#9: Dexter Fowler to the Houston Astros for Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles
Some trades look fine at the time, then become brutal to look at years later. Other trades look terrible from the start, and it turns out that’s because it just really was a terrible trade. This trade fits into the second category.
Fowler was drafted and developed by Colorado. In fact, it was the Rockies idea to turn Fowler into a switch-hitter, when he had only hit right-handed as an amateur. Fowler became the Rockies full-time center fielder in 2009, and after a few middling seasons, he seemed to break out in 2012, slashing .300/.389/.474.
Fowler’s defensive work in center field was questionable at times, and he didn’t steal bases the way many thought he would after his rookie year, but he was a solidly above-average outfielder who was still fairly young and inexpensive.
Then the relationship between Fowler and Colorado started going south. In 2013, a variety of sprains and bruises hurt Fowler’s numbers and kept him out of action for over 40 games.
A smartly-run organization would have recognized it as a disappointing down year in the long career of an otherwise valuable asset. Saying that the Rockies chose to go in the opposite direction feels like an understatement.
Then-GM Dan O’Dowd publicly questioned Fowler’s dedication to the team and the game, saying to 850 KOA…
"“I think Dexter right now has got a big year in front of him. Whether that’s with us or whether that’s with somebody else at this point in time is too hard to say. I think it’s fair to say we are more willing to listen to calls about Dexter than we might have been in the past. He has a lot to prove this year within the industry. He’s got to show up and he’s got to do that… I think he’s got to get tougher. No doubt. He’s got to show up and play with an edge every day, not just when he thinks he has to.”"
It was an insane thing to say, for a number of reasons:
1) Publicly acknowledging that you’ve soured on a player is just about the worst thing you could do for his trade value.
2) Rushing back from an injury to get back on the field for a last-place team (like Colorado was in 2013) isn’t being “tough,” it’s being moronic.
3) For years, O’Dowd and the Rockies had committed a large portion of their payroll to aging and/or injury-prone players, then acted as though the frequent DL trips were an unforeseeable tragedy, and not the obvious outcome. So turning around and specifically calling out Fowler (and only Fowler) for his injuries smacked of hypocrisy and blame-shifting.
Not surprisingly, when the Rockies traded Fowler a few days later, the return they received was uninspiring. Barnes had a few mediocre years as a back-up outfielder before being released last season, and Lyles is just hoping to make the team as a long reliever in 2017. Fowler, on the other hand, spent 2016 going to the All-Star game, winning a World Series, and cashing in with an $82.5M deal from St. Louis.
The good news for Colorado is that this trade allowed Charlie Blackmon to emerge as one of the game’s better center fielders. But that doesn’t make trading an above-average starting outfielder for two fringe roster guys a good idea.
I don’t have any evidence to support this, but I remain convinced that the horrid handling of this trade, and the near-universal criticism Colorado received in response, was one of the driving forces that finally forced the Rockies to take away O’Dowd’s GM powers.