The Dexter Fowler trade may signal something important about KC Royals GM Dayton Moore.
As is becoming so customary lately, two clubs swung a late-hour trade Thursday evening, and the KC Royals weren’t part of it. Kansas City was on the sidelines as the Cardinals and Angels agreed to a deal sending outfielder Dexter Fowler to the Angels for cash or a player to be named later.
That the Royals weren’t involved is interesting primarily because the switch-hitting Fowler might have been the player to end the club’s increasingly lengthy search for a lefthanded hitter. Although they’ve publicly sought a lefty, an ambidextrous bat certainly wouldn’t hurt the Royals. And despite Fowler’s .251 career average against righthanders, his .352 OBP against them opens eyes, as does his .358 OBP against all pitching.
Fowler may be turning 35 in March, but he still has some of the speed that rendered him an effective base stealer for several of his 13 years in the majors. He’s also serviceable defensively. Fowler may not be the left fielder it makes sense for the Royals to be targeting if they want another lefthanded bat, but transitioning there from center isn’t a complicated venture.
The terms of the Cardinal-Angel deal strongly suggest the Royals could have had Fowler if they wanted him. On the surface, he was an expensive proposition—St. Louis was on the hook for the last of the annual $14.5 million installments (plus the final $2 million of a $10 million signing bonus) on the five-year deal he signed in 2017. But the Cards sent almost $13 million to the Angels, meaning LA won’t pay much at all for a year of Fowler.
So what does the trade say about Dayton Moore, assuming he had interest in Fowler?
It tells us that in the face of scrutiny surrounding the club’s so far futile search for that lefty bat he covets, Moore isn’t panicking. Yes, the KC Royals could have afforded Fowler if the Cards gave them the same money to defray his salary expense that they paid LA, and obtaining him on the cheap would have quickly and inexpensively ended Kansas City’s search. Fowler isn’t lefthanded, but a switch-hitter counts the same against righthanded pitching.
Clearly, then, Moore isn’t frantic, nor is he in such a hurry to wrap up a deal that he’ll take someone who doesn’t quite give Kansas City what it wants. Fowler can get on base and still steal bases occasionally, but the power that’s produced double-digit homers six times (including 19 in 2019, 18 in 2017, and 17 in 2015) dwindled to just four in 31 games last season. His average has dropped (from .276 for 2016 to .233 last season); his OBP is becoming inconsistent. And with his age-35 season coming up, he may not have many years left.
There’s little reason to believe the Royals couldn’t have obtained Fowler on the same terms as did the Angels; St. Louis likely would have paid most of his 2021 salary, leaving Kansas City to give the Cards a player down the road or cash. But sending a prospect or major leaguer, or money, to St. Louis for a player who isn’t exactly what Moore wants doesn’t make enough sense to do the deal.
Getting Fowler may also have endangered club chemistry. According to The Athletic’s Mark Saxon (subscription required), sources reported that Fowler and Mike Matheny rarely spoke during Matheny’s final season with the Cardinals. Reuniting the two in Kansas City might not have been a wise move.
In the end, it’s difficult to believe Moore and the KC Royals didn’t at least think about Fowler. He’s a fine player, but even if their search for a lefthanded hitter comes up empty, they still have credible internal candidates. Moore can’t be blamed for not acquiring Fowler.
Dexter Fowler won’t be a Royal. If the club was interested in him, Dayton Moore was wise not to get him.