Everyone Chill on Dexter Fowler

$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.

Yikes.

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.

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Photo Courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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.

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Photo Courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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.

-Ryan

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Everyone Chill on Dexter Fowler

It is Officially Time for the Cardinals to Sell

It is July 6th, and the St. Louis Cardinals are 43-41. That record places them 9.5 games back of the 52-32 Chicago Cubs and sitting in 3rd place in the National League Central division. Normally, still being 3 months away from the playoffs, Cardinals fans would have reason to be patient and optimistic – particularly considering that St. Louis is only 3 games shy of the second wild card spot.

This year is very different.

Following a dreadful 7-5 home loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, St. Louis sits in a very precarious position. With the trade deadline coming up, General Manager John Mozeliak has a potentially franchise altering decision to make. Do the Cardinals buy or sell?

In this writer’s opinion, for the first time in my recent memory, the Cardinals should sell.

There are a lot of factors to this decision, but let’s start with the things that tonight’s 7-5 loss to Pittsburgh taught us.

The Pirates, despite their underwhelming start, are still very good and will only get better. Having won 6 straight games, Pittsburgh has now surpassed St. Louis for 2nd place in the division. Gerrit Cole just made his first start of an injury rehab assignment on Tuesday, striking out 6 in 3 innings of work for Triple-A Indianapolis, and is due back very soon. His return, combined with the arrival of top pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow and the impending returns of Francisco Cervelli and, eventually, Jameson Taillon can lead Pittsburgh to believe that they will only get stronger in the second half.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, are trending in the very opposite direction. The team’s leading home run hitter, Brandon Moss, was put on the 15 day disabled list on Tuesday with a sprained left ankle, and that news came following the news that ace reliever Kevin Siegrist would be placed on the disabled list with mononucleosis – basically, extreme fatigue.

And, if that wasn’t enough, the Cardinals’ only All-Star, Matt Carpenter, left tonight’s game in the 2nd inning with what the club called, “a strained right oblique.” Carpenter – 1.001 OPS / 164 WRC+ / 3.5 WAR – has dealt with said injury before, and we could be looking at possibly a month long stay on the shelf. Carpenter potentially being out for a month would be a devastating blow to St. Louis, and the fact that the Cardinals haven’t been able to win with Carpenter doesn’t remotely give me any belief that they can win without him.

Following Carpenter’s exit, the Cardinals took a 5-1 lead and looked poised to snatch a crucial win from Pittsburgh. That was all before Jaime Garcia and the sieve-like Cardinal bullpen decided to have another breakdown and change the script. With no Siegrist, Jonathan Broxton inherited the 7th inning tonight, and promptly gave up the 3 runs which would give Pittsburgh a lead that their lights out bullpen would not relinquish.

The Cardinals’ bullpen has been a problem all season long, and there isn’t a reason to believe that improvement will occur. The Cardinals’ collective 3.73 bullpen ERA ranks 10th in baseball, and the 9 losses surrendered is tied for 4th best in baseball. So the fact that the Cardinal bullpen has still felt extremely inconsistent and vulnerable despite the seemingly solid numbers is worrisome.

Yeah, I know, how brilliant to base my opinion on a bullpen off of a gut feeling that I get while watching them every night, but it’s true. No team can win in the playoffs with a bullpen like the Cardinals have. With Siegrist’s injury being as unpredictable as it is, Trevor Rosenthal’s meltdown – 5.28 ERA, 22 walks in 29 innings – and Jonathan Broxton’s inconsistency – 1.80 ERA in April, 9.31 ERA in May, 0.77 ERA in June – the Cardinal bullpen doesn’t really point towards improvement.

But, let’s assume that the Cardinals decide to become buyers at the July trade deadline, they would presumably be shopping for bullpen arms and/or a position player. So what kind of bullpen help is out there on the market?

Looking to New York, the names of Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman have been thrown all over the trade rumor mill. Miller is likely out of the Cardinals price range, as the Yankees’ have reportedly asked for Kyle Schwarber in return for Miller from the Cubs; the Cardinals do not have a player comparable to Schwarber that should be dealt for two and a half years of an 8th inning reliever, that’s completely unreasonable for a transitioning club like St. Louis.

Moving along to Chapman – who will be a free agent at the end of the season – his asking price will likely be in the range of either a young, MLB ready position player – a la Kolten Wong or Randal Grichuk – or a B+ position player prospect – a la Carson Kelly or Harrison Bader. Neither of those scenarios should be attractive to St. Louis, as Chapman’s price tag at the end of the season will be too high to re-sign him, and giving up any of those four names for three months of Aroldis Chapman should be a big red light.

