What Are The Rockies Doing With Dexter Fowler?

The Colorado Rockies have been active in the hot stove league although they have yet to make a trade or sign a free agent. They have holes to fill, particularly at second base, having lost Mark Ellis to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and on the mound. The Rockies made a run at Jamey Carroll — who played at Coors Field in 2006 and 2007 —  to fill the hole at second but Carroll signed with the Minnesota Twins to play shortstop.

Reports out of Denver have the Rockies aggressively pursuing a trade for Martin Prado of the Atlanta Braves to be their everyday second baseman. So far, the Rockies have offered outfielder Seth Smith for Prado but the Braves apparently want more. Two names floated to be included in a Prado-to-Rockies deal are rookie outfielder Charlie Blackmon or minor league outfielder Tim Wheeler but the Rockies have said no, so far. The Rockies are also one of eight teams who’ve expressed interest in former Cleveland Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore. The Rockies would move Sizemore to left field, to make it easier on his oft-injured knees. Although reports have not been specific on this, I assume a Sizemore-to-left move would then shift Gold Glove outfielder Carlos Gonzalez to right.

Through all of these rumors, the Rockies have made it clear that center fielder Dexter Fowler is off-limits. Not available. Ring a different doorbell. Why? Why would the Rockies refuse to trade Fowler if it meant getting Prado or another necessary piece?

I don’t know why.

Fowler debuted with the Rockies late in 2008 and has played 130 games or so in each of the last three seasons. His career slash to date is .262/.355/.412 for a wOBA of .339 and wRC+ of 99. He walks a lot but strikes out more, leading to a .54 BB/K ratio. Fowler spent time in AAA in 2010 and 2011 after struggling in the first half in both seasons. Fowler did have a nice second half in 2011, posting a wOBA of .392 in 271 at bats. The question with Fowler has been whether he can sustain that kind of offensive production over the course of a season.

Moreover, none of the defensive metrics has particularly good things to say about Fowler’s play in center field. His career Defensive Runs Saved is -17 and his UZR/150 is -11.2 over more than 3,000 innings. Granted, Coors Field isn’t the easiest outfield in the world, but that hasn’t stopped Carlos Gonzalez from saving 24 runs and posting a 4.6 UZR/150 over more than 3,000 innings in left, center and right combined.

And what about Seth Smith? He had an excellent year in 2011 as the Rockies regular right fielder. He had a slash of .284/.347/.483 for a wOBA of .357 and a wRC+ of 115. Smith’s defense falls somewhere in between Fowler’s and Gonzalez’s, according to DRS and UZR/150, over 2,500 innings split fairly evenly between center, left and right.

Gonzalez and Fowler will be in their age 26 seasons in 2012; Smith in his age 29. While Gonzalez is signed to a lucrative long-term deal, both Smith and Fowler are first-year arbitration-eligible heading into 2012.  Why protect Fowler and make Smith available for trade? If the Braves want more than Smith, why not offer Fowler? He’s younger, likely has a higher ceiling than Smith and is an Atlanta native. He’s also primarily a center fielder, which is apparently the Braves’ focus.

Gonzalez is more than capable of handling center field for the Rockies. Smith can man the post in right. And if the Rockies are able to nab Sizemore, he fits in perfectly in left. Charlie Blackmon, who is recovering from surgery to repair a fractured foot, is expected to be ready by spring training and to be the Rockies’ fourth outfielder in 2012.

Sweetening the pie for Prado makes a lot of sense for the Rockies. Until they acquired Mark Ellis in early July, second base was a black hole offensively and defensively with Jonathan Herrera and Eric Young, Jr. Prado would be a substantial upgrade. If it takes Fowler to get Prado, the Rockies would still come out ahead overall.

Perhaps the Rockies are saying Fowler is unavailable to drive up his trade value. I suppose that’s possible. And if it works, good for the Rockies because Fowler is a player worth trading if the Rockies can acquire Prado or another player would provide a significant upgrade at second base.

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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

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