Dexter Fowler won't save the Cardinals, but he is starting to become the player they need.
The biggest misconception about a player receiving a big dollar contract in the offseason are the expectations that follow that particular player are laid out in large bold letters: you are not the SAVIOR of this team. When St. Louis Cardinals' center fielder Dexter Fowler was brought in during the offseason to shore up a center field issue, fans immediately labeled him with the "savior" tag. Fowler received a contract exceeding 80 million dollars, which was rich cash due to a bare free agent market in the outfield and the Cards' need to fill the spot.
Fowler's contract is very similar to the one that Mike Leake received about a year earlier, but no one labeled the righthanded pitcher a rotation savior. That desk plate belongs to Carlos Martinez, so Leake wasn't expected to save the day. Again, money and expectations can share a dinner table that is too small at times.
In a way, Fowler and Leake are the players the Cardinals received instead of Jason Heyward and David Price. At the end of the 2015 season, General Manager John Mozeliak made high dollar offers to Heyward and Price, only to be outbid by other teams with the same need. Leake was brought in to everyone's collective frown, and while there was much more praise given to the arrival of Fowler, the expectations were different.
While he isn't a savior, Fowler is finding his way after a slow start. Along with carrying a 60 watt smile that can light up a street without power, Fowler is a flexible asset that can provide a team with power, the ability to get on base, and contribute the element of speed. Those tools are blending seamlessly this month, but it wasn't a smooth start for the 31 year old.
After a slow April that saw him muster a .305 OBP and .234 batting average, Fowler only hit .221 in May with an on base percentage still stuck in the cobwebs near .322, but he was slugging near .450 and contributing extra base hits. Through May 31, Fowler had 17 extra base hits, which wasn't typical for a leadoff man, but the one career norm he was staying close to.
June has been a different story, with Fowler hitting .262 with a robust OBP of .380 and a slugging mark near .480. Fowler has as many walks (8) as strikeouts this month, and has fit comfortably into the #2 hole behind Matt Carpenter. Like tires that needed an alignment, perhaps Carpenter and Fowler just needed to be switched in order to find their groove.
Will they turn the Cards into a juggernaut this season? Don't count on it. Neither are designed to save the Cardinals singlehandedly, and that is hard for certain fans to grasp. Carpenter is a solid player, but he isn't going to touch greatness for too long due to his defense and baserunning mishaps. Fowler can touch greatness, but due to average defense and the inability to turn speed into stolen bases, could remain a solid player during his tenure with the Cardinals.
Expectation is everything with a player, and Fowler is producing after a slow two months, and his projections for the season speak of a complimentary player more than a dynamic weapon. Fowler is lining up to hit 23 home runs, drive in 66, hit .235, and steal eight bases. If he can raise his OBP, which has always been his bread and butter, the final OPS mark should reach .800.
If you look at Fowler's career, he has never stolen more than 20 bases nor hit higher .300. The 23 homers would be a career high, but expecting a 31 year old baseball player to suddenly show shades of Mike Trout wasn't an ideal projection. Dexter Fowler is who he is, and slowly but surely, 2017 is shaping up to be a successful-but nowhere near explosive-season.
If Fowler can raise the on base percentage and maintain the extra base hit output while at least providing average defense in center field, he's a success in St. Louis.
He wasn't brought in to save the Cardinals offense; Fowler was signed to fill a need, and that's provide the Cards with a legit center fielder. If you look over at Cubs and Heyward, they are getting what they expected, perhaps less. Heyward's defense in right field is the anchor of his appeal as usual, but the bat still isn't providing much extra. Expectations can be a fickle heartbeat next to a realistic outcome.
The Cardinals may be a misguided team this season, but the blame shouldn't rest solely on the Dexter Fowler signing or the player himself. He wasn't brought in to save the day.