Before the Indians went on their spending spree this offseason, they apparently considered a number of different trades. I’m sure the Indians still considered trades after the free agent signings (and would probably still consider them in the right circumstances). I just read a brief mention about one of these “deals that never were” in Jayson Stark’s most recent Rumblings and Grumblings column. Early in the offseason, the Indians supposedly discussed trading Justin Masterson to the Rockies for a package headlined by Dexter Fowler. I figured I’d look at this trade in greater depth and consider whether or not it would have been a good idea.
It’s still only April, but both Masterson and Fowler are off to incredible starts – Masterson is 4-1 with a 1.85 ERA, 1.118 WHIP, and he’s averaging 3.4 walks per nine innings, and 7.9 strikeouts per nine. He also already has a bWAR of 1.2 (it was 0.3 for all of the 2012 season). Fowler is currently hitting .284/.369/.635 with 7 home runs and is also already worth a bWAR of 1.2. And you can’t entirely write off Fowler’s performance on “oh, he plays in Colorado” because so far this year, he’s actually hit more home runs on the road (4) than he has at home (3). His OPS is a touch higher on the road (1.009 compared to .989 at home) as well as his OBP (.375 away compared to .364 at home) and his average is a bit higher at home (.300 as compared to .265 on the road). Overall, you can’t completely blame the thin Denver air, since Fowler has been pretty consistent. He also has more home runs than the entire Miami Marlins team at this point (they have six).
With both of these players off to great starts, a trade would have looked pretty balanced (at least so far). I know that early in the offseason the Indians were desperate to improve their outfield (part of the reason why they acquired Drew Stubbs, and signed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn) but I still can’t believe that they were willing to give up a pitcher to fill that hole, particularly the man who is supposed to be your staff ace. Because when I look at the Indians right now, I do see a team that has struggled to score runs at times. I don’t expect that to continue – once everyone is healthy and the weather starts to warm up, I think the bats will warm up as well. The much more pressing concern is pitching. Brett Myers is on the DL, and you still have to wonder which Ubaldo Jimenez is going to show up on any given day. Scott Kazmir had a terrible first outing that you hope he’s able to turn around tomorrow night in Kansas City. Zach McAllister has been fairly reliable, but there are some issues with the Tribe’s replacement options at Triple-A. Trevor Bauer likely needs a bit more time in the minors and still has some control issues to work through. Carlos Carrasco…well we know that whole thing is a mess and he has a suspension to serve. Corey Kluber is up here for now, but he hasn’t done much to “wow” me, even if I am thinking about him strictly as a fifth starter. I just can’t imagine giving up a pitcher of Masterson’s caliber when you’re desperate for pitching, even if he did have a down year in 2012.
Speaking of 2012, since April 2013 represents a rather small sample size, let’s take a look at the past two seasons for both Masterson and Fowler. In 2012, Masterson was 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA, 1.454 WHIP, and averaged 3.8 walks per nine innings and 6.9 strikeouts per nine. As I mentioned, he was only worth 0.3 bWAR last year. During Masterson’s breakout 2011 season, he was 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.278 WHIP, and averaged 2.7 walks per nine innings and 6.6 strikeouts per nine. He was worth 4.1 bWAR. So as you can see, across the board Masterson’s numbers were worse in 2012. It’s enough to make someone wonder if 2011 was the anomaly, or if 2012 was actually the outlier. Even if Chris Antonetti and the rest of the front office were afraid that Masterson would not be able to bounce back, it seems like trading him right after such a bad year would really be a case of “selling low.”
As for Fowler, he hit .300/.389/.474 with 13 home runs in 2012, and was worth 2.7 bWAR. In 2011 he hit .266/.363/.432 with 5 home runs, and was worth 2.6 bWAR. The 27-year-old switch hitter has been fairly consistent the past few seasons, so it’s not like someone should expect the bottom to fall out. Even though I’m now a little wary of any trade with the Rockies, they’re about as desperate for pitching as the Indians. Giving up a talented outfielder like Fowler may have been something they considered the price of doing business.
I’m fairly confident that this is a trade the Indians would no longer consider, simply because the outfield is in good shape. I’m still not sure I even see the logic of it before those signings, particularly when you’re fairly desperate for starting pitching. Could you imagine what the rotation would look like right now without Justin Masterson in it? As much as I like Fowler, I never would have wanted to part with pitching in order to obtain him. This is a trade I’m pretty glad never happened.