Barring a trade this winter, the Brewers have four of the five spots in their starting rotation all but sewn up for 2016 between Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann, Wily Peralta, and Matt Garza. That leaves one remaining starting slot available. The Brewers have plenty of internal options (Zach Davies, Junior Guerra, etc), but we've also discussed the importance of a rebuilding club trying to identify potential "buy-low" assets on the free agent market that could eventually be flipped for prospects at the deadline.
One such player would be right hander Doug Fister, perhaps the biggest name among the buy-low types. Drafted in the seventh round by Seattle in 2006, Fister made his big league debut with the Mariners in 2009 and has developed a reputation as an excellent mid-rotation option over his seven year career.
Fister pitched his first two and a half seasons in Seattle and collected a total of 6.0 fWAR before being shipped to Detroit in 2011, in the midst of his best season in the majors. That year Doug finished with a 2.83 ERA in 216.1 innings, including a 1.79 ERA and 2.48 FIP in 11 games down the stretch for the Tigers. His total of 5.1 fWAR that season was a career high. He would pitch another two seasons in Detroit and post fWAR totals of 3.4 and 4.2 before being sent to the Nationals following the 2013 season.
In 2014 Fister posted a 2.41 ERA (though with a much higher 3.93 FIP) in 25 starts for Washington, the lowest ERA total of his career. He finished eighth in National League Cy Young voting that season. The wheels came off in 2015, however, as Doug struggled right out of the gates before hitting the disabled list in May with arm issues. He eventually returned to action but lost his spot in the starting rotation. In his walk year before free agency, Fister managed only a 4.19 ERA and 4.55 FIP in 103.0 innings and was valued at just 0.2 fWAR. He was not extended a Qualifying Offer by the Nationals.
Fister has never been reliant on his velocity to get batters out, but his average fastball has declined each of the last two seasons and fell to a career-low 86.2 MPH last year. He's struck out just over 14% of hitters over the last two seasons, also a few points below his career mark. He's been a good ground ball pitcher throughout his career, averaging 48.8%, which would fit right in with the Brewers current pitching staff. His HR/FB ratio in 2015 was the second-highest mark of his career, but there's a good chance that could regress a bit closer to his career norms. He still continues to maintain his outstanding control with just a 5.1% walk rate last season and won't hurt himself out on the mound.
It looked like soon-to-be 32 year old was lining himself up for a payday of $75 mil or more on the open market given his excellent track record prior to this past season. After his tough year 2015 however, it's more likely that Doug is entertaining one-year offers to try and rebuild his value before hitting the market again next winter. I'd imagine even on a year deal, he'll still be able to secure at least an $8-10 mil guarantee, but then he could hit the open market again next winter when he'd face significantly less free agent competition.
The Brewers have plenty of money to work with this winter if they so choose and can offer Doug Fister a spot in their Opening Day starting rotation. He'll be able to command a bit higher of a salary than some of the other buy-low candidates we've looked at but a one year deal greatly minimizes any risk involved. In Milwaukee he'd be pitching in a low-pressure situation where wins aren't expected next season, which could help him focus more on trying to rediscover the form that helped him produce 16.9 fWAR from 2010-2014. If Fister can re-establish himself as a useful option in the starting rotation, then he becomes a nice trade chip at the deadline that should help Slignin' David Stearns continue to acquire as much young, controllable talent as possible.