The O's are still squarely in the mix for both Fowler and Yovani Gallardo, with a possible deal for Fowler looking like this:
That's slightly different than the earlier report of two years and $20 million, but that still seems like a pretty good deal. The draft pick compensation knocks it down some, but the O's are at least correct to target two qualifying offer players instead of one (even though the concerns regarding Gallardo are legit).Sources: The talks between the Orioles and Dexter Fowler are about a deal in the range of $12m-$13 million annually, for 2 or 3 years.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) February 18, 2016
So if the O's do sign Fowler and slot him in right field, or even left, what should you know?
He's better from the right side of the plate
Fowler's a switch-hitter, so he'd add a left-handed bat to a lineup that could use another one. But in his career, he's fared much better against lefties (121 wRC+) than right-handers (101 wRC+). He strikes out much more against left-handers (24% vs. 17%) though he walks slightly more (12.5% vs. 12%). His isolated power numbers are better from the left side and he both pulls the ball and hits the ball in the air more. Aided by him keeping the ball on the ground more and hitting the ball nearly as hard, his BABIP from the right side is nearly 40 points higher.
He walks a lot
You won't confuse Fowler for Joey Votto or Bryce Harper, but he does draw a lot of walks. His walk rate of 12.2% would have led everyone on the Orioles in 2015 not named Chris Davis (and, you know, Ryan Lavarnway in 32 plate appearances, but you don't care about him). It also wasn't a one-year fluke; Fowler has a career walk rate of over 12%, and his lowest walk rate in any season is 11.3% in 2010.
He's also a bit of a strange player, because he combines lots of strikeouts and walks with not a lot of power. He had the lowest slugging percentage among the six players who struck out at least 150 times and walked 80 times or more in 2015. The other names on the list? Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Trout, Davis, Matt Carpenter, and Curtis Granderson.
Fowler has been below average defensively as a center fielder
If the Orioles sign Fowler, he won't be playing center field. That's noteworthy because Fowler has played exactly one defensive inning that wasn't in center field: a single, lonely inning in right field with the Rockies in 2008. That hurts his value a little, because even a below-average defender in center field is useful when combined with solid offensive production.
Center field is the most difficult of the three outfield positions to play, so many center fielders can switch to left or right without much trouble, at least for a few years. Fowler should be capable range-wise, but the main concern is his lack of arm strength. As a comparison, in seven full seasons in center field, Fowler has an outfield arm runs above average rating of -15 (per FanGraphs). In one more season of work, Adam Jones's rating is +44. And while looking at total assist numbers can be misleading, Jones has 84 career assists in center. Fowler has 30. So it's not a news flash that left field would be more suitable for his skill-set.
Fowler's not a great stolen base threat
Fowler is a fit as a leadoff hitter and has 114 career steals, but he's also been caught 53 times. That's a success rate of below 70%, which is generally the break-even point. According to FanGraphs' weighted stolen bases metric (wSB), which approximates how many runs a player adds to his team by stealing bases, Fowler has been below average (-1.8). It's not a huge concern by any means, but every little bit counts. Fowler would add some speed and OBP to the O's lineup, but he wouldn't rack up a bunch of stolen bases.
It's somewhat concerning that no other team (at the moment) seems to be in on Fowler. The draft pick compensation scares teams away for sure, but a center fielder with good on-base skills is certainly valuable. Fowler projects as about a two-win player. Steamer has him at 1.6; Baseball Prospectus's WARP has him at 1.7. That is an improvement over what the Orioles have, though it's possible their combination of Reimold, Alvarez, Joey Rickard, etc. could come close to that number. I'm not sure I'd like to see them try, even if the O's have to sacrifice a draft pick that they sorely need.
The O's best course of action may indeed be to sign Fowler and Gallardo -- their version of going "all in" or whatever you want to call it -- but that doesn't mean I have to feel great about it. With the cratering of the farm system and the cost of Manny Machado's (potential) extension on the horizon, these February waiting games for devalued players may make less sense in the future. It would be nice to get to the point where the O's don't feel the need to make these types of signings, but hey, maybe 2014 happens again. The chances are slim, but maybe that's just how it has to be.