Dexter Fowler Rumors

Free Agent Stock Watch: Center Fielders

With more than a fifth of the season in the books, we’ve had an early look (a peek, really) into where things may be headed on next winter’s free agent market. One of the most interesting positions to watch, in my estimation, is center field, where there are several players who had a lot to prove coming into the season.

There figure to be several clubs looking at adding new, mid-term or long-term options. The Indians, Mariners, Rangers, Athletics, Rangers, Cubs, and Padres all look like fairly good bets to at least dabble in the market at center. Depending upon how things shake out, it is not impossible to imagine that clubs like the Blue Jays, Tigers, Astros, Cardinals, and Giants could be as well.

Looking at MLBTR’s 2016 free agent list, which documents the players currently on track to qualify for the open market, a small group stands out as possible starting-caliber options. The trio is particularly interesting because they were so tightly bunched coming into the season — all looking to be solidly average to above-average performers, depending on one’s particular viewpoint. (Note: I’m not considering Colby Rasmus here because he has spent most of his time in the corner outfield this year. But he could also figure into the mix.)

Let’s see where things stand:

Value up: Denard Span, Nationals.

After missing the spring and early part of the season following core muscle surgery, Span needed more than ever to show that he could repeat last year’s excellent campaign. Things are certainly pointing up in the early going, as he owns a .316/.375/.532 slash over 88 turns at bat.

"May

While it’s obviously unlikely that he’ll maintain that kind of power output — his current .215 ISO is more than double than his career 108 mark — Span is driving the ball consistently, as he did in 2014, while posting an impeccable strikeout-to-walk ratio. His .310 BABIP actually trails his career levels slightly, so it seems that quality contact is driving the early productivity.

Overall regression is almost certainly in store, but the early returns serve to confirm that Span is a quality top-of-the-order bat and, perhaps more importantly, that he is healthy. Span will need to keep things up in both regards after entering the year with injury questions and as the elder member (31 years of age) of the group considered in this post. Of course, he could stand to see a boost in his somewhat lagging early defensive ratings (which seem to belie the perceptions of some around the game) and his stolen base tallies, but the arrow is pointing up overall and he’s done the most to increase his stock.

Value neutral: Dexter Fowler, Cubs.

While his walks are down somewhat early, Fowlers continues to deliver solid results at the plate with a fairly typical .262/.345/.397 batting line. He has shown more at times, but that lands firmly within expectations. More promisingly, the 29-year-old has swiped eight bags already and is on pace for career highs in that arena, though he has been caught three times as well.

The major talent assessment question with Fowler is his defense in center. He has spent much of his time in tough-to-patrol outfields — Coors Field and Minute Maid Park — and rated terribly at the position last year (tallying negative 20 Defensive Runs Saved and negative 21.8 UZR on the year). That has turned around somewhat in a still-small sample this year in Chicago, with Fowler posting positive UZR marks (10.7 UZR/15) while receiving a less-glowing -3 DRS rating.

All said, the early speed and defense returns rate as good signs for Fowler, and the results at the plate have done nothing to detract from his appeal. You could argue, then, that his value is slightly on the rise. If nothing else, Fowler seems a reasonable target at center, after entering the year with the possibility that he’d be viewed more as a corner option. Some clubs may still end up seeing him that way, of course, especially as it is really too soon to draw much from defensive numbers. All said, Fowler’s value is largely holding steady at the present time.

Value down: Austin Jackson, Mariners.

Jackson looked like a nice get for the Mariners at last year’s trade deadline, but has been a significant disappointment thus far in Seattle. He just turned 28 a few months back, but 2015 has continued a troubling downturn in his overall productivity.

Over 339 plate appearances with the M’s, Jackson has put up a meager .233/.275/.280 line with two home runs. He has added a healthy 16 stolen bases over that stretch, but that’s hardly enough to offset concerns. To be sure, Jackson’s .284 BABIP is due for some positive regression — his career mark sits at .351 and he’s never ended a professional season below last year’s .325 — and his strikeout/walk numbers are in line with career norms. But he is making more weak contact than ever before while hitting more groundballs (50%) this year than is his custom.

Jackson still rates as a solid average center fielder and seems to have the legs to maintain that going forward. His current DL stint with a sprained ankle is probably not cause for any long-term concern, and may even afford him a chance to work on his difficulties if he takes a short rehab stint. But the sub-.100 ISO he has carried over this season and last has significantly reduced his appeal. There’s plenty of time for a turnaround, but Jackson is trending down at present.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Cubs, Dexter Fowler Avoid Arbitration

The Cubs and outfielder Dexter Fowler have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $9.5MM, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link). As MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker shows, Fowler had filed at $10.8MM, while the club countered with an $8.5MM figure. His $9.5MM salary falls $150K shy of the midpoint of those figures and is $500K north of his $9MM projection from MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.

