Getting To Know Robbie Ray, Trade Centerpiece

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Last Monday, the Tigers traded one of the best fifteen or so pitchers in the league for three players from the Washington Nationals. Doug Fister was under contract for two more seasons at a reasonable affordable rate, something like 2 years and $18 million depending on exactly where they would have settled to avoid arbitration. For comparison, Scott Kazmir just got 2/$22M. Fister, on the market this year, would have gotten somewhere between $60 and $80 million. This is all by way of saying that Doug Fister was a valuable trade chip. Great pitchers who are cheap, not really freely available.

But many (all) of us were underwhelmed with the return. I found just a couple of people who thought the Tigers got a good value, but most of those people were just willing to trust Dave Dombrowski because he’s been good at making trades in the past and they figured he’d worked some magic. To be honest, it was pretty much just Lynn Henning and one person on Twitter.

One player they got back was Steve Lombardozzi, who is a tremendously well-liked utility player. I’ve heard splendid things about Lombardozzi as a dude, but Lombardozzi is a utility player. I love utility players, but you don’t trade star pitchers for Don Kelly when you already have a Don Kelly. (Although, the prospect of two Don Kellys…?)

Ian Krol is a solid lefty reliever who has a solid fastball and a nice hook. He’s capable of pitching in the middle innings and might succeed in a setup role. Nice player, nothing special. And remember, by trading Fister, the Tigers move Smyly into the rotation and lose a lefty reliever. Gain a lefty, lose a lefty.

So this trade comes down to Robbie Ray. Lombardozzi and Krol are fine players, but they’re nowhere close to Fister’s equal in terms of value. Ray is the centerpiece. He was on all the Nationals’ top prospect list, but no one seemed enthralled with him. He was a prospect, but not a PROSPECT.

But a funny thing has been happening over the last week or so. Pretty much all I’m hearing is how much Dombrowski loves Ray. I’m actually guessing he used that exact word, because everyone has been saying “love.” Dave loves Ray.

Which is interesting, because while Ray is a nice player, he’s doesn’t get rave reviews elsewhere. I’ll say upfront, I still don’t think the Tigers got good value in this deal. Ray might be a nice prospect, but the Tigers could have gotten more if they wanted to trade Fister according to multiple reports coming out of front offices. Additionally, why on Earth would you trade Fister to spend that money on Joe Nathan? It doesn’t add up. Unless Dombrowski loves Ray in a way that no one else can understand. He sees something. I’m not sure I agree, but I went looking for it.


Season Team G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
2010 Nationals (A-) 1 0 1 18.00 0.00 0.00 0.000 0.00 -0.80
2011 Nationals (A) 20 20 89 9.61 3.84 0.30 0.300 3.13 3.19
2012 Nationals (A+) 22 21 105.2 7.32 4.17 1.19 0.332 6.56 5.00
2013 Nationals (A+) 16 16 84 10.71 4.39 0.96 0.273 3.11 3.82
2013 Nationals (AA) 11 11 58 9.31 3.26 0.62 0.317 3.72 3.42

Ray found his strikeout groove again in 2013 after backing off in 2012, but the walks have been high at every stop. The run prevention looks nice outside of 2012 and the FIP does as well. A perfectly fine stat line, but nothing spectacular. He’s listed at 6’2″, 170 and throws from the left side. 2014 will be his age 22 season. He’s moving nicely through the minors and will likely start the year in AAA.

The numbers make him look like a pitcher with some upside, who needs a lot of work. When you see big strikeout numbers like that, you dream, but the walks speak to a control problem. So let’s keep going.


Scouts say Ray has live arm from the left side, but his secondary stuff lags behind his fastball. There is some reason to think his breaking ball will develop into a solid pitch, as it’s currently ahead of the changeup, but both offerings need work. His command looks like it will stay below average, but might be average or a touch above if everything goes perfectly. The motion has some effort, but doesn’t seem to be too worrisome. Certainly nothing like Chris Sale!

His callup window looks to be between late 2014 and mid 2015, but that will also now depend on the new organization. The Tigers tend to move pitchers quickly, but they also have less room on the big league staff than the Nats did. All in all, the impression is that Ray has a shot to be a solid #3 starter, but that a good #4 is a bit more realistic.

A nice player, but nothing remarkable. It’s easy to see how Dombrowski might like him – because Dombrowski loves pitchers who throw hard, but there’s some real doubt about his command and his breaking stuff, and even the people who are high on him don’t think he’s going to be a frontline arm.

The Tigers traded away Fister to get Ray, plus a couple of pieces. Given that we know other executives wanted to get in on the Fister trade and were told no, there’s a clear signal that Dombrowski wanted Robbie Ray badly. He had a specific target and went out and got him. The die has already been cast, so at this point, it’s all about waiting to see if he was right.

I have my doubts given that Fister was already better than anyone thinks Ray will be, but maybe the Tigers have a way to fix Ray’s command and secondary stuff that no one else has. Maybe they think they can make him into a star. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

H/T to Nathaniel Stoltz for gathering comments from scouts.


8 responses

  1. Ray isn’t the “guy Dombrowski wanted badly”, DD himself said they tried 15, yes FIFTEEN, other relievers, and were turned down, before settling on Ray and a deal w/ the Nats.

    1. Source? Haven’t heard that at all.

      1. Andrew in Toronto

        Dombrowski said so himself at the Nathan press conference. He even pulled out a piece of paper with the 15 names but wouldn’t show it to anybody other than Nathan.

        Dombrowski also disputed the report that other GMs would have offered more but weren’t even asked. I think he said the people who weren’t asked didn’t have talent he wanted.

      2. Your original comment said “relievers” which is what threw me off. He wasn’t looking at relievers.

        And saying he asked about 15 other pitchers doesn’t mean much. For example, if he asked about Taijuan Walker or Gerrit Cole, obviously those are no goes. There is a difference between asking for too much and then settling on too little.

        To that extent, there have been numerous reports that Dave wanted “specific” things and that teams didn’t know Fister was about to be traded. Perhaps a team turned him down at his first offer, not realizing he was going to take such a low one right after.

        Plus, Dave doesn’t exactly tell the media the truth! Which is fine, but there is zero logic to this trade if Ray wasn’t his guy.

  2. The only way I can understand this deal concerns Lombardozzi: He is a second baseman/left fielder. Dombrowski knows that Kinsler’s not going to play 162 games. Also, the needed a left fielder to compliment Dirks. Voila–a guy who can do both relatively decently. They needed a reliever, and really needed someone on the farm (I guess Ray immediately became the Tiger’s number 2 prospect according to Baseball Prospectus’ guys).
    Still a crummy-looking deal though.

    1. There are lots of options to fill that Lombardozzi role. Nick Punto signed for $3M, for example.

  3. It’s still early, but Ray looks like a nice shot in the arm for the Arizona staff.

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