Posted on December 9, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
The St. Louis Cardinals have agreed to a deal with free agent center fielder Dexter Fowler. The contract is for five years and worth $82.5 million. It also includes a full no-trade clause. The Cardinals formally announced the agreement at a press conference Friday morning.
The Cardinals considered quite a few center fielders, but Fowler was always going to be their top target, especially since they’re able to take him from the division rival Chicago Cubs. Fowler has spent the last two seasons with the Cubs, re-signing with Chicago last winter after failing to receive the kind of long-term deal he was seeking.
Fowler was always unlikely to return to the Cubs this season, and when the team signed Jon Jay early in the offseason, it all but assured that Fowler would not be staying in Chicago. Nevertheless, Fowler had the best offensive season of his career in 2016, posting a line of .276/.393/.447 and becoming an important part of the Cubs on their way to winning the World Series. That season has given Fowler the kind of payday he was hoping for last offseason.
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With the Cardinals, Fowler figures to be the every day center. His presence is likely to push Randal Grichuk to left field, where Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss played in a platoon last season. Holliday signed with the Yankees, while Moss remains a free agent. The Cardinals were disappointed in Grichuk last season, as he was demoted to the minors on multiple occasions. However, the Cardinals don’t appear to have many alternatives to him on the roster right now.
The Cardinals are also hoping that Fowler can provide a boost defensively. St. Louis was unimpressed with Grichuk defensively last year, and the hope is that a move to a corner position will help. Of course, Fowler has been graded as subpar defensively for most of his career, although he did show improvement in that area last year. If nothing else, Fowler in center field and Grichuk in left gives the Cardinals more speed and athleticism than they had in the outfield for much of last season.
Fowler is also likely to become the leadoff man for the Cardinals, which should help to lengthen their lineup. Matt Carpenter served as the team’s leadoff hitter for a majority of the season in 2016 due to lack of a better option. He will now be able to move down in the order to a spot where he can drive in runs alongside the likes of Stephen Piscotty and Jhonny Peralta.
Whether Fowler will be worth such a big contract over the long run remains to be seen, as he will be 31 on opening day and may not be able to replicate what he did last season without the motivation of being in a contract year or being part of a lineup that was absolutely stacked. But in the short term, Fowler should be a positive addition to the Cardinals, solving problems in both center field and the leadoff spot. With Fowler taking over those spots, the Cardinals should once contend for a playoff spot in 2017.