6. A Major Return on Investment from Dexter Fowler
It’s unbelievable what the end of a 108-year Chicago Cubs World Series drought can do to incite rage in Cardinal nation. With very vocal demands for a shakeup from the fan base this winter, the Cardinals declined Matt Holliday’s $17 million-dollar option for 2017, decided to move Randal Grichuk to left field, and began perusing a notably weak free agent class for a new outfielder.
After plenty of turmoil at the Winter Meetings, they came away with Dexter Fowler, who on the surface doesn’t look incredibly special; he’s a lifetime .268/.366/.422 hitter who averages 12 homers per 162 games, historically grades out poorly in defensive metrics, and turns 31 years old in March. But Fowler’s a reigning World Series champ who’s coming off his first All-Star selection, one of his best offensive seasons as a major-leaguer, and his best defensive season in a long while. As a player who gained quite a bit of star power over the past two postseasons with the Cubs, has a strong reputation for being a positive clubhouse presence, and can provide some extra value on the basepaths, Fowler had pretty much every skill that the Cardinals desired.
He didn’t come cheap, though; the Cardinals gave him a five-year, $82.5 million-dollar deal. That’s by no means a ridiculous price to pay for one of the better players on the free agent market these days, but when you think about it, it’s a hefty investment for a player that’s been considered average or just slightly above it for most of his major-league career.
Thus, the Cardinals have to hope and pray that he delivers on the contract during 2017 and helps propel them to a Wild Card berth, if not a division title. He doesn’t have a tremendous track record to prove that he’s going to keep getting on base at a near-.400 clip, playing elite defense in center field, and stealing double-digit bases as he moves to a new team and continues to age. If Fowler can prove that the player he was during 2016 is the same player he’s going to be in the future, he’ll become an indispensable asset for the Cardinals.
On the other hand, if he reverts back to being the inconsistent hitter and fielder that he was during his days with the Colorado Rockies, it will look like a poor investment for the Cardinals that’s only going to get worse as he ages. With that in mind, it would be in the best interest of both the team and Fowler for him to get off to a dominant start in 2017.