There was a group of the St. Louis Cardinals’ fan base that was clamoring for free agent outfielder Michael Brantley to come to St. Louis. Let’s look at why it is a good thing he didn’t.
Over the last couple days, the news and details surrounding free agent outfielder Michael Brantley‘s deal with the Astros have been trickling out. Some fans clamored for Brantley, but his signing with the Astros is really good news for the St. Louis Cardinals. Fans may be disappointed in missing out on Brantley and the .309 average and .832 OPS he put up in 2018.
What those numbers don’t show is that he is an extremely close player to what the Cardinals already have in Dexter Fowler. With all the fan-based drama involving Fowler this offseason, I think it is smart for the Cardinals to have stayed away. Lets look closer at how similar they are.
For reference, both players are nearing or at the twilight of their prime as Fowler is 32 and Brantley is about a year and a couple months younger at 31. Fowler’s career OBP and OPS is .360/.780 and Brantley’s is .351/.781. Both of these players are contact based hitters who draw a lot of walks and don’t hit for very much power. The biggest difference between the two is health.
Fowler has not been the healthiest player in the world either. In his last three seasons, he played in a combined 333 games, or 68 percent of possible games. Fowler’s injuries have been lower body related, which can be concerning, but it is far more manageable for a ball player than the issues Brantley has been having
From 2015-2017, Brantley played in a combined 238 games out of 486 possible, which equates to just 49 percent of possible games. Brantley’s time on the DL came as a result of two surgeries done on his right shoulder after dealing with a wrist injury in 2014.
While the injuries and the numbers point towards Fowler in many aspects, Cardinals fans don’t want to hear that. The biggest reason why people find Brantley more attractive than Fowler is recency bias, and attraction to the unknown. But as they say, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Brantley did have a fantastic bounce-back year in 2018. We saw his batting average before but he added on 17 homers and 76 RBI’s as a top of the order force for the Indians. Beneath these base numbers, Brantley led MLB hitters in contact rate (90.9 percent) and swinging strike rate (4 percent), while ranking second in strikeout rate (9.5 percent). Just as advertised, he was a fantastic contact hitter who didn’t strikeout, reaffirming what we knew already.
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On the other hand, Fowler had a very tumultuous year filled with career lows in…uh, just about everything. He was a -1.4 BWAR player, and had his worst season in every metric imaginable. He just barely avoided his lowest total in home runs on the season, but that isn’t impressive considering Fowler isn’t much of a slugger.
As we have seen recently, this lack of performance was because of off the field issues that I don’t want to get into. Feel free to read the great article by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch here that gets into Fowler’s off the field issues.
It was a bad year that everyone, and I am sure that Fowler more than any of us wants to put it behind him. He deserves another chance from us fans and from the front office (unless we sign Harper, but hey, who am I kidding?).
Per Ken Rosenthal, Brantley’s deal with the Astros is 2 years, $32M. This is exactly what you would expect to see for a player who has been oft injured. No, it is not comparable to Fowler’s deal in length, but it is in yearly salary, as Fowler is owed $16.5M in each of the next three seasons.
If I could trade the Fowler contract for this Brantley one, I would do it in a heartbeat. Anyone would. Unfortunately, the Cardinals are stuck with Fowler and his contract, so we might as well give him a chance to get back to the player he was in 2017. For a team seen as frugal like the Cardinals, not having the opportunity to spend a comparable amount to fix the issue might be a blessing in disguise.
My main point here is that Brantley and Fowler are very similar players when looking over their entire careers. They both come with a fair amount of injury risk, and adding Brantley on top of Fowler wouldn’t help the situation, only double the risk of having two bad contracts in the outfield on aging players.