In the offseason, the Cubs and Astros struck an accord on an old school baseball deal. The teams helped each other out by thinning a logjam in the Cub infield and the Houston outfield in return for positional needs along with some pitching depth going to Houston. So far, it has been one of the more interesting trades of the offseason. On one hand, Luis Valbuena has completely defied all sensibilities in his performance at the plate and has filled the third base spot nicely for the first place Astros. Dexter Fowler, on the other hand, has performed under his career norms, but has stayed healthy patrolling center field for the wild card hopeful Cubs.
Valbuena has had an odd season to say the least. Valbuena, at the halfway point, has already eclipsed his career high in home runs by three, yet he has a slash line of .199/.285/.430. Valbuena’s BABIP is also dismally low at a paltry .193 and he has walked a good bit less than he had with the Cubs. Combine all that and you have one of this season’s “best” head scratchers. It seems that in every conversation about Valbuena his BABIP progressing toward the mean – thus improving his overall hitting profile – comes up. That still hasn’t happened. One has to think that, at this point, it won’t. It’s definitely one of those unpredictable things in baseball to have such a poor season with BABIP as a regular starter and a history of hitting moderately well. That said, Valbuena has still been productive. The aforementioned power has been his saving grace. He sits in both the top 20 in ISO and top 30 in HR/FB rate and is doing all of this at a somewhat scarce position, which only furthers his value. To this date, he has generated a bit less than a win of production, but given the hope for improvement with the bat and his controllable contract he should generate some more value from the Astros.
Dexter Fowler doesn’t exactly have the anomalies that Valbuena is touting. Fowler has been a bit disappointing to the Cubs. Coming into the season, his defense in center was a concern and that seems to have been validated. Fowler’s defensive skills aren’t great in any facet and it shows when patrolling centerfield. On top of that, Fowler’s bat has been lackluster as well. He has shrunk his walk rate down to 9.5% from the early teens and has a wRC+ at 87 with a wOBA at .300. I believe this is tied to a couple of things, most prominent of those is his increased fly ball rate. For a guy like Fowler who can generate power, but not consistently, an increased fly ball rate can jeopardize his success with the bat and his ability to use his speed to generate value. That said, the Cubs don’t exactly have much in the way of options in the immediate term for center field. With Kris Bryant manning third base and Addison Russell at second, any long-term value recapture with Valbuena being on arbitration would be wasted. Though Fowler has not performed fantastically, he’s provided stability and a solid centerfield option for the Cubs when they needed one to compete this season.
All in all, this trade seemed to help fill both team’s needs this year as they both compete. The Astros will get a bit more long-term value out of this deal, but it’s very hard to complain at either end.