Chicago acquired the 28-year-old Fowler (29 in May) this offseason in exchange for infielder Luis Valbuena and right-hander Dan Straily. Fowler spent just one year in Houston, where he batted .276/.375/.399 with eight homers and 11 steals. Another season of his characteristically high on-base percentage (career .366) should position him well as a free agent heading into his age-30 campaign next winter.

Fowler figures to be the Cubs’ everyday center fielder in 2015, although defensive metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved suggest that he’s perhaps be better off in a corner spot — likely left field, given the sub-par marks that his arm receives. Despite those defensive shortcomings, Fowler has been plenty useful throughout his career, as evidenced by a lifetime .271/.366/.419 batting line. He’s walked at better than a 13 percent clip over the past two seasons and cut his strikeout rate to roughly 21 percent in that time as well, so he should be a nice boost for a Cubs team that had the worst strikeout rate (24.2 percent) in all of Major League Baseball and finished with the game’s third-worst team OBP (.300).


Reactions To And Fallout From The Fowler Trade

Here are reactions to and fallout from today’s trade between the Cubs and Astros, which sent Dexter Fowler to Chicago for Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily.

  • Fowler says he never discussed a long-term deal with the Astros, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports. “We didn’t really talk about contract stuff — more going through the arbitration process and that whole thing,” says Fowler. “Obviously I’m going to be a free agent next year so I guess that (topic) would have been a little bit more down the road.”
  • Cubs GM Jed Hoyer says the two teams had been discussing a Fowler trade since last month, Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago tweets.
  • The Cubs and Astros are suddenly looking to be competitive in 2015, and the Fowler trade was about making each of their rosters more complete, Eno Sarris of Fangraphs writes. The Cubs had plenty of infield talent but were thin in the outfield, and sending Valbuena to the Cubs gives them more flexibility to figure out what to do with Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez while giving them a veteran outfielder who they might also be able to extend a qualifying offer after the season. Meanwhile, Valbuena improves the Astros at third base while clearing space for some combination of Jake Marisnick and Robbie Grossman in the outfield.
  • Valbuena’s departure assures that Kris Bryant will begin his big-league career at a third baseman and not as an outfielder, Rogers writes. Meanwhile, the Cubs will have Alcantara play a number of positions, remaining open to the idea that he could emerge as a starter at one of them.


Cubs Acquire Dexter Fowler For Valbuena, Straily

The Astros and Cubs have officially announced that the Astros have traded outfielder Dexter Fowler to Chicago for infielder Luis Valbuena and righty Dan Straily. It’s a win-now move for both teams, with the Cubs trading from depth to upgrade their outfield and the Astros getting a new third baseman and adding rotation insurance.

USATSI_7964867_154513410_lowresFowler, 28, hit .276/.375/.399 in 505 plate appearances in his first season in Houston in 2014. He posted poor defensive numbers in center, but he’s relatively young and has a long track record of posting high on-base percentages, with a career .366 mark. He’s in his final season of arbitration eligibility and is seeking $10.8MM, with the Astros filing at $8.5MM.

The Cubs had reportedly been seeking an outfielder, and Fowler will take over in center and join an outfield mix that also includes Jorge Soler, Chris Coghlan, Chris Denorfia and Arismendy Alcantara. Alcantara is just 23 and struggled in his first big league season in 2014, so perhaps the Cubs will have him start the season in the minors, or maybe they’ll also have him play infield, perhaps using him at third base until Kris Bryant arrives. (Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella could also be in the short-term mix at third.)

It’s not surprising that the Astros sought big-leaguers in return for Fowler, since their offseason has been oriented around improving their 2015 club. They’ve added Evan Gattis, Jed Lowrie, Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek to a team that finished 70-92 last season. With Fowler gone, the Astros could have Jake Marisnick, a strong defender, take over center field, although Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that George Springer could also be an option there.

Valbuena, 29, hit a solid .249/.341/.435 while playing third and occasionally filling in at second in 2014, but the Cubs have a wealth of young infield talent (including Bryant), making Valbuena expendable. Incumbent Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez had an awful .215/.256/.330 season in 2014, so Valbuena provides a dramatic upgrade. Valbuena will make $4.2MM in 2015 and will be eligible for arbitration for the last time next winter.

