The St. Louis Cardinals will likely have a DH in 2020 if the season resumes. Believe it or not, Dexter Fowler might be a stellar choice for a regular option there.
If you’ve made it this far, I am tempted to applaud you. Many people won’t read past the title or give an idea that doesn’t immediately fit with what they like to believe much of a chance. But hey! Look how far we’ve made it. By the end of this article, I hope you will believe (as I do) that Dexter Fowler is the best option for a DH for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Let’s begin with what we know. First, we all miss the Cardinals greatly right now, and the MLB is doing it’s best to come up with a plan to allow baseball to return while still making everything safe. The two plans that have been “leaked” haven’t been super popular, but the Arizona plan and the radical realignment plan are the two options we know of so far.
Second, we know that the most likely outcome from this current delay will be a season in which things are very different. 14-team playoffs, expanded rosters, potentially new divisions, and (hide your eyes) the DH have all been talked about.
Third, we know that Dylan Carlson is a star that is just waiting for his chance at the bigs, and we know that the current right fielder, Dexter Fowler, is in an age-related decline. Carlson was due to start the year at AAA, but as I explained in this article, a shortened season necessitates the best roster possible from the get-go, and there is no way to argue that Carlson isn’t a part of that best roster.
So how do we marry all of this uncertainty and confusion?
As the title suggests, Fowler should be implemented as the regular DH when play resumes. Fowler may not love the idea, but his fit in the DH spot is not just about what he brings to the role, but about what that leaves for the right field spot he’s leaving.
Since Fowler arrived with the Cardinals back in 2017, there hasn’t been a year where he was particularly good in the outfield. By Outs Above Average, Fowler was a -8 defender in 2017, -5 in 2018, and -6 overall in 2019. DRS illustrates a similar result, with the only exception being his +4 DRS in center field in 2019. Fowler hasn’t been an awful defender, but he has been consistently below average.
Fowler isn’t paid for his defense, but as the 34-year-old continues to age, the defense will continue to deteriorate. Wouldn’t it be great if he didn’t have to take any reps out there anymore? Wouldn’t it be great if the Cardinals had a young stud of an outfield prospect who excels defensively at any outfield position?
You see where I’m going with this.
All spring, the mantra the Cardinals top brass fed fans was that Carlson would start down because the team needed to figure out what it had in the players currently in MLB roster spots. This went for all four of the projected opening day roster outfielders, Fowler included.
Fowler bounced back in 2019 with a 1.5 bWAR, setting a career-high in homers and RBI. While these new milestones are great to see from a player of Fowler’s age, the most important part of his 2019 (in my eyes) was that he kept his OBP up at a .346 clip.
For his career, Fowler has a .359 OBP and his ability to find a way on base is exactly what he is paid for. In this respect, he has kept up his value. Traditional Designated Hitters in the AL don’t normally have the offensive profile of Fowler, but the team has proven time and again that veterans on big contracts will be in the lineup.
If Fowler has to be in the lineup, it should be at DH. It isn’t fair of me to say “has to” in the last sentence because honestly, Fowler’s offense in 2019 was valuable. His 103 wRC+ isn’t otherworldly, nor is it worth the $16.5M he was paid (Fowler was worth $12.1M in 2019 by FanGraphs’ calculator), but his year at the plate and his ability to get on base still is an important part of the lineup.
Especially when you consider that when Fowler moves to the DH spot, the outfield can become a mix of Harrison Bader, Lane Thomas, Tyler O’Neill, and Carlson with a dash of Tommy Edman. That is such a better defensive alignment and it could have the chance to be one of the best defensive outfields in the league.
All we are looking for is a way to get Carlson’s bat and glove in the lineup and this choice seems like a no brainer.
There are definitely other options on the club that would make sense to be the DH, but Fowler has proved that he can still get on base at a desirable level, the team has proved that Fowler is going to play regularly, so why not make the most of both?
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Carlson will get his shot, and this idea doesn’t only lie on the premise that Carlson starts the 2020 season up with the club. Fowler would be a good option for DH regardless of who else is up. There are simply just many other better options with the glove. That’s not a knock on Fowler at this point, it’s just a fact.