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When the Tigers announced they traded Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals, a lot of people were very surprised.  Maybe they shouldn’t have been. 

After all the Tigers once again failed to win a championship, and especially since general manager Dave Dombrowski isn’t the type to sit back and watch, not when he thought he could make his team better. 

 

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Doug Fister went to the Nationals in the most puzzling trades this offseason so far.

Clearly that was on his mind when the Tigers traded Prince Fielder, allowing the team to move Miguel Cabrera back to first base and acquire Ian Kinsler to play second.  Yet when the Tigers made it clear that they would listen to offers to trade either starting pitcher Rick Porcello or Max Scherzer it seemed perhaps a bit of a reach.

 

But there seemed to be a crazed sense of logic to offering up one of those two hurlers: both would be free agents after the 2014 season and the Tigers are a small market team. 

OK, I’m pulling your leg there.  The Tigers are anything but a small market team.  They are a team who hasn’t been afraid to spend big money and to bring in top talent.  And while some may say that trading Scherzer, the 2013 Cy Young owner, makes sense because Scherzer is a Scott Boras client, it doesn’t because there is no team that has a better relationship with Boras than the Tigers.

That said trading Scherzer would have actually made some sense -- if the Tigers were feeling a bit of financial crunch and they knew they wouldn’t be willing to pony up the $20 million or so per year that Scherzer is likely to command starting in 2015.

And the same logic applies to Fister.  For while both Fister and Scherzer were going to be very reasonably signed for 2014 (a little over $10 million combined), both were going to get at least $10 million more per season after next year.  Trading one of them now might well allow them to keep the other.

Might is the operative term there.  But there also are some whispers that maybe the Tigers have been told to rein in spending a little bit and trading Fister and Fielder might be part of that, and perhaps even the hiring of rookie manager Brad Ausmus instead of a veteran manager who could have commanded more money could be a part of that.  Perhaps the thing that gives this rumor the most credence is the noticeable absence of owner Mike Illich who for years has been there with the with open checkbook and the desire to win.

And Illich has been MIA in recent months.  He failed to show for the team photo (something he had never failed to do before), didn’t show up for the retirement announcement of Jim Leyland or the announcement of the hiring of Brad Ausmus.  And while Dombrowski has downplayed Illich’s absences, you have to wonder if something is up.

While it could be nothing it certainly has become at least a whisper, possibly an explanation, as to what the Tigers are doing.

But the answer is probably a bit simpler.  The Tigers may be freeing up some salary to add some new free agents.  There are still plenty of players -- such as Shin-Soo Choo, who would fit the Tigers needs.

The question remains as to why the Tigers traded Fister.  It’s not like they got a tremendous haul in return.  It makes you wonder if cost cutting is really the issue, or if  Dombrowski has something up his sleeve. 

We’ll probably find out by the time the Winter Meetings end.