves of the beast that beats us all, Father Time.
Three years ago, Fister was described in the Baseball Prospectus annual as a “command-and-control wizard”, a profile that usually wears better with age than pure velocity pitchers, but also one that can have any weaknesses exposed in an instant without a good defense behind him. Of course, last season, Fister had an at-least-average defense behind him in the Houston Astros, so he doesn’t even have that excuse when his agent is making the rounds.
No, for Fister the pitch is that he’s usually a reliable innings-eater, even if you’re not going to get below-3.5 ERAs from him. He’s a veteran with an understanding of how to pitch, having been a command-and-control guy his whole career.
Per Brooks Baseball, his fastball dipped from the low-90s to the mid-to-upper-80s last season, not unexpected from someone hitting the point on the aging curve that Fister is. The most concerning thing about that velocity drop is that it brings his fastball that much closer to his off-speed pitches, eliminating the narrow margin for error with which he already was working.
There are quite a few teams that have found themselves suddenly or still in the need for lower-end starting pitcher or two, meaning that despite Fister’s apparent lack of quality stuff, the fact that he has an arm still attached might make him worth the flyer.
It feels like any time there’s a veteran free agent available, the Padres are at least in the conversation — partially because they have such a young team, and partially because they were tanking this season back in 2016. With Jered Weaver as a contributing member of their rotation, at least Fister would have the comfort of not being the slowest thrower on the team. It might even be a good situation for a one-year deal, a chance to show himself to not have lost it all, helped out by a pitcher-friendly park. Of course, at age 33, this may be the only kind of contract Fister can expect, a sad reality at the end of a career.
Fister has been clear so far that he doesn’t want to be in the minors beyond a tune-up period, but even for teams like the Orioles and the Reds, he would probably have to prove himself ready to face major-league batters. Both those teams do need pitching depth, making them candidates to offer him a deal of some kind.
The Orioles just called up what was probably their best depth option in Alec Asher to be their fifth starter, but with Dylan Bundy’s questionable health history, it would probably do them well do have an option stored away for the inevitable emergency call-up halfway through the season.
The Reds are in a different position. Unlike the Orioles, who with Buck Showalter are always contending until they aren’t, Cincinnati is fairly universally considered to not have much of a chance this season, despite their hot start. Having a veteran depth option stashed away wouldn’t hurt them, either, if only to allow their younger arms to continue developing in the minors instead of having to take major-league turns.
He isn’t what he once was, but Doug Fister is probably good enough to be pitching somewhere. The question remans where, and when, that will be.