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Dexter Fowler is meeting all reasonable expectations

He has his fans and critics. Who is right?

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler to a 5 year, $82.5 million deal in December, many fans were overjoyed. Not only because he was spurning the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs to come to St. Louis, but also because the front office had finally gone out and spent money—a significant point of contention many fans hold even to this day.

As a side note, this contract is an example of a player who was successful in betting on himself. In 2015, Fowler decided not to sign a 3 year, $33 million deal with the Orioles, opting for a 1 year, $13 million deal with the Cubs. Following a strong season, he was able to sign with a third team, the Cardinals, for $82.5 million. An interesting point, but ultimately an article for another day.

Back in July, Red Barron analyzed the Dexter Fowler contract:

I feel I should say that the problem with the Fowler contract at this point really has very little to do with Dexter Fowler, who he is, and how he has played. Rather, it’s about realizing just how long five years is, and how limiting it is to hand a big money deal with a full no-trade clause attached to a player likely already in the decline phase of his career.

I am all for acquiring talent, I am sure many of you agree with me. The Cardinals have a considerable number of outfield prospects, which is not the problem. The problem is that, like every other MLB team, they can only start three of them on a given night. At a certain point, it doesn't make sense to have so many outfielders who are talented enough to play at the big league level be relegated to AAA simply due to roster space.

The lack of flexibility as a result of the Fowler contract is a negative, and it is of course extremely important to consider that when evaluating a contract. However, at the risk of sounding naive, when evaluating his performance we can set aside the overall contract and focus on this season.

Through Wednesday’s game against the Reds, Fowler sported a line of .265/.365/.497. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, although he has hit a career high number of home runs—18. It isn't the exact way the Cardinals pictured him contributing to the team in the offseason, but his contribution has been unmistakable. His wRC+ is 124—just under the career high he achieved of 128 last year. For all intents and purposes, Fowler is having a very good year. Yes, his OBP could be higher and the same can and should be said about his average. But the total production he is providing is exactly what the Cardinals signed up for last December.

It is on the defensive side where more of his detractors voice their opinions. And rightly so. It is worth noting that the Cardinals didn't just sign Fowler for the offensive help, but to stabilize the outfield defense as well. He was the most significant roster move made in an offseason where the Cardinals had committed to improving their defense.

The former Rockie was never an outstanding center fielder. Among all seasons in which he played at least 900 innings, the highest DRS value he posted was a positive 1 last year with the Cubs. Through 862 and 13 innings this year, his DRS value sits at -14. That is 14 more runs allowed than the average fielder at this position.

Out of the 17 qualified center fielders, Fowler is 15th in defensive runs saved. It begs the question, why is he playing center field? Perhaps Tommy Pham should be given a shot there? I don't think this will happen, but it should be considered for 2018.

In John J. Flemming’s piece yesterday, he noted that keeping Fowler in center is “the path of least resistance,” but that “it seems weird that a Major League Baseball team would honor the same approach my little sister used to sit in the front seat when we were growing up.” The best move for the team will probably not be to keep Fowler in center, but what actually happens is anyone’s guess.

Despite Fowler’s lack of defensive prowess, he is still producing on offense. A level of production, I would argue, that far outweighs his defensive struggles. While center may not be the best spot to put him on defense, Fowler has still been a productive player this year and we should be happy with his performance.