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A’s DFA outfielder Dustin Fowler

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The move makes room for Trevor Rosenthal to join 40-man roster

Oakland Athletics v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

Only one player now remains from the Sonny Gray trade.

The Oakland A’s designated Dustin Fowler for assignment, the team announced Monday. The outfielder is removed from the 40-man roster, and within the next week he must either be traded or placed on waivers.

The Fowler DFA made room for the A’s to officially announce the signing of free agent closer Trevor Rosenthal and add him to the 40-man. They’ll still have to clear one more spot for DH Mitch Moreland, who was also signed last week but whose deal hasn’t been made official.

Oakland acquired Fowler in 2017, as the highest-rated prospect of the three-player package they got from the Yankees for Sonny. He got a chance in the majors the next summer, playing 69 games for the green and gold in 2018, but he wasn’t productive on either side of the ball and eventually went back to the minors. Over time he was passed by other names on the outfield depth chart, and he never made it back to the bigs, toiling in Triple-A in 2019 and then the alternate site camp last year.

Fowler, 2018 OAK: .224/.256/.354, 67 wRC+, 6 HR, 3.9% BB, 23.2% Ks, .311 xwOBA

The lefty was mentioned last week by Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs, in a post about former top prospects who reached the majors but didn’t stick. Longenhagen said the following about Fowler, who made national Top 100 lists the winter that the A’s acquired him: “It’s not that Fowler doesn’t hit the ball hard; he does. ... But he remains a free-swinger with a relatively flat bat path, so he often offers at pitches he can’t do much with.”

The A’s received three prospects in that 2017 Sonny trade, and now two of them are gone. Speedy infielder Jorge Mateo was traded last summer, to the Padres in exchange for younger outfield prospect Junior Perez.

Still remaining in Oakland is pitcher James Kaprielian, who has returned to health after a three-year injury setback. The right-hander made his MLB debut last season, and currently ranks No. 7 on our Community Prospect List as a promising member of the A’s 2021 pitching depth chart.

As for Fowler, he was caught up in a roster logjam this spring. Oakland has three veteran outfielders and a DH locked in, leaving him to battle for some kind of lefty platoon or bench role with a list including Seth Brown, Skye Bolt, Rule 5 draft pick Ka’ai Tom, and bounce-back candidate Jed Lowrie.

Analysis

Unfortunately, Fowler’s departure doesn’t come as a surprise, as the potential end of his leash was growing visibly apparent. Last week, when these roster decisions began looming over the A’s due to their flurry of free agent signings, he was one of the two players I identified as most likely to be cut.

It just never came together for Fowler in Oakland. We hoped he might be the CF of the future, but his MLB trial yielded notably negative WAR, his plate discipline and pitch selection never developed enough to get him another chance in the bigs, and his defense didn’t turn out to be enough to carry him. He’s only 26 so he’s still got time to pan out elsewhere, but he’s out of options so he couldn’t be stashed in Triple-A anymore and there wasn’t going to be room for him on the Opening Day roster. It was time for both sides to move on.

While this particular prospect gamble didn’t work out, there’s still one silver lining for the A’s. They employed an extra risky strategy in this Sonny trade, by accepting players who were injured in order to maximize the level of talent they received. That part worked, because Fowler returned from his knee surgery and Kaprielian is back on the mound. Whether they also make it as major leaugers is another question, like it is for any prospect, but the bet Oakland made on health paid off.

Stay tuned for one more roster move (for Moreland), and then another whenever Frankie Montas is ready to return from the COVID-19 related injured list.