A pair of cellar dwellers struck a deal on Tuesday, with the Astros acquiring outfielder Dexter Fowler and a player to be named from the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Brandon Barnes and right-handed starter Jordan Lyles. This is a deal with good upside for Houston. For Colorado, it’s a move that makes less sense.
With two years remaining before he hits free agency, Fowler, 27, has been the subject of trade rumors for some time now; Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd made some eyebrow-raising remarks about Fowler in a recent interview on 850 KOA. “I think he's got to get tougher, no doubt,” said O’Dowd. “He’s got to show up and play with an edge every day, not just when he thinks he has to.”
Fowler hit .263/.369/.407 last year with 12 home runs and 19 stolen bases, started 106 games in center field for Colorado, and has a career .365 OBP. He hit .300 in 143 games with a .389 on-base percentage in 2012, which was best among NL leadoff hitters (minimum 60 games), and his .369 on-base percentage at leadoff since 2009 is third in the NL. His struggles away from Coors Field --- he’s hit just .241 with a .694 OPS on the road --- were a concern for teams that took a long look at the switch-hitter, but the Astros, who were 29th in the majors in OBP last year, are banking that Fowler takes a step forward as he enters his prime years.
“One of our goals this offseason was to bring in an outfielder who can spark our offense,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said in a statement. “Dexter is an exciting player who can help with the bat, with his legs and with his glove.”
In return, the Rockies receive a bottom-of-the rotation starter and a back-up outfielder—it’s surprising O’Dowd couldn’t get more in return. Lyles was a supplemental first-round pick by Houston in the 2008 draft, but has been a disappointment in the majors: the 23-year-old went 7-9 with one save and a 5.59 ERA in 27 games (25 starts) with the Astros last season, and made 65 starts for Houston since his major league debut in 2011, with a 5.35 career ERA. The 27-year-old Barnes --- a sixth-round pick by Houston in 2005 --- hit .240/.289/.346 with eight home runs in 136 games in his rookie 2013 season. Fowler will earn $7.35 million in 2014 and stay under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2015, so the rebuilding Astros will have him manning the outfield in Minute Maid Park for the next two years. This is not a franchise-altering deal for the Astros, coming off a miserable 111-loss season—but it’s precisely the kind of deal they need to be making.