Straily was not needed in Chicago, which has plenty of interesting rotation options after adding Jon Lester and Jason Hammel this offseason. In Houston, he’ll likely provide depth for a rotation picture that will also include Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Scott Feldman, Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock (with Peacock potentially missing the start of the season after having hip surgery). The 26-year-old Straily struggled in 2014, posting a 6.75 ERA, 8.1 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 in 52 big-league innings, but he had a solid season in Oakland in 2013. He has five years of control remaining before he’s eligible for free agency and can be optioned to the minors if needed.

Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com was the first to tweet that the Cubs were close to acquiring Fowler. Rosenthal tweeted that the Astros would receive big league players in return. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle noted (on Twitter) that Straily was involved in the deal. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports tweeted that Valbuena was involved.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Arbitration Roundup: 54 Players Exchange Figures

With today’s flurry of activities in the books, 144 players have agreed to deals to avoid arbitration for a total spend of $433MM. But that leaves 54 players who have exchanged figures and have ground left to cover before their 2015 salaries are settled. That number is up from last year’s tally of 39, and may point to the possibility that we will see more hearings than the three in 2014 (which was itself up from zero the year before).

MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker is a great resource for seeing where things stand. It is fully sortable and even allows you to link to the results of a search. (The MLBTR/Matt Swartz arbitration projections are also quite handy, of course.) Using the tracker, I compiled some broad notes on where things stand in the arbitration process this year.

Remember, deals avoiding arbitration can still be reached even after the exchange of numbers. Hearings will be scheduled between February 1st and 21st, so there is plenty of time for the sides to come together before making their cases.

That being said, some teams are known for their “file and trial” approach to arb-eligible players, meaning that they refuse to negotiate after the exchange deadline and go to a hearing if agreement has not been reached. Among those clubs (the Brewers, Rays, Marlins, Blue Jays, Braves, Reds, and White Sox, per the most recent reporting), there are several open cases remaining: Mat Latos and Michael Dunn (Marlins), Josh Donaldson and Danny Valencia (Blue Jays), Mike Minor (Braves), and Aroldis Chapman, Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier (Reds).

Meanwhile, some other clubs have historically employed the “file and trial” approach on a modified or case-by-case basis: the Pirates, Nationals, and Indians. Among those clubs, the Pirates (Neil Walker, Vance Worley) and Nationals (Jerry Blevins) have open cases, though all of them feature relatively tight spreads.

And there are some other interesting cases to keep an eye on as well. Consider:

  • The Orioles and Royals not only faced off in last year’s American League Championship Series, but find themselves staring at by far the most unresolved cases (six and eight, respectively). They are also the only teams with eight-figure gaps between their submissions and those of their players ($10.85MM and $10MM, respectively).
  • Among the Orioles players, two stand out for the significant relative gulf separating team and player. Zach Britton, who excelled after taking over as the closer last year, filed at $4.2MM while the team countered at $2.2MM, leaving a $2MM gap that is worth nearly 91% of the club’s offer. Even more remarkably, the O’s will need to bridge a $3.4MM gap ($5.4MM versus $2MM) with surprise star Steve Pearce. That spread is 1.7 times the value of the team’s offer and easily beats the largest difference last year (Logan Morrison and the Mariners, 127.3%).
  • Of course, it is worth remembering that first-year arb salaries have added impact because they set a baseline for future earnings. (Each successive year’s salary is essentially calculated as an earned raise from that starting point.) For the Reds, the outcome of their cases with Frazier ($5.7MM vs. $3.9MM) and Mesoraco ($3.6MM vs. $2.45MM) could have huge ramifications for whether the team will be able to afford to keep (and possibly extend) that pair of strong performers.
  • Likewise, the Angels face an important showdown with Garrett Richards, a Super Two whose starting point will factor into three more seasons of payouts. As a high-upside starter, he has sky high earning potential, so any savings will be most welcome to the team. The current spread is $3.8MM versus $2.4MM, a $1.4MM difference that equates to 58.3% of the team’s filing price.
  • Interestingly, the biggest gap in absolute terms belong to Pearce and the Orioles at $3.4MM. After that come Bud Norris and the Orioles ($2.75MM), David Freese and the Angels ($2.35MM), Greg Holland and the Royals ($2.35MM), Dexter Fowler and the Astros ($2.3MM), Eric Hosmer and the Royals ($2.1MM), and Aroldis Chapman and the Reds ($2.05MM).

