As the winter meetings and Hot Stove action unfolds for St. Louis Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak, the goal is clear. Find a center field. A bridge gap or a long-term fixture. Either way, the biggest hole on this roster and the place where depth doesn't exist is center field.
There are options of all varieties. In a series of posts, I will break down the candidates in a head to head type format. Pros, cons, and my pick out of the two at the end.
First up, I will discuss a couple free agents. Boil the water a bit. Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond.
Pros: The man can flat out get on base. I'm talking Matt Carpenter-Holliday type precision. If there is a thought process to move Carpenter from the leadoff spot (not sure why), Fowler gives you a legit spark at the the top with a career .366 on base percentage. He was 6th in the National League with a .393 OBP in 2016 and was 8th in walks with 79 walks and 8th in triples with 7. Fowler gives you the on base ability with some pop on top of the cake. He's consistent and affordable, as he made just 8 million in 2016. He won't get more than 3 years as he found trouble in finding that offer last winter. Fowler doesn't weigh down your plans and gives you a center fielder to improve your team. His outfield defense will never approach gold glove caliber, but it has improved modestly since his arrival in Chicago. Taking a Cubs player would be a nice twist of fate as well.
Cons: He's going to cost you a draft pick and Mozeliak isn't a fan of losing picks. After Fowler rightfully declined the 9 million dollar mutual option for 2017, the Cubs put forth the qualifying offer of 17.2 million on the soon to be 31 year old. Being on the wrong side of 30 can break an outfielder. Fowler committed four errors in center, which ranked him 5th in the NL. He won't save you runs in center, and won't represent a huge uggrade in center defensively. Coming off a big season and a dry market, there is a train of thought that says Fowler won't be cheap.
Pros: Big time bat with an ability to play shortstop and center field. Desmond switched to center field in 2016 for the Texas Rangers on a one year, 8 million dollar deal and gave his career new life. However, a 2.0 WAR in 2015 didn't exactly declare the 31 year old dead. Desmond can hit, as evidenced by his 22 home runs in 2016. Desmond has collected four seasons of 20+ home runs, so he can replace some of the pop lost by Brandon Moss and Matt Holliday. He's also extremely durable, playing in 150+ games in six of his seven full seasons. He has stolen 20+ bases five times in his career, and can also extend an extra base hit to a triple, with 24 in his career. He has a cannon in the field, which can help the Cards transition their outfield arsenal. Desmond's average 3.4 WAR over the last six seasons is very impressive.
Cons: Desmond's shortstop defense was barely decent, and his center field defense in 2016 cost the Rangers six runs according to Fangraphs. He has a great arm, but his range isn't good and his tendency to commit errors isn't a small ordeal. Desmond also provides the fans in field box with a stiff breeze too often with his 157 strikeout average per season. He's going to whiff a ton and his career .743 OPS won't blow anyone away. He will also cost the Cards and Mo a draft pick because the Rangers made him a qualifying offer. I'm not sure if Mo, with the possible losses of draft picks from the Chris Correa ordeal, will hand over picks.
My pick: Fowler. For one simple reason. He gets on base and adds pop while showing definite defensive improvement in ballparks not named Coors Field. Desmond is an intriguing option but his defense is worse than Fowler. Dexter went from -13.6 and -21.5 Ultimate Zone Ratings to -1.7 and 1.0 in 2015-16 with Chicago. That's improvement I can believe in. Flanked by Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty will help and the friendlier confines of Busch Stadium. Fowler won't break your bank or cost you players, and is a better choice for the Cards overall than Desmond.
The Cards aren't in a position to trade big prospects, so a free agent signing may work. While Fowler costs you a pick and doesn't truly make your CF defense elite, he helps you in other areas that could improve the club. He also owns a ring now. Something to consider.
Come back Friday for Lorenzo Cain vs Charlie Blackmon, a pair of center field commodities that would come via trade.
Thanks for reading,