In an almost identical scenario to Chapman is Arizona closer Brad Ziegler. He is a free agent at the end of the 2016 season, and would likely carry a high price tag due to his sparkling 1.85 ERA and 18/19 save record. Milwaukee closer Jeremy Jeffress – he of a 2.45 ERA and a 23/24 save record – will carry a heavy price tag due to the 3 years of control a club will have over him following the 2016 season, and it’s highly unlikely that Milwaukee would be willing to part ways with their top reliever to a team in the same division.

In looking at the possible bullpen trade market, none of the Cardinals’ options really make sense at this point in the season, and ever since the 2nd wild card was added into the mix by Major League Baseball, the trade deadline has become a sellers’ market.

The injury to Matt Carpenter – on top of the already existing injuries to Brandon Moss, Kevin Siegrist, and now Jhonny Peralta – combined with an inconsistent bullpen and the recent and expected continual resurgence of the Pirates put the Cardinals in a position to sell; a position they must take advantage of…

…which brings us to a different question. If the Cardinals are to sell, who do they put out on the market?

In no particular order, here are the players that St. Louis should look to sell before the July 31st trade deadline.

Matt Adams – With the injury to Brandon Moss, Adams should get the bulk of the playing time over at 1st base for the next few weeks. But, with Mike Matheny being the manager that he is, Jedd Gyorko has started both of the games that Moss has been unavailable for. As Adams showed earlier in the season, he is a very productive first baseman when he gets consistent playing time. When given 22 starts during the month of May, Adams posted a 1.064 OPS and drove in 19 runs. He will have two years of arbitration control beyond this one, so to a team looking to buy, such as the New York Mets, Chicago White Sox, or Houston Astros, Adams could present very good value.

Seung-hwan Oh – By far, Oh has been the Cardinals best reliever. Sporting a 1.67 FIP, 12.2 K/9 rate and racking up 1.4 WAR so far this season, Oh represents a very dependable and very versatile reliever, as he has pitched anywhere from the 6th to the 9th inning for the Cardinals this year. In a reliever market that seems very top-heavy, Oh could be a mid-level option for any team looking for reliever help. Being on a one year deal, the Cardinals’ asking price couldn’t necessarily be particularly high, but Oh is still a valuable piece that could fetch a solid return in a somewhat sparse reliever market.

Brandon Moss – Depending on how long his DL stint is, Moss could be unavailable at the July deadline due to nobody wanting to trade for an injured player. But, with a .566 slugging percentage, a .910 OPS, 17 home runs, and the ability to play both corner outfield positions and first base, Moss presents tremendous value. He is a free agent at the end of the season, but plenty of teams could use a player like Moss, and if the Cardinals decide to sell him, he would be in high demand among relatively offensively challenged teams such as Cleveland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Jaime Garcia – This is the Cardinals’ big ticket to a truly successful trade deadline, in my eyes. The starting pitching market at this year’s trade deadline is pretty low on talent, with the biggest potential names out there being Rich Hill and Hector Santiago. Julio Teheran’s name has been thrown around, but the Braves are adamant that they will hang onto their ace and keep him around through their rebuild. With many contending teams in dire need of starting pitching – Kansas City, Boston, Baltimore, Texas – Garcia would be in high demand. He has proven his health over the past season and a half, and his 162 ERA+ and 4.1 WAR during the 2015 season show that Garcia can be a frontline left-handed starter. On top of that, Garcia has a very reasonably priced $12 million team option in 2017, so there is control beyond this season. For a pitching-needy club making a postseason push, the Cardinals could really pull in some pieces for Garcia.

This article could be interpreted as Ryan panicking and giving up on the Cardinals after just one frustrating July game, but I don’t view it that way. I viewed tonight, July 6th, 2016, as a reality check.

The Cardinals are in a very precarious position. The team’s core is finally showing signs of slowing down and breaking down. Yadier Molina got off to hot start, but has since struggled his way to a .671 OPS and a startling -1 defensive runs saved. Adam Wainwright has somewhat turned things around following his dreadful start, but still sits with a 4.70 ERA and a career low 6.1 K/9 rate, suggesting that his stuff just simply isn’t fooling hitters like it normally has. And while Matt Holliday has hit 15 home runs, his OBP is a career low .319 and his defensive metrics are atrocious.

The 2012 Phillies are often used as an example of how not to deal with an aging core, as that front office simply held on too long and the team’s core aged and sent the team into a rebuilding abyss. If the Cardinals decide to be patient and make one last run with this core, they will have to give up valuable young pieces to do so and thus could be looking at a similar situation; a gutted farm system, a bunch of aging veterans, and no success to show for it.

The Cardinals have plenty of young talent spread throughout their minor league system and are not far away from being a very good team. But this is just not their year, and giving up valuable young farm system talent for short term rentals would only set them back further.

This one month could decide the future of one of the greatest franchises that baseball has ever known. Let us all hope and pray that John Mozeliak makes the moves that help us look back upon this month as the time that the Cardinals began their next great dynasty, not the time that the Cardinals began their descent into baseball hell.

It is Officially Time for the Cardinals to Sell