At 27-years old, Carlos Gonzalez is a stud outfielder in his prime; the Venezuelan is just two years removed from a breakout 6.2 fWAR season, and is currently the heart of the Colorado Rockies‘ lineup. He’s also arguably the face of the team, having signed a seven-year extension in 2011.
Trading him now would be borderline irresponsible, right?
There’s the idea that the Rockies would be throwing in the towel by trading Gonzalez, but I would argue that he’s the team’s best hope for retooling their rotation, which is by far and away their most glaring weakness. Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd has reportedly told his peers that Gonzalez is untouchable, and have instead been shopping Dexter Fowler in hopes of landing a starting pitcher, with talks between the Rockies and Cincinnati Reds fizzling over Homer Bailey.
It’s a good thing they did, because the Rockies could do better than Bailey, and trading Fowler over Gonzalez may well be a mistake.
I’m not necessarily arguing that Fowler is a better player than Gonzalez – with a .885 OPS and 6.7 fWAR (28th among OFs) accumulated over the last two seasons, CarGo is easily one of the top 30 outfielders in baseball, and would be a top-5 player if he ever played like he did in ’10.
Here’s the thing, though – Fowler isn’t far behind. At 26-years old, Fowler is also entering his prime, and his .828 OPS and 5.5 fWAR (34th among OFs) over the last two seasons is no slouch, either.
Fowler won’t have the same kind of power that Gonzalez does, but he brings a different skill set by drawing more walks (0.53 BB/K to CarGo’s 0.49 in ’12); and, unlike Gonzalez, Fowler does not have a significant lefty/righty split, with a .850+ OPS against both last season. You’ve heard all about Gonzalez’s power – and he has that in spades – but it might come as a surprise that he put up a pedestrian .266/.321/.422 against lefties last season, and that he has a .779 OPS against southpaws over his career.
Now, consider the perceived value of both players. Surely, any MLB GM would rather have Gonzalez over Fowler, yes? After all, 30 homers and 16 steals separate the two over the last two seasons, and Gonzalez is the one with the 30-100 upside. He was the All-Star last season, and he’s the one who drives in the runs at Coors Field, not Fowler.
Yet, Fowler’s 123 wRC+ to Gonzalez’s 122 suggests that their offensive value may not be as far off as the power numbers might make them look, and Fowler was also worth more wins above replacement than his All-Star teammate last season, whether if you prefer fWAR or the Baseball Reference’s model.
Fowler’s also not the player who is going to cost the team $71 million over the next five years. Headed into his second year or arbitration coming off his best season at a bargain price of $2.35 million, Fowler is likely to come away with a contract that he’ll easily exceed with his performance on the field.
Sure, with two team-friendly years at $7.5 and 10.5 million (before his salary jumps to $16 million in ’15), Gonzalez is likely to do so as well, but he’s the much bigger name, and should yield a significantly bigger return than Fowler in the form of starting pitching. With a lineup that includes potential 40-homer man Wilin Rosario, 20 homers is not going to put as much of a dent in the Rockies’ offense as much as the boon that a 4+ fWAR pitcher will provide . When you consider that Jhoulys Chacin, who is slotted at the top of the rotation, was essentially a replacement level SP in ’12 coming off an injury-shortened season…well, let’s just say the team would benefit more from competent starting pitching.
Even if the cost of that means parting with Gonzalez, and giving the duo of Tyler Colvin (.891 OPS vs RHP in ’12) and Eric Young Jr. (.974 OPS vs LHP in ’12) time in the corner outfield.
CarGo’s offensive prowess is unquestioned, but it’s far from irreplaceable. The payroll flexibility gained from being free of the $71 million over five years, on the other hand, might be just that.
Wins don’t always come from homers – Rockies fans should know that by now.