Luis Valbuena, We Hardly Knew Ye
Yesterday, the Cubs made a trade that I’d been secretly crossing my fingers on for weeks. By acquiring outfielder Dexter Fowler from the Houston Astros, they finally settled the leadoff man issue. Fowler has a career .366 on base percentage, and he put up a .375 OBP in 2014. He’s 29 years old and brings a veteran presence to a team that has made a point of adding just that this offseason. He’s not a great defensive centerfielder, but it’s been suggested several places that playing at Wrigley Field may help him a lot.
There are minor concerns of course, as there always are with any deal. Fowler is coming on a one-year deal worth somewhere around $9 million (after arbitration), which means you could be watching him leave after this season. He also has played for the Rockies and Astros in two very hitter-friendly parks, putting up a combined .348 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in that time. Fowler’s career slash line when playing at home is a drool-worthy .297/.393/.480, while going on the road produced a line of .245/.340/.360.
I wrote about the Cubs remaining options for adding an outfielder on December 19th, and added the following about Dexter Fowler:
It’s not clear whether Fowler is actually on the trade market or not, but I’m on record as saying this is my perfect-scenario player for the Cubs to add. He’s left-handed, has speed, can play centerfield, and has a career 12.5% walk rate. His OBP last year was .375, and he seems just perfect to bat at the top of the lineup ahead of Castro, Rizzo, Soler, and (eventually) Bryant.
The only reason I suspect he may be available is that he’s set to make around $9M in his final year of arbitration this year. The Astros may want to move him for another controllable asset, such as Valbuena or Wood (plus whatever else is required to make the deal work, which shouldn’t be a lot considering the contract status).
Nailed it! Let’s be honest, I love this deal. I’ve felt that the Cubs lineup was a leadoff man away from being legitimate. Having Fowler on base for Rizzo, Castro, Soler, and, soon enough, Kris Bryant makes for a higher potential to score runs. The Cubs certainly upgraded their outfield, which always comes at a cost. This time, the cost was pitcher Dan Straily, acquired in the Samardzija trade, and bat-flipping fan favorite Luis Valbuena.
As much as I love Valbuena and feel like this is somewhat of a steep price to pay for a guy that can be a free agent after the season, I’m still okay with the deal. Valbuena was likely to be expendable once Bryant comes up in late April. I’d say he could go to second base, but the Cubs have Tommy La Stella, Javier Baez, and possibly Addison Russell knocking on the door there. The Cubs have a wealth of infielders, and they did a good job turning one of them into a good player that fills a need.
As for now, I’d expect that Arismendy Alcantara and Mike Olt get chances to hold down third base until Kris Bryant is ready. Alcantara could officially move into the super-sub role with center being patrolled by Fowler. It would be nice to see Olt get one more shot to prove he can be useful on the Major League roster as well. I think his future could look like somewhat of a poor man’s Allen Craig when Craig was with the Cardinals, playing a little first, third, left, and right. Though, admittedly, Olt is nowhere near the hitter that Craig is.
Adios, Luis. I’ll miss your bat-flipping home runs and long at-bats. I wish you nothing but good things in your future with the Astros.