A lot of us would like to see the Twins get involved with free agent outfielders Colby Rasmus or Nori Aoki. Instead, the focus seems to be on Torii Hunter and, to a lesser extent, Alex Rios. The trade market has already seen speculation revolving around Peter Bourjos. This morning, I want to talk about someone else: Dexter Fowler.
Two weeks ago, in the midst of the SB Nation mock winter meetings, I traded for Dexter Fowler with the idea that he'd play left field and bat leadoff for my faux-Twins team. At the time I felt that he was a good fit for Minnesota: he's a good player who was likely to be available, because of his projected salary ($9 million) and because 2015 will be his final season under team control. That was the jackpot as far as I was concerned, because I wanted the Twins to be better in the short term without taking time away from the young players who would need it.
I still feel as though Fowler is a good fit, and for a lot of the same reasons. Another big plus: it looks like Houston might be willing to deal him. Let's roll through the big picture.
Dexter Fowler is about to enter his final year of arbitration eligibility. He made $7,350,000 in 2014. As a Super Two heading into 2012, Fowler has already made more money than most of his peers with similar service time, and as Matt Swartz projects for MLBTR, he's due for roughly a $9 million payday for 2015.
Career in a nutshell
A 14th-round pick by the Rockies in 2004, Fowler played center for Colorado until he deft after the 2013 season. He continued in that role for the Astros. He's been a top of the order batter.
Fowler owns a .271/.366/.419 career line, and in the last four years he's been better: .276/.374/.429. From 2011 to 2014, he's also accumulated 8.1 fWAR. He walks often, with a 12.5% career rate for base on balls. The power isn't prodigious, by any means, but he's usually good for 20 doubles, a few triples, and it seems like he isn't a bad bet to get to the lower double-digits in home run totals.
As a switch hitter, Fowler's splits for his career have been fairly measured. In 2198 plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers (as a left-handed batter) he's hit .259/.356/.414, and in 942 plate appearances versus southpaws (as a right-handed hitter) he's hit .299/.391/.433. Those splits have shown up more in 2013 and 2014, with OPS marks of .741 and .737 versus righties and .860 and 1.028 versus lefties, respectively, in those two seasons.
The metrics tell an interesting story for Fowler. His speed, which helps him with his good base running decisions and which gives him decent range in the outfield, makes it look as though he's lost a step over the last couple of years. That's natural for a player who is getting into his late 20s, but it does mean he range metrics have been very up and down the last couple of years. Combined with an arm that will play in center but isn't a plus, all defensive metrics say that Fowler is a below average defender in center field.
Meyer, Rosario, Sano, and Wheeler added to 40-man
Meyer, Rosario, and Sano were all guaranteed to be added. Wheeler is a deserving candidate, but a number of worthy players have been left exposed.
In left field, however, where he'd have to cover less ground, Fowler's speed should still be a plus and his arm wouldn't need to make as many of the same, long throws. Would he be a positive value in left? Perhaps. But at the very least, he's a guaranteed defensive upgrade over the guys sucking up most of the innings in recent years: Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel, Chris Parmelee, Jason Bartlett, Clete Thomas, Oswaldo Arcia, and Ryan Doumit.
There are a number of things that come into play that make Fowler something of the perfect storm. Helping the Astros out by taking on their $9 million dollar salary is a good start, and with Fowler under team control for just one more season the Twins have two really good reasons not to overpay for a guy who should be a significant upgrade in left field.
How significant of an upgrade? Fowler has averaged two fWAR per season over the last four years. That's by no means a stretch for him in 2015, which will be his age-29 season. FanGraphs lists Minnesota's left field options for 2015 as Jordan Schafer, Chris Parmelee, and Eduardo Nunez, combining for a rather optimistic 0.3 WAR. Adding Fowler at a projected 2.0 WAR and subtracting significant portions of contributions from those aforementioned three players is a very good thing, on both sides of the ball. Instead of a cumulative 0.4 fWAR for the group, per FanGraphs, we could be looking at an overall mark of 2.1 or 2.2 fWAR.
Considering the cost of a win on the open market, securing a two-win player for a $9 million salary is also good value. If by playing left field, Fowler's defensive contributions aren't as detrimental as his sub-par center field numbers have been, add on a little more value.
Fowler's splits as a switch hitter are worth monitoring, but in spite of his weaker numbers as a left-handed hitter he continues to take walks and post strong on-base percentages. His 12.9% walk rate from his weak side still helped lead to a .333 wOBA. He is the ideal player to slide into the leadoff role, which would allow Paul Molitor to slide Brian Dozier into a regular role in the middle of the batting order where his power will be of more use. (23 home runs are nice, but when you come to the plate at least once every game in a position where you're guaranteed to not have base runners, the value added is limited.)
As a fairly young player Fowler is only under contract for one more season. For a team in transition, as is Minnesota, that's a plus. Not only does he make the team better on both sides of the ball, not only does he provide the ideal leadoff hitter profile, not only is he on the right side of 30, but a one-year contract means freedom when a burgeoning farm system needs flexibility at the Major League level. Finally, if it comes to it, Fowler is the type of player who will be desirable at the trade deadline.
Dexter Fowler, ladies and gentlemen. Yay or nay?