Jul 30, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Colorado Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) slides safely into third base against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
It is pretty common for the Colorado Rockies to do nothing from the months of October to February. Well in fairness, “nothing” is a bit harsh. But they are really good at making limited moves, going into a baseball hibernation of sorts. So far this off-season, the Rockies seem to be bucking their own trend.
The Rockies have already been noted as nearly nabbing Cuban prospect Jose Abreu so far this past month, to fill their gaping hole at first base. Rockies beat writer Troy Renck (Denver Post) mentioned that the Rockies actually came within $5 million of the winning White Sox bid! That is surprisingly close for a team that historically doesn’t make any effort on an unknown.
Now, the Rockies are reportedly turning their attention onto trading their blooming center fielder Dexter Fowler. Folwer had a “breakout” season in 2013 (I use that term loosely), showing some unexpected power while crushing 12 home runs, knocking in 42 RBIs, and stealing 19 bases in just 109 games. The unexpected piece of the power was the fact that Fowler hit 8 of his 12 home runs in the first 40 days of the season. He battled several injuries (again) this year, and just couldn’t quite be the consistent and productive player the Rockies needed (again) in center field. Fowler has always been viewed as a speedy outfielder with great range, but the main problem is he isn’t all that great in the outfield. In 5 seasons with the Rockies he has averaged a -4 DRS, meaning he actually costs the Rockies runs instead of giving them runs. And the speed hasn’t really developed as many people thought it would either, with Fowler only stealing 20 bases once in the same 5 seasons. In the past two seasons Fowler has definitely become much more solid, only yielding a couple of defensive hiccups and batting a respectable .282 with 25 home runs, 14 triples, and 31 stolen bases.
It is no secret that the time to capitalize on Fowler’s upside would be now. The Rockies are in some desperate need of pitching, both for their hodge-podge rotation and their over-used and much abused bullpen. The chance of Fowler developing much further, after 5 seasons in the majors, is pretty slim. I mean to say he isn’t going to all of the sudden turn into an all-star outfield hitting 20 home runs and stealing 20 bases every year. And while he may not command top of the line pitching, he would definitely bring back pitching that could shore up the Rockies issues.
In the past two seasons Dex has displayed a 4.7 total WAR rating, so it is safe to think that is his fair market value. I am not an expert so this is all at a basic level. Presumably there would be some minor league guys thrown in, but I’m looking at one-for-one type trades. When you use a great data website, like Fangraphs.com, it is pretty easy to pull out data into a spreadsheet and manipulate it. I looked at “qualified” pitchers, both starters and relievers, over the past two seasons. My search returned 21 pitchers; here are a couple of my trade ideas for the Rockies and Dex.
1) Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija has pitched in 61 games over the past two seasons and posted a 4.10 ERA… for the Cubs. He has had seemingly no run support and that has definitely contributed to his 17-26 record. His 9+ K’s/9 innings rate is not too shabby either. I like him as a fit in Denver, as a fill to the 3-4 spot in the rotation. The Cubs used David DeJesus and Junior Lake in center field quite a bit this season so I think it is ok to talk about them needing an upgrade.
2) Ricky Nolasco. Tricky Ricky has thrown 390 innings in the past two years and posted a 4.08 ERA to boot. He was less than impressive for the Dodgers after they acquired him mid-season, I guess, but maybe their expectations were too high after seeing Clayton Kershaw pitch ever 5 games. Not sure they need a center fielder with Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp… but hey it would be interesting none-the-less.
There are quite a few names, pitchers who have posted a WAR between 4 and 6 over the past two seasons, that would clearly be off limits. Yovani Gallardo, Jose Fernandez, Matt More, Matt Cain, and Jered Weaver are a few to mention that fall into this classification. But what those names show is that Fowler’s value is in the realm of some pretty solid pitching!
3) Mark Buehrle. The Blue Jays and Mark Buehrle didn’t really get along this past season, and Buehrle has posted a meager 25-23 record over the past two seasons. But his ERA of 3.95 is nice to look at, and it’s possible he would still have some gas left in the tank to contribute to the Rockies staff. The Blue Jays have relied on Colby Rasmus and his god-awful hair cut in center field, who has mostly been a strike out machine and nothing more.
4) Mike Minor. This is my favorite trade. Minor has posted a 4.7 WAR in the past two seasons, and a 24-19 record. His ERA is a sexy 3.63 and he has a FIP to match it (3.84). He is a real pitcher that could do some real damage for the Rockies. He doesn’t get a ton of ground balls (35.2%) but that doesn’t scare me at Coors Field like it does a lot of people. Plus, the Braves come up nearly every time the Rockies are looking to trade Fowler because that is Dex’s hometown and for some reason every one thinks that the Braves would love to bring Dexter back to Atlanta? Either way, if the Rockies could swing a trade for Minor involving Fowler and some additional pieces from both sides it would be seen as a big win for this front office. Tossing out Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, and Mike Minor 3 out of every 5 games with the chance of Tyler Chatwood and Juan Nicasio rounding out the back would have the potential of being a top 10 pitching staff in 2014. I’m really not sure that Fowler would supplant B.J. Upton for roaming Turner Field… but literally every time a trade of Fowler is brought up Atlanta is included so I’m just following suit. Upton did post an abysmal .184 average this year with only 26 RBI in 126 games.
Now these are all hypothetical dreams but they also are not entirely unfounded. It is actually probably past time for the Rockies to make a move with Fowler, especially after seeing the bevy of talent the Rockies have in the outfield at the level below. Charlie Blackmon moves quite well for his size and plays a pretty average center field. Charlie Culberson and Corey Dickerson also proved they could play at the big league level, and I would be interested to see either of them play center field — assuming they could learn the position quickly. There are definitely many options for the Rockies pursue, and given the fact that the front office doesn’t seem to be fading into their cave for the winter things could definitely get interesting!