Of course, plenty of deals already got done today. Here are some of the more notable among them:

  • David Price agreed to a $19.75MM salary with the Tigers that stands as the single highest arbitration payday ever, by a fair margin.
  • Interestingly, the Rays agreed to rather similar, sub-projection deals with all seven of their arb-eligible players. Discounts on Swartz’s expectations ranged from 3.23% to 13.21%. In total, the club shaved $1.525MM off of its tab.
  • The opposite was true of the Tigers, who spent a total of $1.4MM over the projections on just three players. Of course, since one of those players was Price, the commitment landed just 5.2% over the projected total.
  • Detroit’s overages pale in comparison to those of the Cubs, who handed out several of the deals that beat the projections by the widest relative margin and ended up over $2.5MM (14.5%) over their projected spend.
  • The MLBTR/Swartz model badly whiffed (over 50% off) on just three players, all of whom earned well over the projections: Chris Coghlan of the Cubs (78.9%), Carlos Carrasco of the Indians (66.9%) Tony Sipp of the Astros (60%).
  • On the low side, the worst miss (or the biggest discount, depending on one’s perspective) was Mark Melancon of the Pirates, who fell $2.2MM and 28.9% shy of his projected earnings. Danny Espinosa (Nationals) and Chris Tillman (Orioles) were the only two other players to fall 20% or more below their projections. Of course, in the cases of both Melancon and Tillman, Swartz accurately predicted that they would fall short of the model.

Arbitration Filing Numbers

Many players will avoid arbitration today, and dozens of others exchanged figures with their teams in anticipation of hearings. Most cases won’t go to arbitration hearings, but teams such as the Brewers, Rays, Marlins, Blue Jays, Braves, Reds, and White Sox (per the most recent updates) are known for their “file and trial” policies. For players on those teams this marks the last chance at negotiations before a hearing.

MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker will keep you up to date on every one of the filing numbers from around the game, but here are the highlights — players who filed for $5MM or more. Projections can be found here. Now for the details …

  • The Reds countered the $5.7MM filing of Todd Frazier with a $3.9MM figure, according to Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs (via Twitter).
  • Third baseman David Freese filed at $7.6MM and the Angels countered at $5.25MM, WAPT’s Mike Perchick tweets. Halos outfielder Matt Joyce has filed for $5.2MM against a $4.2MM counter, according to Perchick (on Twitter).
  • Astros center fielder Dexter Fowler filed for $10.8MM while the club countered at $8.5MM, Perchick tweeets.
  • Pirates second baseman Neil Walker filed at $9MM while the club landed at $8MM, Perchick tweets.
  • Just-acquired reliever Tyler Clippard has filed for $8.85MM against the Athletics, who countered at $7.775MM, Perchick tweets.
  • Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay filed at $5MM while the team countered at $4.1MM, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch tweets.
  • Pedro Alvarez has requested a $5.75MM salary for the coming season while the Pirates are at $5.25MM, per a tweet from Perchick.
  • Righty Mat Latos filed at $10.4MM and the Marlins countered with a $9.4MM figure, per Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter).
  • Third baseman Casey McGehee filed at $5.4MM, with the Giants countering at $4MM, Heyman tweets.
  • The Braves countered Mike Minor‘s $5.6MM filing number with a $5.1MM team figure, Heyman reports on Twitter.
  • Mark Trumbo has filed for $6.9MM against a $5.3MM counter from the Diamondbacks, Heyman tweets. Closer Addison Reed, meanwhile, filed at $5.6MM with the team countering at $4.7MM, per Heyman (via Twitter).
  • The Orioles went with a $7.5MM price point for righty Bud Norris, who filed at $10.25MM, per Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun (on Twitter). In both relative and absolute terms, there is an even bigger gap between the O’s ($2MM) and breakout slugger Steve Pearce ($5.4MM), who is looking to cash in on a big season in his final year of eligibility. That news also comes via Connolly, on Twitter.
  • Entering his final year of arbitration, infielder Daniel Murphy has filed for $8.6MM while the Mets have submitted a $7.4MM figure, Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com tweets.
  • Reds 9th inning man Aroldis Chapman filed for $8.7MM while the team countered at $6.65MM, per Heyman (via Twitter).
  • The Orioles and outfielder Alejandro De Aza will negotiate between filing figures of $5MM and $5.65MM, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets.
  • Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer filed at $6.7MM and the team countered at $4.6MM, Heyman tweets. The club will also have some ground to make up with closer Greg Holland, who filed at $9MM versus a team filing of $6.65MM, per another Heyman tweet.
  • Newly-acquired third baseman Josh Donaldson has filed at $5.75MM, while the Blue Jays countered at $4.3MM, Heyman tweets.

