Why the Dexter Fowler Trade Benefits Both the Cubs and the Astros
Generally, when a team acquires a solid starting center fielder via trade, people get jacked about that. The Cubs did exactly that in acquiring Dexter Fowler. Yet, it's not he who has got my loins all tingly.
Oh, and that Kris Bryant guy. He might get some swings, too.
Now, while Cubs' general manager Jed Hoyer is saying to pump the brakes on talks of Bryant in the big leagues, the Cubs wouldn't have traded Valbuena if they didn't feel solid about their options at third, considering their obvious desire to contend immediately. So let's break down what this trade means for both the Cubs and the Astros because they received a couple of interesting pieces, as well.
More Upgrades in Chicago
The Cubs needed something -- anything -- in their outfield. Fowler is more than anything, and he should provide an upgrade to their lineup from the get-go.
Even in his move out of Coors Field last year, Fowler kept his offensive production beyond that of an average center fielder. He draws walks in 13.1 percent of his plate appearances and has been above 11 percent in each of his major league seasons.
This has helped Fowler post an on-base percentage above .360 in each of the past four seasons, including a .375 mark last year. His slash overall was .276/.375/.399 with a .347 wOBA. The league-average for a center fielder was .266/.326/.396 with a .320 wOBA. But that's for a league-average center fielder. The Cubs did not sniff such a title last year.
Overall, center fielders for the Cubs had a .222/.264/.346 slash on the season. Their on-base percentage was 111 points lower than Fowler's. Good lord sweet baby Jesus did they need Dexter.
It wasn't just in center where the Cubs had holes. They had the third worst on-base percentage in the league, besting only the Padres and the Reds. The only players that recorded at least 300 plate appearances and had an on-base percentage of .300 or higher were Valbuena, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Cris Coghlan. Fowler would rank second among that group behind just Rizzo.
Obviously it's great to add Fowler to the line-up, but losing Valbuena hurts, too. He ranked third on team in wOBA at .342. Then again, if it means plate appearances for Bryant, then who in the world cares?
I don't really give a rat's salty behind what Hoyer says. Let me fantasize about Kris Bryant in the majors.
Last year, at Double-A, Bryant hit 22 bombs in 297 plate appearances with a slash of .355/.458/.702 and a wOBA of .504. If those numbers are in a video game, you quit because it's too easy.
So, Bryant moseyed on up to Triple-A. There, in the same number of plate appearances, he hit 21 homers with a .295/.418/.619 slash and a .619 wOBA. He's not a human. Just please free him of his minor-league bondage.
Steamer projects that Bryant would hit .261/.340/.496 with 16 home runs and a .364 wOBA if he were to record 304 plate appearances in the majors this year. This, coupled with potentially average defense at third base, would equate to a 2.3 fWAR. Please. He's the hero Chicago deserves and the one it needs right now.
Even if Bryant doesn't reach those projections, even getting him experience is a positive. Despite what Vegas may tell you, it's going to be tough for the Cubs to reach the post-season in 2015. Let Bryant adjust to big-league pitching now so that he can carry you to the Promised Land later.
What is Houston's Offensive Outlook?
The Houston Astros will be interesting this year if only because we have no idea what in the world they will do. They could be .500 or they could lose 100. Either way, they won't be boring doing it.
Over the course of five weeks, the Astros have brought in 44 home runs through signing Jed Lowrie and trading for Valbuena and Evan Gattis. This is for a team that is allegedly rebuilding. What does this mean for their 2015 outlook?
The acquisition of Valbuena means less Matt Dominguez. Anything that involves less Matt Dominguez is a positive for the Astros. Dominguez finished 2014 with the worst offensive rating of any qualified player on the entire gosh darn planet. Sub-Gucci.
Any line-up that includes Gattis, Valbuena, Lowrie, with hold-overs Jose Altuve, George Springer, Jason Castro and Chris Carter is going to score runs, and it's going to be fun to watch. Whether or not it can score enough runs to overcome the pitching staff after Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh is a different and far more upsetting question.
You'd assume a trade of Fowler would result in an every-day outfield of Gattis, Springer and Jake Marisnick. Marisnick will most likely never have a .375 on-base percentage, but he is better defensively than Fowler. It's certainly a downgrade, but that doesn't mean the Astros necessarily lose this trade.
With Dan Straily's coming over with Fowler, the Astros get a guy on whom it's worth it to roll the dice. His stock couldn't have been much lower after posting a 6.75 ERA in 52 big-league innings last year -- why not buy him cheap and see if he can regain what he flashed at times in the minors?
Straily has shown that he can get strikeouts. Now he needs to hone in on his walk totals, and he could definitely end up being a guy that fills a hole at the back end of the rotation. If not, who cares? It's a risk that you have to take on if you want to make a 92-loss team smell a little sweeter.
This trade seems to be one of those rare breeds that benefits both teams. The Cubs get an upgrade in center and potentially open the door for the league's next great power hitter while the Astros add another average bat in a situation where they have been far from average in the past.
All of this isn't to say that these teams will make magical turnarounds and contend in 2015. But they have taken strides forward and should see marked improvement over the nightmarish past couple of years.