This could mean anything from deep, true interest in Fowler to someone recognizing the “square peg, square hole” relation between he and the Blue Jays. Regardless, even at the reported price of $18 million annually, Fowler is a rare free agent worth buying high on.
Unlike Encarnacion, the 30-year-old Fowler creates little to no overlap with what the Blue Jays already have in-house. The only real redundancy — Fowler’s ability to play centre-field with Kevin Pillar already being entrenched at the position — can even be seen as a positive.
Offensively, Fowler would give the Blue Jays a left-handed leadoff bat capable of a .375 on-base percentage with ~15 home runs. Between Kendrys Morales, Justin Smoak, and Ezequiel Carrera, the Blue Jays don’t have anyone at the MLB level that vaguely resembles Fowler’s offensive profile from the left side.
Overlap in talents isn’t a burden, of course. Even in Encarnacion’s case, there’s an easy fit for his bat in the lineup. With Fowler, however, the Jays would be maximizing every dollar.
Fowler is also a more appetizing investment when regression is concerned. As much as chronic optimism leads us to believe that the players we hold closest will never slow down, all do.
If someone like Encarnacion is to lose his No. 1 tool — his power — then his contact and defensive tools don’t give him enough value to fill out the ceiling of his potential free agent deal. The same goes for Jose Bautista, whose defence does not add enough value to counteract regression elsewhere. In Fowler’s case, his diverse set of tools make him likelier to live out the length of his deal with some level of sustained value, even when he’s “off”.
Granted, another concern with Fowler is that his past two seasons have been outliers with his 3.3 and 4.7 WARs representing career highs. If you look at this in terms of “dollars per win”, though, Fowler’s years in Colorado from 2011 to 2013 (2.1, 2,3, 2.2 WAR) do come close to fulfilling an $18 million salary. That’s absolutely not what the Blue Jays would be dreaming on, though, and a WAR of 3.0+ remains very possible in the early years of a deal.
Toronto’s “big picture” comes into question on any deals that span four to five years, which Fowler’s should. Troy Tulowitzki has four guaranteed years remaining before an option year in 2021 while it’s possible (or likely) that Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin are gone by then. Anyone signed to a contract of four-plus years instantly becomes a bridge to a team that will belong to Toronto’s young stars.
With optimism in Fowler’s ability to age well, there is an opportunity to satisfy today and build a stronger (albeit expensive) floor for tomorrow.