Further Moves Likely For Astros

The Astros made a splash yesterday by acquiring Evan Gattis from the Braves in exchange for Michael Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz and Andrew Thurman, but the team is “almost certainly not done” making moves, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (All links to Twitter).

Houston has three catchers on the 40-man roster (not including Gattis) and has discussed trades of Carlos Corporan, Jason Castro and Dexter Fowler as well, according to Rosenthal. If either Corporan or Castro were to be moved, Hank Conger could split time with the remaining catcher, with Gattis filling in behind the plate sporadically. As far as a potential trade of Fowler, both George Springer and Jake Marisnick are capable of handling center field, and Fowler, of course, is in his final year of team control before reaching the open market.

Additionally, Rosenthal lists Chris Carter and Matt Dominguez as trade possibilities, noting that Gattis could fill the role of a right-handed DH/first baseman in Carter’s stead. The signing of Jed Lowrie gives Houston an option to play at third, should Domniguez be dealt. Rosenthal also adds that the Astros have some concern to how much they’ve thinned out their pitching depth (Foltynewicz, Nick Tropeano, Jarred Cosart and Jordan Lyles have all been traded in the past two offseasons), indicating that the Astros may prefer to acquire some young pitching should any of those bats be moved.

Yesterday, Rosenthal and Jon Heyman of CBS Sports indicated that Houston may be looking at short-term additions for the back of its rotation, with Rosenthal naming Kyle Kendrick and Ryan Vogelsong as potential targets.


Trade Notes: Hamels, Fowler, Cespedes, Murphy

In the midst of a run of arbitration information, there were a few interesting reports on some trade situations percolating around the game. Let’s have a look …

  • The Phillies are conducting “intensive homework” on the Dodgers‘ minor league system in anticipation of trying to work out a deal involving Cole Hamels, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports on Twitter. The trade market for Hamels still seems to be in a holding pattern, along with much of the rest of the non-Jon Lester pitching market.
  • Dexter Fowler‘s name has come up in trade talks between the Blue Jays and Astros, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports (Twitter link). Fowler, who projects to earn $9MM through arbitration (via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz) in his final year of team control, would be an interesting potential add for Toronto. The 28-year-old switch-hitter is capable of playing center but could also line up in the corner. He has been a consistently solid performer at the plate, though defensive metrics have wavered on his value in the field.
  • Reds GM Walt Jocketty says that his club has not discussed Yoenis Cespedes with the Red Sox, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports via Twitter. There has been some speculation recently about a possible match, fueled in part by a recent spate of rumors, but it appears that nothing is in the works in that respect.
  • There has not been much of any action surrounding Daniel Murphy of the Mets, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The second baseman may have a “greater perceived value” to his current club, and their fans, than to outside entities, Sherman suggests. New York may prefer to try other means of opening payroll flexibility now, holding onto Murphy and reassessing at the trade deadline.

Quick Hits: Hunter, Fowler, Bargains

Here’s the latest from around the league.


Cafardo On Fowler, Astros, Hammel, Miley

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe asked about a dozen GMs in Phoenix about the Yankees’ situation and not one of them thought the Bombers would stay away from a major signing.  For all the talk about the Cubs being a major player for Jon Lester, the Red Sox are still fearful that it’ll be the Yankees that swoop in and grab him.  More from today’s column..

  • Both center fielder Dexter Fowler and catcher Jason Castro are available in a deal and the Astros wouldn’t mind dealing for bullpen help.   Fowler had a decent year and enjoyed more success as a right-handed hitter.  The 28-year-old (29 by Opening Day) slashed .327/.419/.467 as a right-handed hitter but hit just .260/.361/.376 from the other side of the plate.  Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has heard that the asking price is high on Castro and that there aren’t any contract talks currently taking place between the two sides.
  • Jason Hammel’s agent, Alan Nero, told Cafardo that teams have called on his client but no great advancements have been made on a contract.  Nero figures the secondary pitching market may take a while to develop.
  • Diamondbacks left-hander Wade Miley has become a popular trade target of a few teams, and while Arizona will listen, it will take a haul to get him.
  • Free agent catcher David Ross wonders whether his status with the Red Sox hinges on whether they sign Jon Lester.  Lester and Ross had a great run together in 2013 and the catcher tells Cafardo that the two will get together after Thanksgiving.  Ross says that he’s begun to field interest from other teams in the interim.
  • The Phillies will shop Carlos Ruiz and while plenty of teams need catchers, his age (35) and his contract will be a problem.  Ruiz has two years left on his deal at $8.5MM per year plus a $4.5MM option for 2017 that can bought out for $500K.