With the eventful winter meetings concluded, many players are on the move. The general consensus of the watchers, however, was that the offensive market moved really quickly and the pitching market is now starting to fall into line. The Reds made two major moves and came away without a LF, so we eagerly wait to see what Walt Jocketty will do. We know they’re going to get one, the question is who.

Slowly but surely, free agents get snapped up. The options are getting slimmer with these players already being inked:

  • Nelson Cruz – $57M/4 years
  • Melky Cabrera – $42M/3 years
  • Nick Markakis – $44M/4 years
  • Michael Cuddyer – $21M/12 years
  • Alex Rios – $11m/1 year
  • Torii Hunter – $10.5M/1 years

The remaining three free agents we’ve discussed at length on this site are Alex Rios, Nori Aoki and Michael Morse.

The other avenue to acquire a left fielder is by trade and several outfielders have already moved to new teams via that route – Yeonis Cespedes (Tigers), Matt Kemp (Padres) and Michael Saunders (Blue Jays).

A case has been made for Lucas Duda. Another name that has been popping up in trade rumors and profiled briefly back in the October series of trade targets is Dexter Fowler.

Here’s a rundown of the relevant factors.

Availability: Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that Fowler’s name has been coming up with discussions with the Blue Jays, and with one year left in arbitration he seems like he would be a likely candidate for trade given the Astros rebuilding plans. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has said he plans for Fowler to be in Houston ‘for a long while,’ but Fowler also said that he hadn’t had any extension talks so far. So Luhnow’s statement could be trade posturing. Houston also has a number of options for centerfield that are more in their long-term plans who they might want to get major league experience – George Springer obviously, but Jake Marisnick is another prospect, Robbie Grossman and Alex Presley.

Contract: Last year of arbitration, projected to make $9 million – which is within the range of the $12.5 million shed by the Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon deals.

Offense: We keep talking about OBP uber alles and the hole that Shin-Soo Choo left when he took his .423 OBP talents to Arlington, and how many runs lost that was. As run differential continues to be a strong predictor of overall record, we know this is going to have to be an area of upgrade. Dexter Fowler, at .375 OBP in 2014, was the 15th highest ranked position player by on base percentage. That would be a monumental upgrade over Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey and Skip Schumaker (at or below .300). That number is also in line with Fowler’s career OBP of .366 according to Baseball-Reference. Fowler also has a bit of pop, between 8-13 HR the last 3 years and speed – 11-19 stolen bases.

For years, people were skeptical of Fowler’s offensive numbers because he played his home games in Coors Field. But his OPS+ for the Astros last year was 119, an above-league-average offensive performance and consistent with his output in Colorado.

Dexter Fowler in LF would make the Reds lineup: Fowler, Hamilton, Votto, Mesoraco, Bruce, Frazier, Phillips, Cozart, pitcher.

Defense: Fowler is fast, but defensive metrics seem to hate him. A lot of the negative value to his WAR (1.4 fWAR in 2014, Steamer projected 1.8 in 2015) is actually from defense. Moving him to LF would minimize that impact as a less valuable position and playing next to Hamilton could also help – OF speed would not be an issue with those two.

Age: Fowler will be 29 at the beginning of the season, so he should be able to sustain his historical levels of performance.

Injury History: Fowler’s 2014 season was limited by a right intercostal strain, limiting him to fewer than 120 games played for a second straight year. In 2013, it was a knee injury. Between 2009-2012, he played between 125-143 games a year, so he was fairly healthy.

Why the Reds Want Him: OBP, offense, all those things. Sure the Reds may have missed out on Cabrera and Cespedes, but Fowler may be just as good or better. In reading up on Fowler, I found this tidbit from the Crawfish Boxes blog:

If Fowler had played LF fulltime, he would have been the 8th best LF by wRC+, ahead of players like Melky Cabrera, Alex Gordon, and Yoenis Cespedes. When using offensive WAR he would have been ranked 8th as well, just behind Alex Gordon but still ahead of Cabrera, Cespedes, and the Texas Rangers $130 Million man Shin-Shoo Choo.

So if it’s a Choo replacement we want (2013 edition, not 2014 edition), Fowler might just be the most realistic option.

Cost: This is the great unknown, because of where the Astros are in their rebuilding. Given the contract status Fowler should be movable, but there are rumors of extending him (although again, the Astros have seriously great OF prospects). There is also a theory that Fowler is an important mentor to Springer’s development. He is also cheap enough in arbitration that the Astros do not have any pressing need to move him.

The Astros also have a very good farm system from all their rebuilding, Keith Law rated them as the #3 farm system in baseball. So while more prospects are always better, the Reds may not have players that are better prospects than what the Astros already have. One hope may be that the availability of an elite LF on the trade market (Upton) drives down the cost and another possible destination for Fowler. The Reds did just pick up 4 prospects for our troubles, so there’s more depth now to trade from (see Doug Gray’s updated prospect list).

GM Relationship: Apparently Walt Jocketty and Jeff Luhnow have history from the Cardinals organization. Luhnow was one of the reasons Jocketty was unhappy with the Cardinals and left. Here’s the excerpt from the NY Daily News:

“DeWitt cited an irreconcilable division within the Cardinals’ front office. But it was a division DeWitt created when he promoted Jeff Luhnow, one of the new-wave stat practitioners, as head of both player development and scouting. Jocketty viewed that as a usurping of his powers – especially since Luhnow clearly had the chairman’s ear – and let it be known to his friends and associates that he was not comfortable with the new arrangement.”

Luhnow’s “willingness to tap unconventional resources – stat guys, bloggers, baseball outsiders with oddball theories — drove some folks nuts.”

Conclusion: Just today Dave Schoenfield at ESPN wrote how each team in the NL Central might make the playoffs and as expected it’s going to be tough. The Cardinals are still #1, the Pirates and Brewers are not going away and the Cubs are much improved. For the Reds to make it, it’s all the factors we already know (healthy Votto, healthy Bruce, All Star Cueto, continued growth of Mesoraco, Frazier), and Jocketty finding a LF. Schoenfield concludes: “The ingredients are there for a 90-win team. This may be the final chance for the Votto/Bruce/Phillips/Cueto/Chapman Reds, but it can happen.”

I’m inclined to agree, which is why I think if its OBP the Reds want, Fowler may be the best option.