We take a look back at the Houston Astros 2015 trade sending Dexter Fowler to the Cubs.
We recently examined the Dec. 2013 trade in which the Houston Astros acquired Dexter Fowler. He was a solid player, but he lasted only one season in Houston. Now we turn our attention to the Jan. 2015 trade in which the team traded him to the Chicago Cubs.
On Jan. 19, the Astros sent Fowler to the Cubs in exchange for infielder Luis Valbuena and pitcher Dan Straily. Fowler had only one year left before reaching free agency, which may have been part of the impetus for the trade. So we’ll look at whether the team got fair value in return for one year of Fowler.
What the Astros Got
Valbuena was coming off his best offensive season, hitting .249/.341/.435 with 33 doubles and 16 homers for the Cubs in 2014. He became the team’s regular third baseman and hit .224/.310/.438 with 18 doubles and 25 homers for the Astros in 2015 as the team reached the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
His numbers improved to .260/.357/.459 in 2016, all of which were career-highs, though he played in just 90 games. He left via free agency after the 2006 season, as the Astros had Alex Bregman taking over at the hot corner. He spent the next two seasons with the Angels before tragically dying in a car accident in Dec. 2018.
Straily made only four appearances for Houston, pitching to a 5.40 ERA in 16.2 innings. Of course he broke out with the Reds the very next year, going 14-8 with a 3.76 ERA. He was about league-average the next two years before struggling with Baltimore in 2019.
What the Astros Gave Up
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Fowler had hit .276/.375/.399 in 116 games with the Astros in 2014, though the defensive metrics weren’t thrilled with his performance in center field. In 156 games for the Cubs in 2015, he hit .250/.346/.411 with 29 doubles, 20 steals and a career-high 17 homers.
The Cubs re-signed him to a one-year deal for 2016 and he helped them to their first World Series victory in more than a century. He hit .276/.393/.447 in 125 games before leaving to sign a five-year deal with the Cardinals in free agency.
The Final Verdict
Since Fowler was only under team control for one more year at the time of the trade, we’ll only include his 2015 season in our analysis. He was worth 2.4 WAR for the Cubs that year, while the Astros got a total of 4.9 WAR from Valbuena and -0.1 WAR from Straily. So in that sense, Houston won the trade.
But there’s more to be considered, of course. The fact that the Cubs got Fowler is what gave them the inside track to re-sign him for 2016, in which he was worth 4.0 WAR — the first time since 2010 that he’d posted a positive defensive WAR total. They still had to re-sign him to get that, but the trade certainly helped.
With that in mind, I’ll consider the trade a wash. The Cubs got a useful player who eventually helped them win a championship. Former GM Jeff Luhnow got a useful player as well, plus a second who he probably gave up on too soon. The Cubs would certainly make the trade again, and the Astros just might make it again too.