The departure of Jacoby Ellsbury left a gaping hole both in center field and at the top of the Red Sox’ lineup and his absence has shown in the early going. The Red Sox’ outfield has been among the worst in the majors and a lack of production from center field has been a big part of that. Prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. has not held down the spot well at all, slashing just .209/.291/.301 (though he is coming off two good games), and other options such as Grady Sizemore have not gotten the job done either. The Red Sox should look to address their vacancy in center field in the coming months and a candidate that could both play center field and hit at the top of the order is Dexter Fowler.
Fowler is in the midst of his first season with the Houston Astros and, while he has not been spectacular by any means, he has been a solid contributor at the top of a weak Houston lineup. Through 50 games this year, Fowler has hit .263/.377/.366 with 3 home runs and 6 stolen bases. Fowler’s power and speed have dropped from his career bests (13 home runs, .174 isolated power in 2012 and 27 stolen bases in 2009), but he is walking at a 15% rate this season, the highest walk rate of his career and his .377 on-base percentage is slightly better than his .366 career mark.
Even if Fowler’s production isn’t great, however, it’s significantly better than anybody else the Red Sox have had in the outfield this season. Previously-mentioned Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore have struggled while Daniel Nava and Mike Carp are failing to live up to their 2013 breakout years and Shane Victorino has been injured for much of the season. In Fowler, the Red Sox would receive a bona fide leadoff hitter and a center fielder who plays adequate defense (though admittedly not on the level of Bradley Jr.).
The Astros have the worst record in the American League this season and should be in sell-mode come June or July, so the Red Sox shouldn’t have much trouble acquiring Fowler should they pay the price. The question is simply what that price will be.
While Fowler is a solid player and does have a year of team control after 2014, he would not likely be hugely expensive for the Red Sox. One of Boston’s high-ceiling pitching prospects would likely be enough to net the 28-year old outfielder. Perhaps the Red Sox could send Rubby de la Rosa, who is pitching to the tune of a 3.04 ERA while trimming his walk rate to 3.9 BB/9 (well below his 5.4 mark a season ago), and throw in Mike Carp. The Astros would be able to give both players regular playing time, which could help De La Rosa to cash in on his once promising potential and potentially allow Carp to return to his 2013 form, when he slashed .296/.362/.523.
Acquiring Fowler would not push the Red Sox over the top by any means; however, it could add a valuable piece to the team. He would strengthen a handful of the Red Sox’ greatest weaknesses and could take kindly to Fenway Park’s righty-friendly dimensions. Expect the Red Sox to search for a leadoff hitter and a center fielder this trade season, and certainly look for them to take an interest in Dexter Fowler.