HOUSTON -- By acquiring outfielder Dexter Fowler from the Rockies on Tuesday, the Astros took a major leap forward in their rebuilding process.
After years of dealing away established Major League players in exchange for prospects -- Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt in 2010; Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn in 2011; and Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, Chris Johnson and Brett Myers in 2012 -- Houston traded for a proven Major League commodity in Fowler.
The trade, which sent starter Jordan Lyles and outfielder Brandon Barnes to the Rockies in exchange for Fowler and a player to be named later, was a clear signal the Astros are eager to start moving forward and put three consecutive 100-loss seasons in their rearview mirror. Times have changed.
Of course, to acquire a player like Fowler -- a switch-hitter who could be the club's best offensive weapon -- Houston also had to spend some money after years of shedding payroll. Fowler will make $7.35 million next season, which is about half of what Houston's payroll was at the end of 2013.
The Astros, who lost 111 games last season, are at the point where they need to start moving forward and winning more games. They recognize that, and Fowler's arrival is the first step towards respectability on the field. What's more, general manager Jeff Luhnow said he expected to land a couple of more players within the next week or so.
"We're going to continue to look at both avenues [trades and free agency], but we've been talking to a lot of different players and their representatives," Luhnow said. "We'd like to bring in a couple of players."
The Astros are in the market for bullpen help and a veteran starting pitcher, but don't expect them to give up any players from their suddenly stocked farm system to make a trade. Former general manager Ed Wade and Luhnow spent the past four years acquiring young talent, which will soon hit Houston with monster-truck force.
Houston liked what it saw last year from youngsters like third baseman Matt Dominguez, outfielder Robbie Grossman and pitchers Brad Peacock, Jarred Cosart, Dallas Keuchel, Brett Oberholtzer, Josh Zeid, Chia-Jen Lo, Kevin Chapman and Josh Fields. Then there's outfielder George Springer and first baseman Jon Singleton, both of whom could make their debuts next year.
The challenge for the Astros now is to acquire a few more veteran players to go with the kids and put a more competitive product on the field in their second year in the rugged American League West.
"There's definitely challenges [coming to a rebuilding team], but at the same time you have to look at the positives, and the positive is you have the young guys and they're eager to win and they're eager to put their imprint into the game," Fowler said. "That's awesome. Anything I can do to help, I'm going to go out and play hard every day, and I'm sure we'll see the tides turn."
Fowler, 27, hit .263 with 18 doubles, 12 home runs, 42 RBIs, 19 stolen bases, 65 walks and a .369 on-base percentage in 119 games with Colorado last season, starting 106 games in center field. In 2012, he hit .300 in 143 games with a .389 on-base percentage.
Fowler is pegged as Houston's starting center fielder and likely its leadoff hitter, allowing Jose Altuve to hit in the No. 2 hole. Grossman, who could start in left field, hit leadoff a team-high 55 times last season, with Jonathan Villar (36) and Altuve (33) also seeing significant time at the top of the lineup.
Altuve was in the No. 2 hole a team-high 85 games last season, hitting .282 with a .312 on-base percentage. He batted .326 with a .376 on-base percentage as the leadoff hitter, but he doesn't ideally walk enough to bat first.
Coming off his solid 2012 season, Fowler started last season with a bang by hitting .284 with a .381 on-base percentage in the first half of the season, including hitting .305 with a .411 on-base percentage in April. In the second half, he slumped to .221 with a .347 on-base percentage while battling various ailments, as injuries to his right index finger, right wrist and left knee limited him to 119 games.
"Fortunately, it was nothing too serious, and I get a fresh start out here," Fowler said.
Luhnow said Tuesday the arrival of Fowler won't impact Springer, who hit .311 with 18 homers, 22 steals and 53 RBIs in two months as the starting center fielder at Triple-A Oklahoma City last season. Luhnow said Springer has the skills to play all three outfield positions.
"It's one of those things [in which] we'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Luhnow said.
Fowler has only played center field in his Major League career, so it's unlikely the Astros would ask him to move to one of the corners at this point, especially with Grossman showing the ability to handle left field and Springer perhaps moving to right. L.J. Hoes will still be in the mix as well, giving Houston what could be a solid outfield.
"That's home for me, and that's where I feel most comfortable," Fowler said of center field.