Yesterday, the Cubs spun Lou Goodvalue and Dan Straily into their (presumable) starting CF for 2015. A short eulogy for Luis Valbuena follows.
Valbuena was underrated by the general population and probably slightly overrated by the blogging community (and with his batflips, it’s easy to see why). Valbuena was cheap, able to play anywhere on the diamond, and he took his walks. While he had an OPS+ of 114 last year, it was his first season as even an average offensive player. Valbuena will get the lion’s share of starts in Houston (Matt Dominguez will also be in play), which he definitely would not have gotten had he stayed. Best of luck, Luis. We’ll always have the batflips.
Dexter Fowler was a 14th round pick in the 2004 draft, by the Colorado Rockies. After 3 good-but-not-great years in the low minors (that saw him bloom into a Top 100 prospect), he erupted in 2008 to the tune of .335/.431/.515. He parlayed that into a the #15 BA ranking and a swift call-up in 2009 (he received a cup in 2008).
Fowler was pretty effective immediately. In 2009, he batted .266/.363/.406, with 27 SB (and 10 CS). For good measure, he also had 10 triples. Fowler has replicated that same line (or slightly better) every year since.
There is a lot to like about Fowler offensively. Since 2009 (his first year in the majors), he’s been 19th overall in walks, without the power of any of his contemporaries. Fowler’s career SLG is .422, the lowest of the top 24 walkers. In fact, he doesn’t have half of the HRs of the next-least total above him (Carlos Santana, 98).
There’s a lot to be said about a player who can draw walks without being a threat to leave the yard. Fowler will likely never approach 15 HR in a season, but he routinely walks 65 times a season. Fowler grinds at-bats out, and that results in a higher-than-average strikeout rate. However, that’s not really important, because a 7-pitch AB that ends in a strikeout is still pretty valuable.
As stated before, Fowler doesn’t exactly inspire the fear of the boomstick at the plate. His ISO is routinely in the .140-.150 region, and it dropped to .122 in Minute Maid (he’s projected by Steamer to have a .252/.353/.379 slash, but I’m not sure if that’s re-park adjusted). However, it’s not like Fowler is anemic at the plate. The league average ISO was .135 last year. On the whole, Fowler is a solid hitter with prodigious patience. You want a guy like Fowler leading off every game, and he will. Splits are also not a concern (.770 vs RHP, .823 vs LHP).
You might also worry that Fowler is a Coors Effect guy. While it no doubt aided his triple totals, and there was a pronounced split going from home to away (.873 to .700), the lion’s share was due to a huge increase in slugging at Coors (which happens to everyone). Fowler also had a decent year away from Coors in 2014. I’m not overly worried about it.
Fowler comes with some warts. There’s no real metric that grades Fowler out at anything better than below-average. He can play CF, and he has speed at the position, but never translated into additional outs in the outfield. In fact, he’s about .2 outs per 9 behind the league average at the position. There are some possible explanations, seeing as he’s played in Coors and Minute Maid. However, those are two very different parks. I’m not sure what their effects are in total, but the long and short of it is that he has poor range despite decent foot speed.
This represents one of my larger misgivings about this team. Currently constructed, the Cubs are rolling with a Coghlan/Fowler/Soler OF. All 3 of those figure to have below-average range. The Cubs are going to mitigate that concern by loading up on groundballs, but it’s not feasible to anticipate avoiding fly balls altogether. Our outfield defense might be among the worst in the league, and it might get worse if Bryant ends up there. Given Wrigley’s dimensions and foul territory, this isn’t exactly an insurmountable obstacle. It is, however, something to watch.
This is Fowler’s last arbitration year. He filed $10.5 million, and the Astros countered at $8.5. That’s a lowball, and they’ll meet in the middle + a little sweetener. I’d wager $9.75 or $10 million gets it done.
Arbitration schedules go 40/60/80, so an offer of $10 million means his free agent value is around $12.5 million. That’s fair; unfortunately, that would only really make sense if he could stay healthy for 160 games. He can’t; he misses 30 games or so a year. Still, if he stays healthy and just steps forward a little bit, he could be an interesting QO test case. You’d think he’d accept it… at least I would. However, if he has a wRC+ in the middle 120 range, he might be able to get something like 5/65, and if that’s the case, maybe he takes that and give the Cubs a comp pick.
I’d be remiss as a writer if I didn’t mention that Fowler is pretty attractive as a flippable asset. If they traded him at the deadline, he’d only cost about $4.5 million to whatever team picked him up. A cheap, effective outfielder that has no future associated contract? That could be pretty valuable, depending on how the market shakes out. Hopefully, this isn’t a scenario that shakes out. However, it seems definitely possible.
The Cubs acquired Fowler by dealing from an area of surplus (Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily). They received a short-term stopgap at OF that makes them slightly more competitive today than they were last week. Neither Valbuena nor Straily figured to be an important piece beyond 2015 in any case. These all sound like good things, and they are. I’m a fan of this trade.