The off-season trade for Dexter Fowler to bring him from the purple and black to the blue and orange was an interesting move from Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. By giving up a seasoned, but still young pitcher in Jordan Lyles along with Brandon Barnes, he was gambling that Fowler would be a starting-caliber center fielder for a rebuilding squad. He has looked the part so far though, but now the multimillion dollar question is whether Fowler fits in the long-term scheme of the organization.
In the past Fowler was considered a product of the environment at Coors Field in Colorado. Coors Field is known for its high altitude and reputation as hitters park, so naturally Fowler’s numbers outside of Colorado were always scrutinized. In 2013, Fowler finished his final home season in Coors Field with a .311 batting average, 7 HR, and 26 RBI along with a .396 OBP and .478 SLG. Compared to his away stats of .214 batting average, 5 HR, 16 RBI, .343 OBP, .343 SLG, the scrutiny seems to be warranted.
But currently in 2014, Fowler has been everything as advertised to the fan base when the trade with the Colorado Rockies took place last winter. He has managed to put together a .259 batting average with 49 hits, .375 OBP, and .360 SLG along with drawing 33 walks to just 43 strike outs. And his defense has been impressive considering he plays his home games in Minute Maid Park now with Tal’s Hill behind him, while possessing just one error and maintaining a .990 fielding percentage. All in all, a solid first 51 games as an Astro.
So far this season Fowler has shown he can hit at a consistent level, possesses good pitch awareness, and manages to get on-base at a decent clip. Will this type of production continue? Perhaps, but the season is still young. Should the Astros lockup Dexter Fowler long-term, unlike what they did to Michael Bourn years ago? I believe so. The organization is now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel so the numerous trades the fans have become accustomed to involving veterans should few and far between now.
Now, the Astros have options in the minor leagues for the center field position. Delino DeShields and Austin Wates are two names that come to mind. But will they be just as good or better than Fowler? I don’t know. Will they be less effective players than Fowler? Again, I don’t know. Prospects are so unpredictable. Can’t misses can become busts, while long-shots may turn into superstars. Unless it is a position of need, it is hard to replace an established major league player for an unproven rookie.
But when money becomes involved in long-term contract situations it tends to become complicated. Fowler is making $7.35 million this season, which makes him the second-highest paid Astro behind pitcher Scott Feldman. He also has an arbitration case coming up after the current season along with being due a new contract following the 2015 season. That likely means his salary will jump by a good percentage in the off-season and in his next contract in comparison with his current contract. Houston, by the way, beyond this season only has salary obligations guaranteed to three players next season for a total of $15.5 million: Feldman, Jose Altuve, and Chad Qualls.
So if the Astros choose to retain Fowler there should be enough funds to make it happen. But the question remains whether Luhnow and company believe he fits in the plan of rebuilding. I honestly believe he does. Every team needs veterans to lead them. Fowler provides that leadership in the clubhouse, and should continue to play at an effective level for the foreseeable future.
Now, I would not overpay Fowler, especially if Wates and DeShields continue to improve in the minors. But with the lack of salary obligations in the future, and with young players such as George Springer making their way to the big league club, it is important to have that veteran leadership in place for the next generation of Astros.
Everyone, let me know what you think! Should the Astros keep Fowler for the long haul, or further the rebuilding process?