The North Siders are headed to the World Series. For the Cardinals, all this means is that we are one step closer to the offseason.
With all due respect to the Javier Baez lovefest, Dexter Fowler was a more deserving choice for National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player. He went 9-for-27, including a round-tripper and a trio of two-baggers, out of the leadoff spot, along with sterling defense in center field. He set the tone for a Chicago Cubs offense that at times looked more sluggish than sensational, and notched a multi-hit game in each of the Cubbies’ four wins.
Fowler’s marvelous NLCS was the continuation of a marvelous regular season which saw him post career bests almost across the board–this despite spending the first six years of his career in hitter heaven Denver. His .393 OBP, 14.3 BB%, 129 wRC+, 4.7 fWAR, you name it–Fowler was at his best; his hit tool, power, and baserunning prowess were as good as they’ve ever been, too. It would be hard to ask for much better of a campaign from the 30-year-old Georgia product. And it would be hard for Fowler to have had much more of an impact on an already great Cubs team.
The #Cubs are 47-13 (.783) this season (including postseason) when Dexter Fowler reaches base safely to leadoff a game.
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) October 23, 2016
Okay, we get it, Fowler is great. So what does this have to do with the Cardinals?
Luckily for the St. Louis Cardinals, no one really wanted the guy last offseason (well, the Orioles sort of did). Most of that had to do with the qualifying offer attached to Fowler, but regardless of the reason, Fowler was forced to re-sign with the Cubs on a cheap 1+1 pact. Barring a poorly-made champagne-fueled decision by Fowler, the second half of that deal will not come to fruition, and Fowler will hit the market as fair game.
All that brings us back to the Cardinals. Since their season ended, Cardsblog has devoted much effort to dissecting what must be fixed to return to glory in 2017: Jaime Garcia, Trevor Rosenthal, the bullpen. Three recurring motifs are that the Cardinals need to play better defense, need to figure out center field, and need to find a true leadoff hitter. Basically, they need Dexter Fowler.
The Cubs aren’t just going to let Fowler walk to their biggest rival, though.
Maybe it’s hard to imagine the tight-knit Cubbies letting Fowler go this winter. But consider this: they were prepared to do so last January, until circumstances allowed them to scoop him up for pennies. This time around, there’s even less reason to keep Fowler.
The Cubs will have an excess of outfield options next year. Jason Heyward and his $184 million are as rooted in Wrigley’s right field as the ivy until further notice. No designated hitter in the National League means they have to stick Kyle Schwarber in left. Assuming Baez has earned himself the starting second base role, Ben Zobrist may have to shift over to the outfield more often than not. Then there’s Albert Almora and Jorge Soler. Basically, there’s no room for Fowler.
Beyond that, the Cubs have to prepare financially for the long term. They’re going to have to pay Jake Arrieta, or his replacement. Kris Bryant and the slew of young stars are still a few years from arbitration, but those numbers are going to add up fast. Giving Fowler a five-year deal right now might not be the best idea. It would be short-sighted and a fairly unnecessary win-now move.
Fowler is the perfect fit for the Cubs for the same reasons he’s the perfect fit for the Cardinals. They don’t have another prototypical leadoff mold, and as a switch-hitter, he balances the slightly righty-skew lineup. But when it comes down to it, they may just run out of room for him.
Fowler is exactly what the doctor ordered for these Cardinals.
Over the past few years, we’ve gotten used to the Cardinals simply being able to plug holes in their roster. We don’t quite know how they do it, but they do. Whatever’s needed–a shutdown closer? How about an All-Star shortstop?–they somehow manage to find.
This time, though, it’s a little different. Fowler and the Cardinals are a match made in baseball heaven. The Cardinals had the platoon advantage in only 47 percent of plate appearances, one of baseball’s lowest marks. Adding a switch-hitter gives the lineup some balance. It allows manager Mike Matheny to move Matt Carpenter to a more natural spot in the lineup. He could lengthen the top of the order to, say, Fowler-Aledmys Diaz-Carpenter-Stephen Piscotty. Fowler is also a better defensive fit in center than Randal Grichuk.
Yes, he will be 31 and presumably won’t be as cheap as last time. But he’s multi-talented enough to age fairly well, and even so, should have another big year or two in him. The Cardinals window may be closing. They need a spark, and giving Fowler a five-year deal this offseason might not be the worst move.
Image Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports