Sure, they paid more than they wanted to in order to get him.
But, in many ways, inking Dexter Fowler to a five-year contract was the smart thing to do for the St. Louis Cardinals.
People are somehow surprised every time a major league player signs a new deal. I hear all the time that folks can’t believe Fowler is getting two-thirds of the cash Matt Holliday got from the Redbirds. Holliday, they say, was an elite slugger. Fowler is a very good — but maybe not great — player.
Holliday’s contract was signed SEVEN YEARS AGO. Not only was that a long period of time for inflation to accumulate — it was before MLB negotiated a much more lucrative national TV deal and before the individual teams started landing billion-dollar local TV rights deals.
Comparing real world spending to MLB budgets is a lot like comparing your household budget to the family across the street that won the Powerball. They’re operating on a whole different plane from the rest of us and there isn’t much value in wasting time trying to compare.
Suffice it to say, it’s the cost of doing business these days because of the scale of their revenue stream.
In the MLB context, Fowler’s deal is a bargain — even if he is past his prime in the last season or two.
First, he’s reportedly going to make $80 million over five years. A lot for you and me. But in the St. Louis Cardinals’s world, that’s nearly identical to what they paid Mike Leake last year to be their fourth starter. If Leake is worth that money, there is NO DOUBT Fowler is worth at least as much. And no one was going to tell his agent otherwise. He plays a prime defensive position — every day — and has a valuable skill set as a leadoff man.
Second, signing Fowler saved the Cardinals from parting with several players who could make an impact with the club in 2017. Alex Reyes, Harrison Bader, Luke Weaver… keeping those guys around is going to make up for the value of at least half of Weaver’s contract. If Reyes earns a job in the Cardinals rotation this year or next, that alone justifies not trading him for Adam Eaton and signing Fowler instead.
A lot of people are bemoaning the fact that the Birds gave up the 19th pick in the 2017 draft to get Fowler. Again, Reyes, Weaver and Bader are worth much more. A draft pick is a roll of the dice. These three are in finishing school. They’re much safer bets to make a big league impact.
Finally, imagine the Cardinals would have signed Jason Heyward to a $200 million contract last winter. For more than 2 1/2 times the cost of Fowler, they would have Heyward locked in right field. That means Stephen Piscotty would be forced to play left and Randal Grichuk would be stuck in center. For years. At more than twice the price.
So, yeah, the Cardinals had to pay Fowler a bit past his prime and a bit more than they wanted. But there really was no other logical choice.
And now the Cardinals ought to double down and sign Justin Turner to play third for all of the same reasons — keep their prospects while filling an important need, etc — plus one: They’ve already given up their first round pick. So the pain would be even less than signing Fowler.
Now that’s a starting eight that could put up a lot of runs and play better defense than last year.