Trade Target: Dexter Fowler


The time of the year has arrived when roster mania makes a resurgence. The Tigers have needs for a pennant run and every fan has his own opinion about how they should best be filled. Here’s one of mine: Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler.

Much of the chatter over what the Tigers need has come down to more pop from the right side, in particular from the DH spot. One prime candidate to fill such a void would be Carlos Quentin, if the price were right. I would agree, of course, that Quentin would provide a right-handed power DH. But… I really don’t think that is what the team actually needs.

The reason is simple: Delmon Young. Young has an .836 OPS this season against lefties and simply does not have the range to play left field in Comerica Park. If he isn’t your DH – at least against lefties – you might as well cut him. Nobody else is going to want to take on his salary, much less give something in return. The second part of the Delmon impact is that Young is going to be gone after the season leaving a void not at DH (where Victor Martinez will return) but also in the outfield – unless you’re perfectly content with Andy Dirks and Brennan Boesch backed up by Don Kelly and Ben Guez or Quintin Berry. I’m not. Signing Quentin (or Guerrero or Ramirez) to DH wouldn’t provide an impact that would last into 2013 – and this is not an organization with a wealth of position players bubbling up. If Quentin DHs, that means Young is cut or plays defense. The alternative could be worse: Carlos Quentin plays defense.

So… I don’t think Carlos Quentin fills a need – he rather replaces a similar player who has underachieved. The real problem is that it isn’t the type of player that the Tigers should have been looking for in the first place. The weakest of weak points for Detroit is bad defense. Especially bad outfield defense. Fielder isn’t moving. Cabrera isn’t moving. Peralta isn’t moving. There probably aren’t any available second basemen that can do an all-around better job than Ramon Santiago. Boesch and Young? Replaceable. Upgradeable. And – with the glove – absolutely atrocious. If the Tigers are going to go after a right-handed bat that can play a corner outfield position, that player should be a plus with the glove and remain under contract in 2013.

It would be an added bonus if that player could get on base in front of RBI machine Miguel Cabrera and do some things with his legs on the basepaths. Quintin Berry, we appreciate all that you have done, but you probably aren’t the answer. Denard Span is supposedly available – in exchange for some form of pitching – but he hits from the left side. The guy I’d chase (and it sure took me long enough to get around to this) is Dexter Fowler. Fowler is like Austin Jackson in a lot of respects: a triples hitter with a high BABIP and a few too many strikeouts with wheels but few steals. He doesn’t have quite Jackson’s glove (though Coors Field might affect his numbers) but he does take more walks. He’s 26, just entering his prime, under team control through 2016 and a switch-hitter to boot. He’s also arbitration eligible and playing for a team with absolutely no shot of contending in 2012.

Fowler has put up on-base percentages of .363, .347, .363 and .362 the past four years with negligible L-R splits (he is a switch-hitter). A guy like that could slide conveniently into the #2 spot (I’m not one of those guys who feels that sacrificing is a key to the #2 hitter job description) and score a lot of runs in front of Cabrera and Fielder. What’s more – speed is at a premium in front of Cabrera, since he can be prone to the GIDP. Advanced metrics don’t like his defense much as a center fielder, but we wouldn’t need him to be a center fielder. CFs who migrate to a corner usually look an awful lot better and we would finally have somebody who could chase down balls in that massive left field.

There are a couple of reasons for caution: the first is that Fowler is having something of a career year from a power perspective at the moment, which might drive up his price. The second is that his home and away splits are something atrocious. This IS the “Coors Effect” at work – so make of that what you will. He homer at about twice his road clip at home, but he isn’t a “home run hitter” to begin with. Coors also has the effect of inflating BABIP (big field, balls fly faster in thin air) but Fowler doesn’t have an alarming Home-Away BABIP split. His problem has been a tendency to strike out more on the road. That could be totally innocuous: a lot of guys strike out more on the road for reason that have little if anything to do with park effects. If they move, they’ll just keep those splits. But… balls have been known to break less sharply at Coors than elsewhere and if that’s a factor…

Would they move him? Maybe. This is a team that needs to plan for 2013 and beyond, but not a team that will be willing to “rebuild” for the next 3 years. They have studs under contract like Tulo and CarGo. But they also have another hot young hitter that can play center in Tyler Colvin. What would the Rockies demand? Pitching, almost certainly. The Rockies have just about the worst rotation in the big leagues this season with a 6.28 ERA through two and a half months. Since Fowler is affordable and hitting well, with several years of team control remaining this would not be a bargain basement deal. But… we saw how those bargain basement deals work out with Aubrey Huff and Jarrod Washburn and how well the longer-term deadline acquisitions can go with Fister and Peralta. Even at a relatively steep price, in terms of upper minors pitching, I’d do it. If they want Crosby, Wilk and Turner I – for one – wouldn’t balk.