There have been 3,477 possible starting pitchers that have been thrown out as trade targets for the Red Sox in the last few months. That is an exact figure. All of them have their pros and cons for both sides, and some are much more likely than others. The thing that most of the pitchers have in common is that they're going to be free agents at the end of the season. What's most interesting is that teams like Seattle, Oakland and Cincinatti, who are probably looking to contend in 2015, have been rumored to be willing to deal some very good arms. The Washington Nationals can also be added to that list, as they've reportedly expressed a willingness to move Jordan Zimmermann and/or Doug Fister, both of whom are set to hit free agency after next season. The former would likely take more in a trade than the latter, which is why I'd focus my attention on the older Fister if I was Ben Cherington.
Over the last four seasons, Fister has quietly been one of the premier pitchers in the game. In that span, his 3.11 ERA is 16th best in the game, sandwiched between Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke, and his 3.37 FIP is good for 25th in a tie with Johnny Cueto. Those are three pretty decent names to be accompanied by. To make things even better, the 30-year-old is coming off arguably his best season. Though his strikeouts dropped substantially, he still managed a 2.41 ERA (155 ERA+), earning himself an eighth place finish in the Cy Young voting. To put it simply, the dude can deal.
With that being said, it's not all roses with Fister. He succeeds despite a lack of strikeouts and living in the high-80s on the radar gun. One reason for the success is impeccable command and control. Last season, he walked just 3.6 percent of the batters he faced, and his career rate is 4.7 percent. For context, the average pitcher in 2014 walked 7.6 percent of opponents. His other key skill is inducing ground balls, which is where things could get a little dicier for the Red Sox. As of right now, there is very little reason to believe anyone other than Xander Bogaerts will be playing everyday at shortstop. And while I'm a big believer in him bouncing back next year, the defense is still a concern. Having an average-at-best defensive player at shortstop behind a ground ball pitcher can be concerning. However, they should be above-average at every other infield position, with arguably the best glove at second base in the league, so it's not nearly a big enough of a concern to shy away from Fister. The other issue is he's already on the wrong side of 30, with guys like Zimmermann, Cueto and Samardzija all possibly available and younger. However, as mentioned before, he's only under contract for one more year, so it's not as if they'd be making a big commitment into his late-30's.
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So, we've established that Fister would be a good fit for the Red Sox, but that was the easy part. The hard part of this situation is making it work for the Nationals. That's always the most difficult portion of any exercise like this, but is even worse in this case. Washington is clearly going for it in 2015, so trading someone like Fister would mean they'd have to bring something back to help them compete. Unfortunately, their biggest need is in the middle infield*, somewhere the Red Sox can't really help. Sure, they have Mookie Betts, but he's not going to be dealt for a 31-year-old rental. I've heard people mention the possibility of them wanting to add an outfielder with the idea of moving Jayson Werth in a separate deal. In that case, the Red Sox could put Yoenis Cespedes in a potential package, but it's a scenario that seems more like wishful thinking from Red Sox fans than anything else. So, that leaves us with two other options.
*Specifically second base for 2015, but shortstop Ian Desmond is a free agent after next season so that could become another hole soon.
The first option is the more simple of the two, but still something that is extremely difficult to put together. It starts out with giving the Nationals their choice of any young pitcher on the roster. Though they have a deep rotation beyond Fister, and could go out and sign a new one, giving them a young, cheap, controllable replacement is the best thing Boston can offer. It's up to them if they want someone ready to jump in right away like Rubby De La Rosa or Allen Webster, or a higher-ceiling guy like Henry Owens or Eduardo Rodriguez, both of whom won't be ready until midseason at the earliest. After that, I'd offer one of Boston's two lower-tier middle infield prospects in Deven Marrero and Sean Coyle. Though neither projects to be a star of any sort, they both could very well end up being solid regulars at positions of need for Washington. Finally, I'd look to help them for the future in their outfield. Denard Span is a free agent after 2015 as well, and though they have a possible outfield replacement in Steven Souza, it couldn't hurt to offer something more. This could mean Jackie Bradley, Jr., who could be an intriguing buy-low candidate.
It could also mean Garin Cecchini, who has played mostly third base in his career, but has also begun working in left field and has no clear path to future playing time in Boston. I really hate putting together trade packages like this, because it's hard to know even close to everything front offices are thinking, but this is something close to what I'd throw together for Fister. Hell, I'd even think about replacing the last duo with someone like Manuel Margot if it got it done, and/or adding a lower-tier arm to the sweeten the deal.
Maybe that's not enough to get it done, either. The Nationals may not budge on moving Fister unless they can immediate major-league help, which could lead to a three-team deal. The third team would likely be a club who was looking for outfield help, a position where the Red Sox are obviously overcrowded. I had a hard enough time throwing together a package for a two-team swap, so don't even think about asking me to put together a three-team deal. Dave Cameron's idea of something involving Washington, Boston and Seattle sounded right, though the exact framework of the deal probably wouldn't work.
The Red Sox are likely going to add a number two starter to their rotation via trade whether or not they sign Jon Lester. While there are many options out there, Fister is the guy I'd go after if I was Cherington. He's only under contract for one more year, and has been nothing but very good for the last four years, with no signs of slowing down. His numbers would probably come down a bit with the move to the American League, but he'd still be plenty good enough to trade for. The Nationals don't have much of a reason to deal him without getting a lot in return, but the Red Sox should consider anyone outside of Betts, Bogaerts or Blake Swihart available in this kind of deal. They are in desparate need of rotation help, and Doug Fister is the perfect guy to start to rebuild the unit with.