Dexter Fowler: Royals Trade Option


Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

About a year ago, the Royals were in the market for a new right fielder. Signing the top free agents available would have been difficult to do, and without a great internal option, it seemed logical for them to turn to the trade market. There were a few rumors of who the Royals might pursue, and of course they ultimately settled upon the Brewers’ Nori Aoki. But prior to that deal, I suggested they take a look at trading for Dexter Fowler, who could be a very valuable piece of the Royals’ offense.

It’s now roughly one year later, and I’m going to suggest that the Royals should trade for Dexter Fowler.

Even though the Astros just traded for Fowler last winter, a report indicates he could be available in a trade this year, and that the Astros may be looking for bullpen help. The Royals have a bit of bullpen depth from which they can deal. Seems like an obvious fit, no?

Fowler is coming off of another very good season at the plate, in which he put up a 124 wRC+ in 505 plate appearances with Houston. His slugging percentage fell to .399, but he again was an on-base machine, with a .375 OBP. Not making outs is always a good thing, and Fowler avoids outs better than any current Royal.

With great plate discipline, Fowler has drawn walks in about 13% of his plate appearances in each of the last three seasons. And while he strikes out more than a typical Royal, his strikeout rate isn’t much above the league average, and he more than makes up for it by getting on base so frequently. He doesn’t bring a ton of home run power, although Fowler collects a few extra-base hits here and there, and in Kauffman Stadium, he should be able to hit plenty of doubles and triples in those spacious gaps. Plus, his isolated slugging percentage of .122 wasn’t too far below the league average, and considering Fowler is only 28, a bounce back in the power department wouldn’t be surprising at all.

There have been some concerns that Fowler’s offense is a product of playing in hitter-friendly ballparks, but as I mentioned in last year’s article, he also played in some extreme pitchers’ parks while with the Rockies, and even during his time in Houston, his road wRC+ was 112, which would’ve been the second-best mark on the Royals in 2014.

Fowler hits a lot of line drives, avoids popups, and has enough speed to get plenty of infield singles, so his .351 BABIP this season doesn’t mean he was lucky. His career BABIP is .348. He simply has the kind of skillset to sustain an above average BABIP.

Something else Fowler possesses that could be very helpful to the Royals: switch-hitting ability. The Royals are lefty-heavy at the moment, so adding a right-handed bat is important, and Fowler has hit lefties to the tune of a 118 wRC+ in his career. This past season, his wRC+ against southpaws was 155. But Fowler isn’t just a right-handed bat. His wRC+ as a lefty was 114 this year, and it’s 102 in his career. Granted, that’s nothing special, but it’s above average, and above average is very valuable.

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Defensively, the metrics think Fowler is a terrible center fielder, and while I’m somewhat skeptical, they have been pretty bad for much of his career. With Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson on the roster, Fowler shouldn’t have to play too much center field, so hopefully a move to right – along with some work with Rusty Kuntz – would be good for him, even if he hasn’t played there extensively.

Fowler could play some right field, especially against lefties, while also playing designated hitter and center field when needed. Cain is going to need days off, and Fowler’s numbers against righties are even better than Dyson’s, so a regular platoon wouldn’t necessarily be the best idea. Of course, the Royals want to maintain their defensive excellence, so Fowler wouldn’t play in the field every day, which is why he could fit in the DH slot. He’d be perfect for the Royals roster.

The only concern one might have with Fowler is his durability, or lack thereof. He’s spent quite a bit of time on the disabled list in his career, having played in fewer than 120 games each of the last two seasons. It’s possible spending time with the Royals’ training staff could help him, as could spending some time away from the field, but even without a guaranteed clean bill of health, Fowler’s upside is worth the risk.

Considering Fowler only has one year of team control left, I can’t imagine the Astros would need to be overwhelmed to deal him. The Royals have plenty of relievers they could ship to Houston, and if they need to throw in a low-level prospect or two to get it done, that shouldn’t an issue. There is the possibility that Fowler could sign an extension with his new team, and the Astros would likely be in line for a compensatory draft pick after the 2015 season if they keep him, so that may factor into the negotiations. Still, it shouldn’t take a massive offer.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Fowler is projected to earn about $9 million through arbitration in 2015, which certainly wouldn’t prevent the Royals from signing other players this winter. If he has a good enough season, the Royals could consider handing him a contract extension, or at the very least, they would be in line to extend him a qualifying offer for the chance to receive a draft pick in the 2016 draft. There isn’t a ton of risk involved with this kind of deal, with the exception of Fowler’s injury history.

The Royals would still need another offensive player – preferably one who could also handle himself in the field – but trading for Fowler would be a great first step toward improving an offense that disappeared for long stretches this season. He has the kind of on-base ability the Royals desperately need, and even though he won’t hit 15-20 home runs, he’ll get enough extra-base hits to have an impact.

The switch-hitter could also allow the team to mix and match lineups and defensive alignments with regularity, and the cost to acquire him wouldn’t be significant. If the Royals don’t plan on spending money in the free agent market in their pursuit of offense, Fowler should be one of their primary trade targets.