The Dexter Fowler Trade in Mets Prospects/Assets

We’re going to play a fun game, match the Mets prospects/assets to those involved in trades for other teams. I don’t do this for every trade, only the ones that interest me for one reason or another.

Today we’ll take on the Rockies/Astros swap for Dexter Fowler and a PTBNL for Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles.

Earlier this offseason, the Mets were rumored to be interested in trading Ike Davis for Dexter Fowler. On the same day they traded Fowler, the Rockies also “addressed” their first base hole, by signing Justin Morneau.

Fowler will be  28 in 2014, and has significant home road splits (.298/.395/.485 at Coors and .241/.333/.361 on the road in 1291 PA). He’s owed $7.35 million in 2014, and will be arbitration eligible in 2015 before becoming free agent for 2016. Still, he’s in the prime of his career, has been a league average hitter, and while the advanced metrics don’t like his work in center, he should be an asset defensively in a corner.

For the Mets, he would have been an improvement on Eric Young Jr. in the outfield at the least, and potentially much more. So, what did it take to bring him to the Astros?

Turns out, very little.

The right-handed Lyles was a good prospect in a bad Astros’ system who has never figured out the big leagues. Since making his big league debut in 2011, he owns a 5.35 ERA with 259 strikeouts against 117 walks in 377 innings with 431 hits allowed and a ERA+ of 74 (!) or an ERA- of 141 and a -2.8 bWAR overall. His Baseball America rankings rose from #6 after the 2008 season to #3 the following year to the top spot in the system after 2010 when he was the #42 prospect in baseball. Lyles has a four-seam fastball at 93 mph, a sinker at 92 mph, a slider in the upper 80s, a changeup at 83 and a curveball around 80-81 mph. He throws his two fastballs over 66% of the time combined. Every pitch he throws carries negative value at Fangraphs.

Lyles’ strikeout rates from the last three years have actually declined from 16.1% in 2011, to 15.8% in 2012 to 14.5% in 2013. Meanwhile, his walk rate has ticked up from 6.3% to 6.7% to 7.6% in the last three years. Lyles was a relatively low strikeout guy in AAA as well with a 14.4% strikeout rate in 2010 and 16.3% in 2011.

Lyles is young and has prospect pedigree. That’s about it. At ESPN, Keith Law argues that Lyles’ numbers have been hurt by throwing in front of Houston’s poor defenses the last few years, “… he has been below-average but above that replacement-level baseline when measured on his own performance. Lyles has a good feel for pitching and above-average control, suffering from his lack of any clear out pitch.”

The Mets do not have a Jordan Lyles – a failed former first round pitcher.

  1. Perhaps the closest the Mets’ current roster, offers, when taking into account only production, is Carlos Torres who bounced from the White Sox to the Rockies to the Mets in the last four seasons.
  2. Dillon Gee, who is older than Lyles, has been appreciably better, putting up a 2.2 bWAR in 2013 with a 3.80 RA9, his first year below 4.00.
  3. Jenrry Mejia had never really had any big league success either in 2010 or 2012, combined for a -0.1 bWAR between those two years. Then, in 2013, after returning from Tommy John surgery, he returned with better fastball command, more feel on his changeup and a new slider that helped him to a 2.30 ERA/2.96 RA9 and a 0.5 bWAR in just five starts.
  4. Statistically, perhaps the best match for Lyles in the Mets’ system is former second round pick Cory Mazzoni. in AA this past summer, Mazzoni had a strikeout rate of 26.2%, a 6.7% walk rate, an opponents’ batting average of .268 and a 4.36 ERA/2.70 FIP. In 2010 in AA, Lyles had a  21.3% strikeout rate, a 6.5% walk rate, a .266 opponents’ batting average, and a 3.12 ERA/3.36 FIP.

If we divorce position from the discussion, the Met most like Lyles – a former first rounder who has flopped in the big leagues recently – is the guy the Rockies were rumored to be interested in: Ike Davis. He hit just .205/.326/.334 in 2013 on his way to a 0.2 bWAR. That leaves out his productive, but short 2011, and his long slog through 2012 when he was still worth 0.9 bWAR.

The second player the Rockies acquired,, Brandon Barnes, who will be 28 in May 2014, is a 4th outfielder. He’s hit .233/.282/.330 in his two partial big league seasons in 2012 and 2013. Barnes is not as good as the 4th outfielder the Rockies traded to the Mets in 2013: Eric Young Jr., himself a career .258/.325/.338 hitter in 404 big league games.

If the Rockies were not interested in reacquiring Young, perhaps 25-year old Matt den Dekker (.207/.270/.276 in 63 PA) would have sparked their interest as an extra outfielder.

So, after picking up Lyles for the back of their rotation, and a Barnes for their bench, the Rockies signed Justin Morneau, who will turn 33 in 2014, for two years at $13 million. The great Dan Szymborski fired up his ZiPs machine to project “Morneau in Colorado 2014: 280/343/457, 104 OPS+ 0.9 WAR. 2015: 277/339/453, 102 OPS+, 0.5 WAR.”

Again, Morneau’s 2014 projection is awfully similar in bWAR to what Ike Davis actually produced in 2012. And Davis would probably be $3 to $5 million cheaper over the next two years. Of course, there’s that messy issue of 2013 as well.

From the Rockies perspective if they had done the deal with the Mets for say Ike Davis and Matt den Dekker for Fowler, they would have needed to add a starting pitcher from the free agent market or another trade. Those – free agent pitchers – are expensive, but most are better than Lyles. Also, Morneau is a safer bet than Davis, although Davis has more upside given their ages.

A package from the Mets centered around Dillon Gee for Dexter Fowler would have given the Rockies a better pitcher, although without the coveted “former Top Prospect” tag that Lyles carries.

Or maybe the Mets felt that they were better off committing the $7.25 million they would have had to pay Fowler to Chris Young, who will cost only money and not players. Still, the Mets have an open outfield spot remaining. An outfield of Juan Lagares/Young/Fowler, all three with centerfield pedigree, would have been very good defensively (and run a low batting average, but we digress).

Given the Rockies’ moves Tuesday, it certainly seems as though the Mets had the pieces to have acquired Dexter Fowler from Colorado. Fowler is younger than the remaining major free agent outfielders, like Curtis Granderson and Shin Soo Choo, and will require a fraction of the financial commitment.

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