Dexter Fowler had been rumored as a priority target for the Blue Jays; his name had been associated with the Jays throughout the free agency period, with some reports of the Jays having offered a four-year, $60 million-ish contract.
After hearing that Dexter Fowler signed with the Cardinals – five years and $82.5 million including a $10 million signing bonus according to spotrac.com – my initial feeling was disappointment, bordering on dejection (from a fan’s perspective). “The Jays need a quality outfielder, this was the guy, this was the chance, opportunity squandered.”
However, the more I think about it, the better I feel about the decision to pass on 30-year-old Fowler (31 in 2017) for the cost of the contract he ended up receiving. Here are a few things that helped me rationalize why it might’ve been okay to lose out on him in free agency. As a caveat, some of these arguments may sound biased.
Part 1: Health
Here are the number of games played over the last five seasons for two players, both of whom are outfielders:
|G||2012||2013||2014||2015||2016||Avg 5||Avg 3|
Prior to 2015, Player A had never played more than 143 games in a season, and in his three seasons prior to 2012, played 135, 135 and 125 games, respectively. Player B played 113, 161 and 149 games in his three seasons prior to 2012. Game totals prior to 2012 shouldn’t matter at this point, however, because of how far in the past they were. We can see that Player A has been averaging approximately 132 games over both the last five and the last three years. Player B has been averaging 134 games during the same period, but with more variation.
So who are these guys, and why is any of this significant? Player A is Dexter Fowler and Player B is Jose Bautista. Jose is six years older than Fowler.
One could certainly argue that these two players aren’t comparable, especially on the basis of age difference, but I’m making the comparison under the assumption that Fowler would have taken Jose’s position defensively. At this point, you might be thinking “Sure, but what about the number of games played specifically in the outfield?”, so let’s take a look:
|G (OF)||2012||2013||2014||2015||2016||Avg 5||Avg 3|
While we can see that Fowler has been averaging almost 11 more games in the outfield, we should take into account the fact that Bautista was playing on turf for half of his games during those same five years.
But why is this important when it comes to Dexter Fowler?
Fowler’s game totals are significant because he often missed a number of games due to injury. His injury history includes a lot of recurring leg issues:
- calf soreness
- many knee bruises
- a few sprained ankles
- quad tightness
- thigh bruise; and
- sore hamstrings.
All in addition to a series of upper body issues. While some of these may only be bumps and bruises – and all players experience these kinds of issues – playing on turf might not have helped Fowler remain on the field for as many games as he had in his two most recent seasons, and consequently, it may not have been beneficial to replace Jose Bautista (who missed a number of games in 2016 with leg issues) in right field with a player who has a history of leg injuries and who, despite being six years younger, is only averaging 11 more games played in the outfield, fielding ability notwithstanding.
Is this the best way to measure a player’s health? No. Are there likely dozens of other factors I’m missing? Almost certainly. Does this mean that it’s guaranteed that Fowler would have continued to experience these kinds of injuries in Toronto? No. Is this argument a bit simplistic? Sure. But Fowler’s injury history is a risk on which I’m comfortable passing.
Let’s talk about defense in Part 2.