There are still rumors the White Sox might add another outfielder before the offseason is over, someone that best case will be someone who can spell Melky Cabrera, or worst case an insurance policy for Avisail Garcia if he can’t get better at hitting. Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton all have new teams already. Barring a trade for someone like Andre Either from the Dodgers, the pickings are getting slim. It seems like the name coming up most at this point is Dexter Fowler, the Cubs starting CF in 2015.
This doesn’t make a lot of sense. First of all, the White Sox best outfielder is their current CF Adam Eaton. He was the 11th best CF based on fWAR last season in all of MLB. Dexter Fowler was 12th. Neither is much of an offensive terror, although Eaton was 6th amongst CF in a couple of aggregate offensive categories. Fowler still cracks the top 10, which means he is no slouch either, and is probably a better defensive CF than Eaton.
In reality, both of these guys are solid centerfielders. Eaton is better offensively, Fowler defensively. Fowler is going to be 30 on opening day, Eaton 27. Most of the teams in the league would like to have one of these guys (although Fowler’s extended free agency may indicate otherwise), but few teams would think it makes sense to have both. It’s true that Melky and Avisail were two of the worst OFs in baseball last season, and that neither can field or hit it seems, but how much of an update is Fowler if he isn’t playing CF, or Eaton if he is moved?
Looking at a non-position weighted stat like wOBA here is where the involved parties ranked, along with a random few others for reference:
Looking at those numbers, Fowler is surely an upgrade offensively over Cabrera or Garcia. He is closer to Eaton than Eaton is to Cespedes at 10th, so those 11 guys in between are a little deceiving. There were only 15 leftfielders who got enough PA to qualify last year (compared to 23 CF), so let’s expand the list to guys with at least 400 PA last season. From a wOBA standpoint Eaton would have ranked 6th in CF and 8th in LF. Fowler would have ranked 14th in CF and 13th in LF (Cabrera was 24th). This is before defense is factored in.
Fowler is probably a bit better in CF, but either of these guys would likely be a massive upgrade over Cabrera in LF. That means that if Eaton hits as well as he did in 2015, and plays the same level of defense in LF as he did in CF he is probably easily a top 10 LF, and maybe top 5. So on paper Fowler is an upgrade over Cabrera and Garcia assuming they all play at the same level.
And therein lies the problem. That is a pretty big assumption. Melky Cabrera is only going to be 31 on opening day (one year older than Fowler). He had a pretty lousy season last year, but his batting average on balls in play was pretty awful, and well below his career average which indicates he was very unlucky. He also walked less frequently than usual. His defense is not going to be better, but offensively he is a decent candidate to bounce back. Garcia will only be 24 on opening day, and at one point showed a lot of potential. It’s easy to forget that an injury completely derailed his 2014 campaign 46 games in, so 2015 was really his first full season. He has serious issues with strikeouts, and completely flipping the script in that regard seems highly unlikely, but giving up on him at this point might be a little shortsighted. He at least should be given the first half of this season to see what he is.
And what about Fowler? He basically just came off a career year at age 30, on a team loaded with good pitching and hitting and in a park very kind to hitters. He had a good defensive season, but he has traditionally not been very good there. He spent the first part of his career in Colorado and yet had a career high in home runs in year 8 in Chicago. Unlike Garcia and Cabrera, most people don’t see him as having a better season in 2016.
All that added up makes you wonder if he is worth what would surely be a multi-year deal. Anything beyond two years is a huge risk. Even on a one year deal it’s hard to guarantee he would be more than a 4th OF if Cabrera and Garcia bounce back. The reward here doesn’t seem worth the risk. And I really hope this doesn’t happen.