$82 million is a lot of money. It would be a lot of money regardless of who was collecting that money, but it really looks like a lot of money when it is being paid to a 31 year old center fielder who has spent as much time on the disabled list as he has on the field.
Just over halfway through the first year of his 5 year contract with the Cardinals, Dexter Fowler already looks like a mistake. Offensively, Fowler has been okay. His .452 slugging percentage and 14 home runs have been a pleasant surprise. However, the on base skills that were the primary reason behind the Cardinals being willing to pay him $82 million have diminished to the tune of a .334 mark and only 4 stolen bases.
And the improved center field defense that took Fowler from being a -20 DRS player during the 2014 season with the Houston Astros to being a +5 DRS player with the 2016 Chicago Cubs? Yeah, it’s been pretty awful to the tune of -12 DRS and a -3.3 defensive fWAR in only 631 innings.
With yesterday’s announcement that Fowler was headed to the 10 day disabled list for the 3rd time this season, I heard a lot of kicking and screaming on Twitter about his contract. And after top prospect Harrison Bader’s heroic performance last night, that kicking and screaming has only gotten louder this morning.
Well, as the headline says, everyone needs to chill.
Firstly, Dexter Fowler hasn’t been that bad. His on base skills have always been prevalent, and if he can shake the injury bug and find himself some consistent at bats, he’ll be right around the .380 – .390 OBP mark that we all expected prior to this season.
The unexpected slugging has been beautiful to see. Fowler’s 2017 ISO of .210 would be a career high mark by nearly 50 points, and project out his 14 HR’s in 333 plate appearances over a full season of 600 plate appearances and we’re looking at 25 HR’s. Combine that with the on base skills that will show with consistent at bats and the Cardinals have themselves a dynamic offensive player.
Secondly, Fowler’s injuries this year have been small, nagging things that no player can control. Injuries are the worst and it’s not fair to already call his contract a ‘mistake’ just because of the injuries he’s dealt with.
Personally, I believe that those nagging injuries have been a part of Fowler’s determination to play center field in St. Louis. Earlier in July, when asked how the outfield would shake out after Fowler’s initial return from injury, Tommy Pham commented, “Dex is in center field, we know that for sure.”
Center field is a tough position to play every day. It’s especially tough for a guy dealing with small, nagging injuries. So, to do our part in trying to solve some of Fowler’s injury issues, just move him to a corner outfield spot. The Cardinals already have several in-house replacements to take his spot.
In just 178.1 innings played in CF, Tommy Pham has been worth 6 DRS and 1.1 defensive fWAR. His defense hasn’t just been good, it’s been exceptional. So why keep trotting out a terrible defensive center fielder when there’s a great defensive center fielder hanging out next to Fowler?
And thirdly, we all have to take a look back at the state of the Cardinals when they initially signed Dexter Fowler.
On December 9th, the Cardinal outfield looked unstable, at best. Randal Grichuk was coming off of a rough year during his debut season in CF. Stephen Piscotty was locked into the right field position, and beyond those two players, there didn’t seem to be any options that could be counted on to produce in 2017.
Tommy Pham was an oft-injured Triple-A guy that didn’t seem to have a spot. Jose Martinez wasn’t a name that anyone knew, Harrison Bader wasn’t ready yet, and Tyler O’Neill was still in Seattle.
The Cardinals needed a center fielder. The trade market was exploding, and players like Adam Eaton were being dealt away for entire farm systems. St. Louis was wise to avoid an inflated trade market, and Fowler was clearly the best fit on the free agent market.
At the time of the move, it was imperative. Fowler slid right into the Cardinals immediate plan and the 5 year deal provided St. Louis with future stability, which was desperately needed entering the 2017 season.
Since then, Tommy Pham has played his way into becoming the Cardinals’ most productive position player and a 5 WAR outfielder. Jose Martinez has turned heads and become one of the best pinch hitters in the sport. Harrison Bader has crushed Triple-A and now made his mark in the Major Leagues. Tyler O’Neill has been acquired from the Seattle Mariners and players like Magneuris Sierra, Randy Arozarena and Adolis Garcia have shown themselves to be potential Major League impact players.
If, on the day Dexter Fowler signed his contract, you saw all of this coming, you’re lying.
Hindsight is everything, and being able to look back on all that has transpired during the 2017 season allows us to see that yeah, if we were given the option right now of whether or not to sign Dexter Fowler before the season, we would gladly pass on him.
But he was needed at the time and that’s all that matters. So everybody take a second and chill; have some patience.
Fowler simply needs to be moved out of center field, which will hopefully solve the nagging injury problem. Being moved to a corner outfield spot will improve his defense by giving him less ground to cover. With the nagging injury issue presumably solved, Fowler will be able to gain his stride and get consistent at bats. With consistent at bats, the on base numbers will get back to where we expected them and can combine with the improved power to create a highly productive corner outfielder.
So everybody just relax. Put away your pitchforks and torches about Dexter Fowler’s contract and have some patience. Baseball is a fickle beast and unexpected things happen. Fowler is not suddenly a horrible player that needs to be cut. He’s a productive and dependable Major League player that simply needs a few adjustments to harness that production and dependability.
Let’s all enjoy Harrison Bader and Tommy Pham for right now, but stop going too far and calling Fowler a mistake.
He’s not. So chill.
Thanks for reading.