According to MLB insiders, Dexter Fowler believes that he can receive $18 million per year on the contract he signs this offseason. So why should the Cardinals make him their second highest paid player currently on contract?
The Cardinals Need an Outfielder…
The departure of Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss, who combined to start over 75% of the Cardinals games in 2016 in left field, leaves St. Louis with a major hole in the outfield. Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk will definitely be starting outfielders in 2017, after impressive years in right field and center field, respectively.
But how can Dexter Fowler, a player that has strictly played center field for his entire major-league career (except for that one inning he spent in right field in 2008), fit into this Cardinals outfield? Luckily, both Piscotty and Grichuk were primarily left fielders in 2015, before finding more permanent homes in 2016. Most likely, Grichuk would move over to left field, opening up center field for Fowler and keeping Piscotty in right.
… Who Can Hit…
Dexter Fowler gets on base. A lot. Out of all qualified batters in 2016, Fowler got on base the 11st most frequently, posting a .393 OBP. The only center fielder to get on base more frequently last year was Mike Trout. Although Fowler’s batting average was only .276, he walked 10th most frequently— in 14.3% of plate appearances.
Fowler has always been a batter who has gotten on base. He holds a lifetime .268/.366/.422 slash. But what people often overlook is Fowler’s power. Although he only knocked in 13 homers last year, he recorded 25 doubles and 7 triples, contributing to a .447 SLG. Ian Desmond, Adam Jones, and Andrew McCutchen all had lower SLG% than Fowler in 2016, while recording 22, 29, and 24 home runs, respectively.
… And Play Defense
Dexter Fowler is, slightly, an above average fielder. He recorded an Ultimate Zone rating of 1. When adjusted to his position, his DEF rating becomes a 2.7, meaning that he saved 2.7 runs from being scored this year compared to a complete average center fielder.
Although anything positive is beneficial to the team, the real value in Fowler’s defense comes from the players that he will be replacing. Holliday and Moss combined for a DEF of -12.7. Going from -12.7 to 2.7 means that the Cardinals should save about 15 runs, which is equivalent to about 1.5 wins on the year.
So What Are They Waiting For?
Dexter Fowler is the exact player that the Cardinals are looking to add this off-season. He can be added without causing problems to the defensive lineup. He is an All-Star batter who gets on base often. He plays above-average defense.
In terms of value, Fowler had a WAR in 2016 of 4.7, good for 7th best outfielder and 4th best center fielder. 2016 wasn’t a fluke either. Although this past season was Fowler’s best to date, he did post a WAR of 3.3 in 2015. Since 2011, Fowler has posted an average WAR of nearly 2.7.
At $18 million a year, the price tag for Fowler seems pretty heavy. He would be the second-highest paid Cardinal behind Wainwright. But for the value that he has created over the past two years with the Cubs, he definitely deserves a pay day.
Fangraphs offers an estimated value for the amount of money a team must spend in order to recreate the amount of value that a player created in a year. In order to sign players to produce the value that Fowler has produced on average since 2011 (a WAR of 2.7), a team would have to spend approximately $21 million. It seems pretty obvious that Fowler has been on an uphill trend and should continue to play at that level, so an $18 million/year price tag is fair for this free-agent (and hopefully future Cardinal) center fielder.
Photo Credit: David Richard- USA TODAY
Statistics from FanGraphs.com