Premature Trade Analysis: Astros v. Cubs
Last January, the Houston Astros traded Dexter "Daddy Long Legs" Fowler -- and by the way, who says there aren't any great nicknames any more? -- to the Cubs for third baseman Luis Valbuena and pitcher Dan Straily.
One year earlier, the Astros had traded for Fowler, sending Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles to the Rockies. Fowler earned a decent-sized salary in 2014, and looked a little to me like the Astros acquired him, at least in part, for the sake of appearances; you have to spend something on your payroll, or you'll get the Players Association asking a lot of uncomfortable questions.
Barnes has well-established himself as a replacement-level outfielder, Lyles as a replacement-level pitcher (granted, Lyles is young enough to improve, especially with a team that doesn't play in the mountains). Essentially, the Astros have turned Barnes and Lyles and one season of Fowler's salary ($7.35 million) into Valbuena and Straily.
Valbuena's having a weird season. He leads the Astros with 16 home runs, but is batting just .185 with a .259 on-base percentage. He's also got a .161 batting average on balls in play, which is dead last in the majors, even though his hard-hit percentage is perfectly routine. Which is to say better days are probably ahead, if not greater days.
Straily's spent this season in Triple-A, and is a reasonable option when the Astros need a fifth (or sixth) starter.
And Dexter Fowler? He's been disappointing at the plate, and (if you believe the fielding metrics) not much in center field, either. In fact, he's been almost exactly as "valuable" to the Cubs as Valbuena has been to the Astros.
Which makes perfect sense. The Cubs didn't need Valbuena but did need a center fielder, and the Astros didn't need Fowler but did need a third baseman. Considering you've got two organizations run along similar lines, should we be surprised that they came up with what now seems a perfectly even trade?
I guess I'll give the Astros a slight edge, though. Why? Partly because Straily still has a touch of value, but mostly because Fowler's a free agent after this season, while the Astros can, if they want, retain Valbuena via arbitration for one more year. I'm not saying they will, or should. But it's nice to have the option.