The hidden value of the Dexter Fowler trade for the Rockies

Thearon W. Henderson

There were assumptions made about what trading Dexter Fowler in the offseason would mean for the Rockies, not all of which have proven to be correct.

When the Rockies traded Dexter Fowler to the Astros on December 3 for outfielder Brandon Barnes and pitcher Jordan Lyles, the reaction was as if the Rockies had traded their center fielder for a bag of magic beans.

On the surface, Colorado traded its leadoff hitter for a 28-year-old reserve outfielder who had a .233 average in just 506 MLB at bats and a 23-year-old right-hander who had posted a 5.35 ERA in 377 Major League innings, which doesn't look like great return for a guy that had a .365 on-base percentage in his career.

However, Barnes has shown some flashes in limited action this season, going 6-for-27 with a triple and while no one will accuse Lyles of setting the world on fire, he has been downright solid in his first three starts for the Rockies, posting a 4.32 ERA in 16 2/3 innings and earning a pair of wins. As importantly for a pitcher at Coors Field, he has a career-best 55% ground ball rate.

Ten days later, the Rockies used some of the money saved by trading Fowler's contract to sign first baseman Justin Morneau, a 33-year-old who had not posted an OPS above .775 since 2010. Morneau, however, has started quite well for the Rockies, hitting .354 with five extra-base hits in his first 48 at bats of 2014 and playing solid defense at first base.

Trading Fowler did mean that the Rockies would be looking for a new starting center fielder, and the assumption made by most was that whoever it was would be a significant downgrade from Fowler. The Rockies left the job open, with Barnes, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson and Drew Stubbs battling to win it. It was a gamble for the Rockies, as they essentially bet that one of the four would break out and claim the job for his own, which is exactly what Blackmon has done.

Obviously, Blackmon isn't going to hit .442 all season like he is now, but given his performance in 246 at bats last season combined with his start this year, it is looking more and more likely that Blackmon can match, if not better, Fowler's performance.

Blackmon has already accumulated 1.1 fWAR in 2014, half of Fowler's total from 2013 (Fowler has a total of -0.1 fWAR so far for the Astros). He has struck out just twice in 52 at bats and has stolen four bases in six attempts.

It is ill-advised to jump to any long-term conclusions based on two weeks of baseball, but early returns have the Fowler trade looking much better for the Rockies than it did four months ago.

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