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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

TCN Blog 2016 Top Story #2: Free Agent Fowler Finalized

On Friday, December 9, the St. Louis Cardinals stepped out of their so-called “comfort zone”, announcing a team-record contract for a non-returning player. The recipient was free agent center fielder Dexter Fowler.

fowler-h2-200The 30-year-old most recently with the Chicago Cubs came to terms on a five-year contract that extends through the 2021 season, with his total take to be $82.5 million.

With his addition, the team addressed its most pressing stated need of the off-season, to obtain “a dynamic center fielder”, in the words of Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak.

The switch-hitting Fowler, who enjoyed an All-Star 2016 with the World Champions, owns a career .268 batting mark and a .366 on-base percentage along with 72 triples and 127 stolen bases in nine seasons (1,064 games) with the Colorado Rockies (2008-13), Houston Astros (2014) and Cubs (2015-16).

Some are wary of Fowler’s recent success, however. Specifically, his ability to sustain his 2016 improvement in defensive metrics, attributed in part to him playing shallower, has been questioned by some. Though there is less doubt about his hitting, as he has been a consistent offensive force at the top of lineups over his career.

Among active MLB players, Fowler is tied with Ichiro Suzuki for the highest on-base mark (.367) among leadoff batters (at least 500 games) but he also has pop, as evidenced by his fourth-place standing in slugging (.432) among leadoff men.  His 21 career leadoff homers since 2009 rank fourth in the majors and are tops among all switch-hitters during that time span.

With the loss of Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss from the 2016 lineup, the Cardinals wanted to try to improve the 2017 offense overall. But the true genesis of the need for Fowler was the death of Oscar Taveras two years ago, followed by the departure of Jason Heyward as a free agent last off-season.

The club reportedly looked at other free agents as well as trade scenarios, but seemed scared away from the latter approach due to the high price other traded outfielders fetched. Fowler’s price in years and dollars is high, but not when compared to the current market. The organization’s loss of their first-round draft pick in 2017 is softened somewhat by their unprecedented spending in the international market this year.

The Cardinals decided on an approach that gives them a true center fielder and switch-hitter who can serve as a legitimate running threat at the top of the batting order. This should enable former leadoff man Matt Carpenter to slide into more of a run-producing spot in the lineup. Defensively, Randal Grichuk is slated to move to Holliday’s old left field position from center.

Near the end of this contract, there is certainly risk that Fowler will underperform compared to his salary. Of course, one could say that about most free agents. In the case of Heyward’s deal with Chicago, it began in the very first season.

The Cardinals made this move to be competitive in 2017 and from the big picture view, isn’t that what their fans want?

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5 Responses to “TCN Blog 2016 Top Story #2: Free Agent Fowler Finalized”

  1. jj-cf-stl says:

    i’d be interested to know which stl batting order spot had the second most “lead off an inning” PA’s. surely batting first ranks first, due to the first inning.
    while I like carp in a more run producing spot, i’m wondering if batting fourth could also use his leadoff skillset, due to the frequency of the 3up and 3down first innings.
    i’m not locked into larussa’s batting pujols 3rd and holliday batting third, so we must also bat carp 3rd.
    and do the stl results match mlb results also?

    • Brian Walton says:

      You should do a Google search on lineup optimization and read some of the articles. Sabermetricians have a much different view of which of the spots in the lineup are more important than others. Here is one such article.

      http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/3/17/795946/optimizing-your-lineup-by

      • jj-cf-stl says:

        yes, i’m aware of their opinions / research, thanks. what I was looking for was the split from 2016 mentioned above in the first sentence.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Sorry. I’ve never seen that kind of breakdown. I understand a saber-driven lineup considers the third spot something like the fifth-most important spot, and if I remember correctly, cleanup is more important. But I’ve not seen MLB managers build their lineups other than in the traditional manner. Feels unlikely we’d see Matheny blaze this trail.

          • jj-cf-stl says:

            double splits, by lineup position instead of by player, just aren’t available anywhere I know of. guess I was hoping you rub elbows with those who would know if carp is better utilized as a second leadoff (batting fourth).
            trying for best of both worlds. someone gets on, cleanup gets to hit in the first. no-one gets on, or a DP happens, carp leads off the second.

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