Last offseason, Dexter Fowler was at the very top of the Blue Jays’ offseason shopping list. He would’ve fit many of their needs as a leadoff hitter, a left-handed bat and his presence would’ve added some much-needed speed to Toronto’s lineup.
Alas, the Blue Jays missed out on Fowler as he went for greener pastures with the St. Louis Cardinals. One year later, maybe the Jays will get a second chance at acquiring the player they coveted so dearly.
It may just be a whole lot of navel gazing, but it’s fun to imagine whether Fowler may fit in with the Blue Jays’ offseason plans yet again. Jon Heyman wondered exactly that over at FanRag Sports. He’s heard Fowler may be on the trading block in St. Louis:
Some people believe Dexter Fowler could become available in trade. Fowler was their big free-agent signing last winter, but some believe they are open to at least listening.
They already traded their big signing from the year before, Mike Leake, when the Mariners agreed to take on the majority of his deal. If they were to trade Fowler, they’d expect the same in such a deal – they’d pay only a small part of it.
As Heyman alludes to, it wouldn’t be out of character for the Cardinals to jettison Fowler’s contract as they did something similar with Mike Leake at the waiver deadline this past season. One year after inking Leake to a 5-year/$80 million contract extension, the Cards sent him to Seattle this past summer as a salary dump.
If the Cardinals were to significantly improve their outfield with someone like Giancarlo Stanton, it seems like they’d be especially motivated to move Fowler and the $66 million left on his deal. Ironically, that figured was rumoured to be similar to what the deal the Jays tabled Fowler last offseason; somewhere around 4 years and $60 million.
Fowler is coming off a down year with the Cardinals, but even after an injury-shortened season, his 2.7 WAR far surpassed the production put forth by any Blue Jays outfielder in 2017 (Kevin Pillar’s 1.9 WAR was the closest).
The defensive metrics don’t love Fowler in the outfield and he isn’t the fastest base runner, but his offense makes up for his shortcomings in the field and around the base paths. He’s been a centre fielder his entire career, but one wonders whether it may be time for him to transition to a corner outfield position.
Fowler is entering his age 32 season and the potential of paying him $16.5 million annually until his age 35 season is a scary proposition. The thought alone of an everyday outfielder in their mid-30’s may seem harmless, but take a look at the production by outfielders who were 32 and older this past season.
With exception of Brett Gardner, Matt Joyce and Curtis Granderson, everybody else on that list (including Jose Bautista) were essentially replacement level in the outfield last season. Teams know what they’re getting when they enlist a guy in their mid-30’s to patrol the outfield.
By taking on Fowler’s deal, it’s under the pretense the Jays are hoping his up-front production will justify the acquisition cost. Fowler’s age also lines up with the Blue Jays’ window of contention, as 2018 appears to be their last big shot with their current core of players.
Despite a steep aging curve for players his calibre, Fowler beefs up the Blue Jays’ chances in 2018 and 2019, with the expectation the latter years of his contract may quickly turn into an albatross.
A few weeks ago, I figured if the Blue Jays were so interested in Fowler last winter, they might have similar interest in Lorenzo Cain. If it were a toss-up between Fowler and Cain, my preference would be Cain, but the Blue Jays would need to grossly overpay for him to come to Toronto.
Meanwhile, paying down most of Fowler’s salary plus a pair of tempting prospects might be enough to get a deal done with the Cardinals. The precedent has already been set; if the Cardinals traded Leake’s deal with close to $38 million remaining on his original five-year/$80 million deal, surely they would be open to moving the remaining $66 million on Fowler’s contract.
Fowler has a full no-trade clause in his contract and historically, that’s been a huge stumbling block whenever the Blue Jays have attempted to court players to come to Toronto. Perhaps Leake – Fowler’s former teammate – saw the writing on the wall in St. Louis, because he waived his no-trade this past August to go to Seattle.
To me, the Blue Jays dream acquisitions in the outfield would be either Christian Yelich or Marcell Ozuna, but they would command a king’s ransom from the Marlins. Yelich and Ozuna should be “Plan A”, but the problem is, 29 other teams also covet them just as highly.
If the Blue Jays can’t land their “Plan A” outfield targets, they could be motivated to move onto their “Plan B” outfield options, which may include Fowler, Cain and even Andrew McCutchen.
Given their ages and potential dollar figures attached to their contracts, these aren’t ideal fits, but the Blue Jays may not have many other options to improve their outfield situation.