Let’s get a few things out of the way right up front here:
-You’re not going to like the money that Fowler’s going to get
-He is not a perfect player
-The Cardinals had no choice but to make this move for a player that can help correct a lot of things that were wrong last year.
First up the money…
As I write this we don’t have the official numbers but Jon Heyman tweeted that he’s hearing 5 years and $80-90 million. It’s a lot but I’m totally fine with the number. I’d rather lay out the cash than trade Alex Reyes to acquire this kind of player at a lower cost in the trade market. It’s simple, really.
Keep in mind that this deal is worth about half of what Jason Heyward’s deal with the Cubs will pay. Considering that Fowler is the better, more consistent player I think the Cardinals come out okay here by comparison.
While we’re doing comparisons, let’s also note that compared to Aroldis Chapman’s $86 million deal the Fowler contract is a bargain.
Chapman will pitch 60-65 innings and will ONLY pitch in games, for the most part, that his team is already leading. Fowler will get 600+ plate appearance and play everyday for roughly the same amount of money.
Which is more valuable?
Give me the everyday leadoff man over the closer any day of the week. Dominant closers are amazing but someone still has to get them a lead otherwise they’re pretty much irrelevant.
The ironic thing here is that we have a segment of the Cardinals fan base that constantly whines about the team not spending enough money while another set of fans will whine about “overspending” here. This is simple – you can’t overspend on a player you need if you can afford that player.
And the Cardinals can absolutely afford what they’re paying Fowler. And they need him. Badly.
Now on to Fowler himself…
He’s not perfect. He’s an average-ish center fielder for now and he’ll be 31 in March so there’s a good chance he’ll decline at some point during this contract. He won’t hit a ton of home runs. He’s not going to win a batting title.
Here’s what he will bring to the table:
-A top end leadoff man with a .373 OBP and .800 OPS on average over the last five seasons.
-Lineup depth that will allow the team’s best hitter, Matt Carpenter, to hit in a run producing spot in the lineup. This is a big deal because without Carpenter in the 3-hole this team would not have a legit bat for that spot. As a switch-hitter he also makes match ups less of an issue.
-Good enough defense to improve your outfield defense as a whole. In my opinion, Fowler is a better defensive CF than Randall Grichuk is at this point and Grichuk will be a significant upgrade in LF over Holliday and Moss. The sum total is a solid improvement even if Fowler himself is just okay in CF.
-Base running skill – this was the worst base running team in baseball last year and Fowler is very good in this regard. He’s not going to steal 30-40 bases but he’ll get 15-20, he’ll take the extra base at most opportunities and he’ll be able to score from second on singles and from first on doubles. This is a big upgrade.
-He’ll bring a new vibe into the clubhouse and with this long term contract he’ll be in a position, as a veteran, to serve in a leadership role.
The Cardinals had no choice here…
They had to make a big move, one that would change the look of the team and give them a chance to make up games in the standings. Fowler doesn’t make up 17 games on the Cubs but he does add some elements that could lead to a couple of more wins and the 2016 team missed the playoffs by one game.
The trade market has gone goofy. The Red Sox blew everyone’s minds with what they gave up for Chris Sale – and he’s certainly worth it given their overall depth and quality young roster – and the Nationals paid a ridiculous price for Adam Eaton. To get in the conversation for cost-controlled CF’ers who could upgrade this team the Cardinals would have had to part with Alex Reyes and that would be a horrible idea.
They lose a draft pick, sure, but they also had 3 of the top 34 picks in last June’s draft plus they loaded up with 13 international amateur free agents in July. They can handle losing the 19th pick in the 2017 draft…even to the Cubs.
Fowler is not “Mr. Right” for the Cardinals but he is “Mr. Right Now” and that’s plenty good. There wasn’t a transformative franchise type player out there to be had so they signed the player who best fit their needs, from position to skill set to clubhouse presence, and they paid a premium to do so.
It’s a smart move.
My projected Opening Day lineup…
Dexter Fowler, CF
Aledmys Diaz, SS
Matt Carpenter, 1B
Stephen Piscotty, RF
Yadier Molina, C
Randall Grichuk, LF
Jhonny Peralta, 3B
Kolten Wong, 2B
Carlos Martinez, P