The Orioles, who still are looking to replace Wei-Yin Chen and improve a rotation whose 4.53 ERA ranked next-to-last in the American League last season, don’t like to spend big on pitching. Fister, a free agent who turns 32 next week and is coming off a disappointing injury-plagued campaign, represented one of the more intriguing arms available in baseball’s bargain bin.
But reports indicated that Fister and his agent were looking for a two-year deal that would pay him north of $20 million, a seemingly inflated price that, based on comments made by Dan Duquette last week, had scared the Orioles away. “We haven't found the pitching that we really like at the prices we like,” Baltimore’s GM said. “That has been a very, very expensive market this offseason.”
So Thursday's news that Fister signed with someone other than the Orioles doesn’t really come as a shock -- until you look at the fine print.
One year. Seven million dollars.
It’s difficult to imagine that Baltimore, a team that's as hard up for starting pitching as any in the majors, wouldn’t have been interested in Fister at that price. Yes, the veteran righty posted a career-worst 1.40 WHIP with the Nationals last year. Sure, he was demoted to the bullpen. But prior to that, he’d been one of the more dependable starters in the game, compiling a 3.11 ERA from 2011 to 2014, the seventh lowest in the majors over that span. And despite the forgettable 2015, Fister’s career walk rate of 1.8 per nine innings is the lowest among all active starters.
In other words, one year and $7 million sounds like a steal. Or at least a potential steal.
Given the deep discount -- Fister’s 2016 base salary is nearly 40 percent less than the $11.4 million he made last season -- odds are that the Orioles were still in the mix. And Fister landing in Houston might simply be a matter of a player wanting to win, with the O’s losing out to an up-and-coming Astros team that last year reached the postseason for the first time in a decade and is poised to do so again this coming season. Then again, maybe it was simply a case of Fister, whose deal is reportedly laden with incentives that could escalate his salary to $12 million, getting a sweeter offer from the Astros.
Either way, for an under-armed Orioles team that doesn’t like to pay retail pitching prices, the clearance rack just got a lot clearer.