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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Fister a fantastic addition to Nationals' rotation

Fister a fantastic addition to Nationals' rotation

Fister a fantastic addition to Nationals' rotation

Did the Washington Nationals just become the favorites to win the National League in 2014? OK, never mind. Been there, done that, right? Besides, there's plenty of time for that stuff in the months ahead.

For now, let's take a deep breath and begin with the obvious. A team that was already one of baseball's 10 best got better Monday night, acquiring right-hander Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers for three young players, including highly regarded 22-year-old left-hander Robbie Ray.

Because of Ray, who has averaged more than a strikeout an inning over four Minor League seasons, this trade isn't the giveaway some are portraying it as. Besides that, anyone who makes that kind of snap judgment needs to take a deep breath and see what the Tigers will look like on Opening Day.

In trading Prince Fielder and Fister in the span of a few days, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski cleared $14 million from his 2014 payroll. If you're assuming Dombrowski has something big planned, you're not alone.

Free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is the most obvious fit, but Carlos Beltran or Jacoby Ellsbury would also make sense. Could Dombrowski even have his eyes on Robinson Cano?

That one makes less sense after he acquired second baseman Ian Kinsler from the Rangers in the Fielder deal, but stranger things have happened. Regardless, it's silly to judge the Fister trade until we see what else Dombrowski has planned. And given Dombrowski's history, there is something else.

But I digress. This is a tremendous acquisition for the Nats. Fister, 29, has averaged 189 innings and a 3.48 ERA over the past four seasons and is coming off a 2013 campaign in which he went 14-9 and pitched a rock-solid 208 2/3 innings.

Those American League numbers should translate nicely to the NL. And how will Fister's stuff look on a staff with all those blazing fastballs? After seeing Stephen Strasburg's 100-mph heater one night, opposing batters may have even more trouble adjusting to Fister's assortment of 89-mph fastballs along with changeups, sliders and curveballs.

With Fister tucked into a rotation with Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, the Nationals have a rotation capable of matching up with any in the game.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo teased all of us a couple of weeks ago when he talked about tweaking his roster for 2014. His team was already good enough that he didn't have to do anything dramatic. But Rizzo smiled and said, "You know I'm not afraid of signing a free agent or making a trade."

If Rizzo likes the deal now, he's probably going to love it a year from now after he has Fister in his clubhouse for an entire year. Because Fister doesn't throw 98 mph, he has to attack hitters' weaknesses and keep them off-balance.

His new teammates can learn plenty by watching Fister work his way through a game. His reputation is that of someone who prepares relentlessly and works hard at conditioning and sweating the small stuff. If the Nats are paying attention, they may learn plenty.

If there's a downside, it's that Washington's infield defense wasn't very good last season, and that could be a problem for a pitcher like Fister, who relies on ground balls and teammates making plays behind him.

On the other hand, both Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and shortstop Ian Desmond were solid defensively after the All-Star break last season as the club played its best ball and crept back into contention.

In the end, it was a deal Rizzo couldn't pass up. Fister was 32-20 in 68 starts for the Tigers since 2011, and in the last three seasons, he has been arguably one of the 10 best pitchers in the AL.

The Nats were widely seen as one of baseball's two or three best teams around this time last offseason. To miss the playoffs was bitterly disappointing, and Rizzo hasn't attempted to sugarcoat it.

But the Nationals were hit hard by injuries, and now Rizzo has replaced Dan Haren with Fister. And there's that 2013 season in which the Nats were forced to learn some tough lessons. They again appear to be positioned to do great things in 2014, and on Monday night, they got even better.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"event":["hot_stove" ] }