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Dexter FowlerIt’s no secret that the Seattle Mariners are in dire need of an everyday outfielder. Particularly one that can hit left-handed pitching and bat near the top of the order. Reports have linked the M’s to free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, but it doesn’t sound as though the two sides are or were close to an agreement. Trade talks surrounding Matt Kemp and Justin Upton appear to have cooled on the Mariners front as well, at least for the moment.

Fowler, 28, is in the final year of a two-year contract and is owed $7.4 million in 2015. He will then be a free agent. The switch-hitter posted a .276/.375/.399 slash line with a 124 wRC+  in 2014. Fowler has excellent on base skills with a career walk rate of 12.5 percent. He has also posted a career 118 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. Earlier in his career he was more of a stolen base threat but swiped just 11 bags in 2014. He has regularly scored as an above average baserunner.

Fowler has been a center fielder for the majority of his career but the defensive metrics are not fond of his play in that spot. He was credited with -20 DRS and a -21.8 UZR in 2014.

The Houston Astros, who are slowly piecing together a solid base of young talent, had reportedly extending offers to free agent relievers David Robertson and Andrew Miller. Robertson would sign a four-year, $46 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. Miller would sign a four-year, $36 million deal with the New York Yankees. It is believed that the Astros offered both relievers the four guaranteed years they were looking for and more money than either wound up signing for.

After being spurned by the top free agent relievers the Astros will have to look elsewhere for bullpen help.

The Mariners had the best bullpen in baseball last season. As it stands the entire group will return minus lefty specialist Joe Biemel who is a free agent, although there is believed to be mutual interest in a reunion. Many have suggested that Seattle could and should deal from their relief depth. After all, pitchers like Tom Wilhelmsen, Brandon Maurer, Danny Farquhar, and others are valuable assets to other clubs, too. Wilhelmsen and Charlie Furbush are arbitration for the first time but the others have at least one more season of control at the league minimum.

Naturally there’s an obvious fit where Fowler could be swapped for a package involving a reliever. The emergence of Carson Smith last year should allow the M’s flexibility to deal a right-hander like Farquhar. There has been some talk that Maurer could be stretched out in the spring with another shot at a rotation spot, so Seattle may prefer to hang on to him.

There hasn’t been anything to suggest that Houston is not interested in trading Fowler and reportedly had discussions with the Toronto Blue Jays earlier in the month. It wasn’t clear what the Astros were looking for in return at that time or how serious talks got.

Presumably the Astros would want something that will help their major league roster in the short-term. The club is still a few players and possibly years away from serious contention, but the young talent could clique early in 2015 and cause the club to get off to a hot start. There’s likely some pressure from the fan base to field a more competitive team as well.

Seattle can offer prospects such as Victor Sanchez or Austin Wilson who will play in the upper minors in 2015. If Houston desires to replace the outfield depth lost Gabriel Guerrero could also be of interest. A depth player a la Stefen Romero or Erasmo Ramirez could be added to a deal too. Perhaps a package of Farquhar and Wilson could make sense for both clubs. I’m not suggested that is the asking price or a deal the M’s should make. The outfield trade market is still very fluid at the moment.

Fowler is a couple steps below the talent of a Jason Heyward who netted the Atlanta Braves Shelby Miller in a multi-player deal. The cost of Fowler is very unlikely to be that high.

Obviously there is some concern about an intra-division trade. However with the Mariners pushing all cylinders forward for 2015 that should not be an issue. Especially if the cost is a reliever and a lesser prospect. Jack Zduriencik has been willing to deal with division rivals in the past: Cliff Lee was dealt to the Texas Rangers for a Justin Smoak headlined package, Jason Vargas was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for Kendrys Morales, and John Jaso was traded to the Oakland Athletics in a three-time deal that brought Mike Morse to Seattle.

Presumably the M’s will wait until there is some resolution with Cabrera before pushing the trade market much harder, if their interest is sincere. The club is believed to be willing to offer a four-year deal in the $50 million range but it is believed that the switch-hitter is looking for a five-year deal. There have been conflicting reports about where the two sides are at. Based on reports my speculation would be that discussions have reached a point where the M’s know what Cabrera wants and Cabrera knows how far the M’s are willing to go at this point.

Of course things could end up changing in a hurry and middle ground could be found. Some thought that Cabrera could sign during the Winter Meetings, but that is still up in the air.

Fowler would give the Mariners the right-handed flexibility that they desire.  Austin Jackson is slated to hit leadoff and man center field again in 2015, which could push Fowler into the No. 2 spot and right field. Typically outfielders who struggle in center will perform better in a corner spot. Fowler doesn’t have a great arm, but is athletic enough to be average in right field. That would still be an improvement on the play of Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero in right field last year. Again, Michael Saunders and his defensive capabilities are no longer in the picture.

On paper Fowler makes plenty of sense for the Mariners. His salary is affordable and his cost should be significantly less than a Kemp or Upton. Most importantly, he would represent an upgrade for 2015.

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Tyler Carmont

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