The Blue Jays are expected to sign veteran center fielder Dexter Fowler to a minor league deal with an invite to the remainder of Major League Spring Training, tweets Keegan Matheson of MLB.com. Sportsnet’s Arash Madani first noted that Fowler, a client of Excel Sports Management, had a locker set up in the Jays’ clubhouse.
Fowler, who turned 36 last week, spent the 2021 season as a member of the Angels organization but played in only seven games. The Halos acquired the veteran switch-hitter from the Cardinals in a surprising February trade, but Fowler suffered a torn ACL in early April that required season-ending surgery. He went 5-for-20 in 21 plate appearances prior to the injury.
It’s been several years since Fowler has been at his best. Following an All-Star 2016 season with the Cubs, he signed a five-year, $82.5MM contract with the Cardinals to taake over as their primary center fielder. Fowler kicked that contract off with a strong 2017 season, hitting .264/.363/.488 with 18 homers, 22 doubles and nine triples but was limited to 118 games (wrist strain, bone spurs in his heel). His offense cratered the following season in a disappointing season that culminated with Fowler missing the final two months of play due to a broken foot. Fowler rebounded to an extent in 2019 when he posted a .238/.346/.409 batting line (103 wRC+) in 574 trips to the plate. He had another unspectacular season at the plate in 2020 before last year’s injury-ruined campaign.
All told, Fowler played in just 396 games and batted .234/.334/.406 through 1521 plate appearances over the life of that five-year contract — a signing the Cardinals surely regret. It’s a far cry from the .270/.370/.436 output that Fowler logged in his 2011-17 peak.
The Jays will hope that a healthier Fowler can play his way into a bench role and hit closer to that 2011-17 form than he did in 2018-21. Toronto’s outfield is quite full, with Lourdes Gurriel Jr., George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez and Raimel Tapia all locked into spots. Fowler has been better as a right-handed hitter than as a left-handed hitter throughout his career, but he still sports a respectable .251/.352/.416 slash when batting from the left side of the dish.
If he can prove his health and impress with the bat, Fowler would give the Jays some extra depth in their outfield mix, even if he has to start the season in Triple-A Buffalo. Gurriel, Hernandez and Springer have all had multiple stints on the IL over the past few seasons, so there’s little harm in stashing a veteran who can help to balance the lineup and serve as an option at all three outfield slots.