MLB Winter Meetings Begin Today. What Does Cardinals GM John Mozeliak Have Up His Sleeve

By Beth Chapman
Dec. 04, 2016

St. Louis Cardinals, thus far, have signed left-handed pitcher Brett Cecil from the free agent list. Traded left-handed pitcher Jaime Garcia to the Atlanta Braves for three prospects. One of which is pitcher John Gant. At the "non-tender" deadline, Cardinals did not tender a contract to reliever Seth Maness, ground ball/double play specialist, releasing him into free agency. The last was to free up space on their 40 man roster before heading into today's Winter Meetings that will wrap-up this Thursday, December 8. From the beginning of the Cardinals early off-season, it was reported the organization would be looking to move Randal Grichuk from center to left field to replace the forced exit of Matt Holliday. Now with the CBA agreement virtually in place prior the November 30 midnight deadline, MLB business will go on at the meetings as planned in full force. Representatives of free agents will be in attendance; along with, team representatives, who will be shopping possible trades. Reports that other pieces are being considered by Cardinals. On the list, reportedly, is a starting pitcher, third baseman added to the hunt for their centerfielder. Seems, one outfielder is still a strong candidate. One who supposedly has been linked to the Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak's 'very interested' list. 

Free agent, centerfielder Dexter Fowler, reportedly seeking $18 MM annually to be signed.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

That centerfielder which the Cardinals have had on their list - former Chicago Cubs centerfielder, free agent Dexter Fowler. The 30 year old, in the majors for nine years, hailing from the Colorado Rockies, with a stint with the Houston Astros before his past two seasons with the Cubs. Not a Golden Glover, not a Silver Slugger award winner. He was in the RoY running in 2009; and, he only has one All Star appearance, 2016, with the rest of the Cubs roster. His career offense, .268 BA/.422 SLG with a total of 127 stolen bases. Career defense, .984 Fldg%. Last season, he had a .286/.447 slash line on offense, with 13 stolen bases, only caught four times. He held a 4.2 WAR. Defense, pretty steady at a .983 Fldg% with 'only' four errors in 1027.1 innings played. Fowler had 219 put-outs on 229 chances.  He earned $9.5 MM/2015 and $8 MM/2016 with the northenders of Chicago. His claim to fame is that he was a part of the World Series Champions last season. Therefore, considering all, is $18 MM annually worth signing him by the Cardinals.? Personally, "if so", I would offer a four year deal, team option for his fifth year. Really, $72 MM would not be over the top for four years. 

My only concern, Fowler has been a lead-off hitter. Cardinals Matt Carpenter (which many would like to see him moved down in the line-up) does an excellent job as lead-off. That is his 'comfort zone' with a bat. 

2016 ~ Dexter Fowler vs. Matt Carpenter As Lead-off

Dexter Fowler

.277 BA/.393 OBP/.449 SLG/.842 OPS ~ 125 Hits/452 AB. 13 HR (10 Solo/3 extra RBI), 25 2-B/7 3-B/48 RBI. K:BB ratio - 124/79

Matt Carpenter

.276 BA/.386 OBP/.527 SLG/.913 OPS - ~ 128 Hits/473 AB. 21 HR (14 Solo/7 extra RBI), 35 2-B/6 3-B/68 RBI. K:BB ratio - 108/81

Moving Carpenter out of the lead-off role is not a new concept and has been tried. With missing a month in 2016 due to an oblique injury, he was held as lead-off for the most of the season. However, he did have 36 AB/8 hits in the #3 spot, last season, for a .222 BA. He did bat once in the #4 spot (returning from the DL) and connected for a solo homer for his one RBI batting 'further down the line'. In 2015, Carpenter was used both as lead-off, 314 AB/.312/.389/.634/1.023 slash line; and, in the #2 spot - 249 AB for a .225 BA and .357 SLG. 

Fowler, I will say, has had most of his AB's as lead-off throughout his career. However, with the Rockies (2008-2013) he was slotted in the #1 and #2 positions. In his 2009 season, he held a .275 BA batting second versus a .255 as lead-off. In 2012, the Rockies used him in  the 1-2-3 spots. As third in the line-up, he held his best average in that position for the season with a .391 BA/.469 SLG/64 AB with 25 hits. When he was with the Astros (2014), he was placed in the top four positions in the line-up. As clean-up, he held a .341 BA/.426 OBP/.477 SLG/.903 OPS. And, as we all know, the Cubs used him as lead-off. 2015 - .255 BA; and, in 2016 - .277 average. 

In my opinion, with the experience Fowler has had (and success) in being down in the line-up seems feasible to me. More so than moving Carpenter .... 'should' the Cardinals make a deal with Fowler. To me, "if it isn't broken, why feel you have to fix it". 

There has been some suggestion to the Cardinals signing free agent Justin Turner to cover third base. I would presume that depends on if the organization can move Jhonny Peralta. They are already a bit on the heavy side for their infield.  A strong starting pitcher? Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale, once again, is in "trade" considerations by a few teams. However, the last the White Sox organization made a trade since the 2005 off-season. "November 25, 2005: Jim Thome was traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with cash to the Chicago White Sox for a player to be named later, Aaron Rowand, and Daniel Haigwood (minors). The Chicago White Sox sent Gio Gonzalez (minors) (December 8, 2005) to the Philadelphia Phillies to complete the trade." (Wikipedia.com) That trade was to their benefit for the most part. Not one to cut their nose off their face. I feel that is what they would be doing should they seriously consider a trade which involved their "Ace". Prior to 2005, the White Sox had not made a trade since 1999; and, 1992 prior to that. I just can't see Chris Sale going anywhere. CWS will pay him, $12 MM his final season, as he will be a free agent in 2018. But, they hold team options for 2019, $12.5 MM; and, for 2020, $13 MM. Both with a $1 MM buyout. 

As much as I would like to see Sale in a "Birds on the Bat" uniform, I don't believe there is much hope there. However, for the Cardinals to really make a stand and commitment to the 2017 season and beyond, will they talk a sweet enough deal (giving up key prospects in the process). Would they be willing to concrete a trade to pay the Devil his due for success just appease some fans and discard what is believe of them as "cheap". And, would the final agreement be an "in the stone" success guarantee for St. Louis? As we have witnessed by those who were paid the Big Bucks in the off-season of 2015; NO, there are no performance guarantees based on paper numbers.