Doug Fister is fresh off arguably the most difficult season of his career, and he is ready to change directions.
Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reported Fister signed a one-year, $7 million deal in Houston. Cotillo added the deal could reach $12 million with performance bonuses.
Fister totaled 25 appearances and 15 starts for the Nationals in 2015 and posted a 4.19 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 63 strikeouts in 103 innings. It was a far cry from his dominant 2014 season with Washington when he tallied a sparkling 2.41 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 98 strikeouts in 164 innings and finished eighth in the National League Cy Young race.
Fister had the sixth-best ERA among starters in all of baseball in 2014 but finished with a career-worst ERA and WHIP during his lackluster 2015 season that largely mirrored the Nationals' disappointing campaign as a whole.
The Nats moved Fister to the bullpen in August even though he only had four major league relief appearances on his resume before the switch. While he did notch his first career save in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, he wasn't the same pitcher Nationals fans saw the previous year.
Fister also dealt with a right forearm injury in the first half of the campaign and didn't pitch from May 14 to June 18.
Despite the move to the bullpen, Fister believed he would be a starter again at some point in his career, per Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post:
I don't feel like right now in my career I'm forced to be a bullpen member for the rest of my career. I still think I have a starting role somewhere, whether it's here or somewhere else. I still have that capability. That's still in my heart that I can go out there and get guys out. But I know now I can adjust, I can be a member of the bullpen and be ready to pitch on a day-to-day basis.
Fister's team-first approach and willingness to move to the pen in a contract year at least deserve recognition, as Washington struggled throughout the second half to stay in playoff contention.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports ranked Fister as the 45th-best free agent available this offseason but did recognize there was some rebuilding to be done: "Started 2015 thinking a good season could mean a $100 million deal. Ended it in the Nationals' bullpen. Nobody could use a value-building one-year deal more than Fister."
Fister will be 32 years old in the 2016 campaign and is coming off the worst statistical season of his career, dealing with health concerns and suffering a drop in performance. The risk factor involved with a new contract for an aging veteran like that likely impacted the offers or interest Fister generated this offseason.
However, the right-hander was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball not long ago. Perhaps a change in scenery will help him tap into the dominance he once demonstrated on the mound.