Yesterday, the Denver Post‘s Troy Renck reported that one of the consequences of B.J. Upton signing this week was that demand would instantly increase for center fielder Dexter Fowler. Fowler is younger (26), cheaper (two more years of arbitration eligibility), and has a better career triple-slash line than Upton (.271/.364/.427 v. .255/.336/.422). Upton provides more value defensively and on the base paths while Fowler walks more; both strikeout nearly 25% of the time. While most of Fowler’s injuries that keep him out of action are not major (sprained ankles, running into walls), Upton is has been more durable than Fowler (Upton averages 627 PA/yr. v. Fowler’s 529 PA/yr. since Fowler’s first full season in 2009).
Both are pretty good players but come with their costs. Upton would have a much higher annual value but the Phillies could have him for five or more years. However, he would cost them the 16th overall pick. It is unclear what Fowler would cost in a trade, or what the 64-win Rockies would be looking for to acquire him, however, a quick check of Fowler’s Baseball-Reference page shows that three players who are statistically similar to him have been traded near their age 26 season, including one that the Phillies acquired. And the acquisition costs were lower than you might think.
Believe it or not, the most statistically offensively similar player in baseball history through Fowler’s current age-26 season per Baseball-Reference was Teahen. Teahen had incredible position versitility in his age 26 season, playing all three outfield positions and both corner infield for the Royals in 2008. Teahen’s career line following that season was .268/.332/.421 with 47 HR and 34 SB, which compares closely to Fowler’s current career-line of .271/.364/.427 with 28 HR and 64 SB.
Teahen was traded for a former Baseball America Top-50 prospect (Fields) coming off an injury filled second season and a second baseman who had an above-average rookie year (Getz) that turned into a solidly average player. At the time, the trade seemed like a coup for the ChiSox: Teahen struggled after the trade, Fields continued to fizzle, and Getz was solid but remarkably average. The Phillies would likely need to sweeten the pot even more for the Rockies, something more than an injured former top prospect and a solid replacement-level infielder.
Jackson, per Baseball-Reference, is statistically the most comparable player to Fowler in all of baseball. Jackson has been fantastic for Detroit since acquired (.280/.346/.416 with 30 HR and 61 SB since 2010). The only problem with comparing this trade with anything the Phillies can do is the fact that Jackson was traded as a highly-touted prospect. What may be better is to compare or craft a trade around what Jackson and Coke got: Granderson.
In the winter of 2009, Granderson had a number of above-average years and one out-of-this-world year (2007). Granderson plays better defense and has incorporated more power into his game; in a lot of ways, he has turned into what many people think Fowler can be. Coke was projected to be, and has become, an above-average reliever. Would Domonic Brown and a pair of promising but possibly squeezed out relievers (say Michael Stutes and Josh Lindblom) be enough to acquire Fowler? Would you do it? That would seemingly be a comparable trade to the trade that landed the Yankees Granderson.
This trade is quite unlike the others: it was a mid-season deal where the Phillies were able to sell incredibly high on Samuel to the contending Mets and acquire someone who would become a transformative player in Dykstra. Dykstra’s skillset was highly undervalued in the late 1980’s and put up very comparable to the numbers Fowler put up (.268/.341/.399, 34 HR, 133 SB). Dykstra tanked for the Phils in the second half of 1989 but was an All-Star and finished ninth in MVP voting the very next year and hit .298/.400/.434 with 47 HR and 152 SB in the rest of his time in Philadelphia. This one was a steal, even if the early returns had it as a steal in the other direction, and will probably never be replicated.
These three trades were for players remarkably statistically comparable to Fowler but obviously all three are not exact fits or road maps for what the Phillies may offer. The Jackson/Coke for Granderson trade may be the most comparable and Brown/relievers/throw-in starter such as Tyler Cloyd may be enough to get it done. The Rockies are tough to create hypothetical trades with because, on the surface, they appear to need so much.