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Should the Cardinals pursue Dexter Fowler?

With spring training on the horizon, the yet-to-be signed Dexter Fowler could be an interesting candidate to fill the Cardinals' leadoff spot.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Possibly because Valentine's Day is just around the corner (although spring training fast arriving likely factors in), Anthony Castrovince of played matchmaker this afternoon with the best free agents still available on the market and paired Dexter Fowler up with the Cardinals.  Here's the relevant passage from Castrovince's column:

On no planet should a 30-year-old with a .363 career on-base percentage have to wait this long to find a home, but the compensation issue has been a brutal one for Fowler. It's clear now he did himself no favors turning down the Cubs' $15.8 million guarantee, and who better but the Cardinals to take advantage of his situation? With Randal Grichuk coming off sports hernia surgery, and neither Grichuk nor Stephen Piscotty nor Tommy Pham proven in a 162-game schedule, the Cards can add a more bankable commodity to their outfield and solidify their leadoff spot, allowing Matt Carpenter to better capitalize on his power. Giving up the 25th overall pick to a division rival is a negligible concern here.

Castrovince makes some good points.  Since Matt Carpenter reinvented himself as a hitter last year, there's been chatter to move him to a spot in the lineup more befitting his power.  I'd argue this would be a foregone conclusion if it wouldn't leave a void without an obvious candidate to fill it.  Kolten Wong set a goal to bat leadoff but his career .303 on-base percentage isn't helping his cause.  Joe Schwarz made an interesting case for Matt Holliday but that seems like a very un-Mike Matheny-like thing to do.  Perhaps Folwer could be that elusive candidate.

Castrovince is right.  The advantage of Fowler is that he's a proven commodity which is not the case with Piscotty, Grichuk, and Pham.  With one of these players already on the outside looking in (likely Pham) with Holliday in left, Fowler's presence would likely push out Grichuk who's slated to be the Cardinals' centerfielder.  Fowler's noted .363 career on-base percentage is better than the career marks of Piscotty, Grichuk, and Pham, only Fowler's spread that out over 3,830 career plate appearances, which is more than four times that of Piscotty, Grichuk, and Pham combined.  And Fowler has the façade of durability which, as of late, is a valuable resource in St. Louis.  Except for 2013 (492 total plate appearances), he's logged over 500 plate appearances every year since 2009.  His 690 plate appearances last year with the Cubs was fourth in the NL.  The addition of Fowler would add a fifth quality outfielder on the roster and allow Grichuk and Pham to play the role of insurance which the Cardinals know is also a valuable resource.

The disadvantage of Fowler is that his defense in centerfield has never been good which is not a crazy concern with Holliday roaming around in left.  And while he's only 30, he's also, well, 30.  The Baseball Prospectus 2016 annual says of Fowler, "Nothing about [his] recent history suggests his production will nosedive in his 30s, but, as for so many first-time free agents, his best years (2014 and 2015, specifically) are likely behind him."    And since the Cubs extended him a qualifying offer, Fowler would cost the Cardinals a draft pick to their division rival, and the narrative from the offseason seems to be that the organization isn't as cavalier on that front as Castrovince is.

One of the reasons why I secretly wanted Carlos Martinez to beat out Jaime Garcia for the fifth rotation spot in 2015 was that I had grown impatient on the question of whether someone with his sky-high potential could handle being a starter and was ready for an answer.  Whether that meant succeeding or failing, it was time to see what he could do, especially after he seemingly outperformed Joe Kelly in 2014 spring training yet still lost out to him.  Of course, it was all for naught as Garcia got hurt in late March and Martinez proved himself quite capable in 2015.

I have similar feelings toward Piscotty, Grichuk, and Pham.  They're young, we've seen flashes of brilliance from all three, and they're cheaper every day options in 2016 than Fowler.  It's time to get them as many plate appearances as possible.  For all I know none of them will have as productive of a career as Fowler but I don't think the Cardinals would be making a big mistake if they sat idly by to find out.