The saga of Dexter Fowler is sickening to pretty much all Cardinals fans. His 2018 regression was historically awful, his perceived love of the Chicago Cubs is inexcusable. Nevertheless, entering into the 2019 season, he may be the most important piece to a team that seems primed to get back to the playoffs.
Fowler is not what Cardinals fans want, he’s not Bryce Harper. It’s time to accept the fact that most likely the Cardinals will enter the season with Fowler as the projected starting right fielder. He will play the role of either #2 hitter setting up for offseason pickup Paul Goldschmidt or he will be batting in the 6th spot protecting the bigger bats. .180/.278/.298 are numbers you expect to see from a Starting Pitcher rather than your $16.5 million per year starting outfielder. But to say that he repeats those numbers is almost unfathomable. In Fowler’s worst season outside of 2018 the lowest OBP he recorded was .364 in 2015, his lowest OPS .757 also in 2015. Whether it was the reported depression, injury or who knows what else, regression of that level is unheard of in major league history.
While the Cardinals may never have the man to live up the contract that was signed in the offseason of 2016 realistically they don’t need the Fowler that posted an .840 and .851 OPS in 2016 and 2017. They need a Fowler that can be at his career average at best to be successful. Despite his dreadful 2018 Fowler still has a career OPS of .780 nearly 60 points higher than the MLB average was in 2018. Looking at the 2018 playoff teams worst OPS player you can see that all the Cardinals would need is a below average season from Fowler to get what they need.
Rockies, Ian Desmond, 160 games, .729 OPS
Brewers, Ryan Braun, 125 games, .782 OPS
Dodgers, Chris Taylor, 155 games, .775 OPS
Braves, Ender Inciarte, 156 games, .705 OPS
Combined average = .747 OPS
Fowler would need to be at just a .747 OPS to be where the Cardinals would need him to be. As previously stated only one time in his career has he posted an OPS below that mark (last season). While they were small, Fowler did show signs of life before his foot injury raising his OPS to .659 when compared to his June .412. He added three homeruns in 64 at-bats in July compared to the zero he had in 55 at-bats in June. Signs of life were there but quickly faded after getting hit by a pitch in early August.
His defense has been the subject of criticism as well last season, but he was never touted as a Gold Glover before being signed. With the addition of Paul Goldschmidt the Cardinals now have at least four potential Gold Glove winners, Bader, Wong, Yadi, Goldy and a past winner in Marcell Ozuna. Any issues Fowler has in the field should be covered by the play of those around him. He isn’t worse than Jose Martinez and the Cardinals were fine with risking their defense for the bigger bat.
I want Bryce Harper, I want Tyler O’Neil to get more at bats. But seemingly that is not going to be a guaranteed option unless the Cardinals are willing to eat $41 million over the next two seasons. The Cardinals are not going to do that, they are going to ride with Fowler until they are forced to realize that he has nothing left. This team now has its cornerstone bat in the middle of the order, they have the pitching staff that can give them a chance to win every night. All they need is a small piece of the player they believed they had signed to be successful. It’s there, hopefully we see it.