As the Cubs Convention closed and with fan interest at the highest of the decade, the front office continued their tinkering and added switch hitting outfielder Dexter Fowler from the Astros in exchange for INF Luis Valbuena and RHP Dan Straily.
Let’s take a closer look at Dexter Fowler and what caused the Cubs to acquire him for the coming season.
With Fowler slated to be the starting center fielder, the Cubs provided themselves an instant upgrade at the position. Last year, centerfielders batted an awful 222/.264/.346 line with 15 home runs, 60 RBI and 11 stolen bases. In contrast, Fowler batted .276/.375/.399 with eight home runs, 35 RBI and 11 stolen bases. He also owns a career .271/.366/.419 line in seven seasons.
The Cubs have been a team starved for players with the ability to get on base and Fowler seems to the perfect choice to leadoff and set the table for a young lineup. A player of Fowler’s talents has been missing from the Cubs roster since the team acquired Kenny Lofton at the trade deadline back in 2003. Fowler also gives the team a speed element that has been severely lacking over the past few seasons. He’s not quite the speedster that Eric Young or Tony Campana was but his career average of 15 stolen bases per year would have paced last year’s team.
Of course with any player, Dexter Fowler is not without his warts, namely his defense, strikeout tendencies and injury woes. With Fowler currently slated to serve as the team’s center fielder, his -14.4 UZR/150 rating is a little alarming and rates as below poor. It’s possible that with Wrigley being a smaller park than Colorado or Houston, that number might come up some. Either way it doesn’t inspire much confidence especially when the team lacks an experienced centerfielder on the current roster.
In addition to his defensive woes, Fowler is also prone to strikeouts which somewhat undermines his on-base ability. In his career, Fowler has averaged 115 strikeouts per year and owns a 22.2% K rate. Fowler has also been fairly injury prone lately completing just 235 games the past two seasons thanks to knee and back injuries.
With Arismendy Alcantara likely to play a super utility role similar to Joe Maddon favorite Ben Zobrist, it’s possible that Fowler may receive regular rest to keep him fresh and to avoid nagging injuries.
His acquisition also provides the Cubs with some roster flexibility thanks to the trade of incumbent third baseman Luis Valbuena. With Kris Bryant and Addison Russell set to start in Iowa, Javier Baez slated to be the starting second baseman and the platoon in left field of Chris Coghlan and Chris Denorfia hardly set in stone, it opens up some spaces for the Cubs to evaluate their young hitters for the coming season.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Bryant, Baez and Russell will all succeed, but it’s nice to know that the Cubs have some options in case they do.
With just one year of control and a projected salary in the $9 million range, Dexter Fowler is a solid gamble and gives the team something they’ve been lacking for a while, a player that can leadoff, get on base and steal some bases. As an added bonus, Fowler is in a contract year and will look to raise his value and cash in on next year’s free agent market that is fairly thin in center field.
If the Cubs decide to make Fowler a qualifying offer and he signs elsewhere, they stand to gain a compensation pick at the end of the first round in the 2016 draft.
Dexter Fowler’s poor defense bears watching as the season progresses, but if anything the addition of Fowler gives the Cubs a proven Major Leaguer in the outfield that before had more questions than answers.