St. Louis Cardinals Rumors: Dexter Fowler or Charlie Blackmon

The St. Louis Cardinals have been rumored to have interest in free agent Dexter Fowler and/or Charlie Blackmon but which is the best option?  Our comparison series continues.

As was said yesterday, the St. Louis Cardinals made it well-known going into the offseason that they were going to seek a new center fielder and move Randal Grichuk to left field to replace the exiting Matt Holliday. Yesterday’s article (read it here if you missed it) examined the likely largest free agent CF- Dexter Fowler– and compared him to a lesser FA– Carlos Gomez.  Today’s target of comparison is Charlie Blackmon.

As a quick reminder from yesterday’s piece, Fowler- to his credit- is a great center fielder but remember that prior to 2016, the Chicago Cubs were prepared to let him walk away and it wasn’t until the last weeks prior to 2016 that he inked a deal to “return” to the Cubs. As I said yesterday, I’m sure both parties are pleased with this decision now.

Here’s a quick look/reminder of Fowler’s career offensive numbers:

Year Age Tm Lg G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2008 22 COL NL 13 26 3 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 5 .154 .185 .154 .339
2009 23 COL NL 135 433 73 115 29 10 4 34 27 10 67 116 .266 .363 .406 .770
2010 24 COL NL 132 439 73 114 20 14 6 36 13 7 57 104 .260 .347 .410 .757
2011 25 COL NL 125 481 84 128 35 15 5 45 12 9 68 130 .266 .363 .432 .796
2012 26 COL NL 143 454 72 136 18 11 13 53 12 5 68 128 .300 .389 .474 .863
2013 27 COL NL 119 415 71 109 18 3 12 42 19 9 65 105 .263 .369 .407 .776
2014 28 HOU AL 116 434 61 120 21 4 8 35 11 4 66 108 .276 .375 .399 .774
2015 29 CHC NL 156 596 102 149 29 8 17 46 20 7 84 154 .250 .346 .411 .757
2016 30 CHC NL 125 456 84 126 25 7 13 48 13 4 79 124 .276 .393 .447 .840
9 Yrs 1064 3734 623 1001 195 72 78 339 127 56 554 974 .268 .366 .422 .788
COL (6 yrs) 667 2248 376 606 120 53 40 210 83 41 325 588 .270 .365 .423 .788
CHC (2 yrs) 281 1052 186 275 54 15 30 94 33 11 163 278 .261 .367 .427 .794
HOU (1 yr) 116 434 61 120 21 4 8 35 11 4 66 108 .276 .375 .399 .774
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/14/2016.

Let us shift our focus to Charlie Blackmon.  The St. Louis Cardinals were linked to Blackmon during the 2016 campaign via rumors so it makes sense to consider that he should be a name connected yet again.  Blackmon was drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft by Colorado and will turn 31 during the 2017 season.

Blackmon has spent his entire career with Colorado and has some impressive numbers.  That said, we must remember that these numbers have come in Colorado and must remember how this park (with its altitude) helps offensive numbers.  To that, then, should the St. Louis Cardinals take the risk of moving him from the high altitude to the high humidity?

Before making any judgements or comparisons, let’s look at Blackmon’s career offensive numbers:

Year Age Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2011 24 COL 27 98 9 25 1 0 1 8 5 1 3 8 .255 .277 .296 .573
2012 25 COL 42 113 15 32 8 0 2 9 1 2 4 17 .283 .325 .407 .732
2013 26 COL 82 246 35 76 17 2 6 22 7 0 7 49 .309 .336 .467 .803
2014 ★ 27 COL 154 593 82 171 27 3 19 72 28 10 31 96 .288 .335 .440 .775
2015 28 COL 157 614 93 176 31 9 17 58 43 13 46 112 .287 .347 .450 .797
2016 29 COL 143 578 111 187 35 5 29 82 17 9 43 102 .324 .381 .552 .933
6 Yrs 605 2242 345 667 119 19 74 251 101 35 134 384 .298 .348 .467 .814
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/15/2016.

Looking at these numbers, perhaps Fowler should be concerned that he might have just been eclipsed by a viable competitor to knock him off and out of consideration… Let’s make a few comparisons.  Fowler batted .276 in 2016 while Blackmon batted .324 (remember the help of playing in Colorado).  Fowler slugged .447 in 2016 while Blackmon slugged .552 (altitude?).

Let’s move a little away from stats that could well be influenced by altitude.  In these fields, Blackmon defeated Fowler again.  Blackmon collected 187 hits in 578 at-bats where Fowler collected 126 in 456 at-bats.  Notice that I did not mention the types of hits since I am working to avoid altitude-influence.

Blackmon also defeated Fowler in stolen bases which is something the Cardinals desperately need.  In 2016, Blackmon stole seventeen bases and was caught nine times.  Fowler stole thirteen and was caught four times.  Blackmon, to his credit, was on the move more than Fowler and the Cardinals could really use an aggressive base runner.

Let’s look at Fowler’s home/away splits to remove the assistance of Rockies stadium:

I Split G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Home 294 1126 214 376 60 14 37 152 59 17 78 155 .334 .389 .511 .900
Away 311 1116 131 291 59 5 37 99 42 18 56 229 .261 .305 .422 .727
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/15/2016.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take these numbers.  Even Blackmon’s away numbers work for me and would be an improvement over Grichuk who batted .240/.289/.480 at Busch in 2016.

Here’s the rub… defensively, Fowler carried a 1.0 UZR in 2016 at center field. Blackmon, everyone take a deep breath, carried a -10.4 UZR in 2016 at center field. For reference, Grichuk carried a -0.9 UZR so Blackmon would be a downgrade, not an upgrade over Grichuk.

Let us pretend for a moment that the defense numbers didn’t matter even though we know they completely matter.  Money makes the world go around and it completely differentiates Fowler from Blackmon (aside from the statistics above). Fowler is a free agent with a qualifying offer attached.  Blackmon, however, is under team control until 2019 and is facing arbitration this winter.

We all might soon know what value he has through arbitration but Blackmon was paid $3.5M in 2016 so he would certainly be less expensive than Fowler. Could the St. Louis Cardinals lock him up on a two-year deal to push him to free agency and platoon him with Harrison Bader to help both players’ defensive numbers?

Fowler, for comparison, was paid $8M in 2016 and, having just turned down his qualifying offer, is likely seeking a 3-5 year deal with a big purse. Fowler will likely need $18M+ to land while Blackmon could be had for $5-8M/year.

Price alone should not be a deciding factor. As a reminder to my point yesterday, picking up Fowler would mean forfeiting a draft pick. I’m just not sure the St. Louis Cardinals would take this risk/loss with the penalties for the Astros hacking scandal yet to come. It is assumed that the loss of picks after 2017 could be a likely penalty so I’m not sure the Cardinals would be wise to forfeit picks this season.

Having said that, I’m not really sure that Blackmon is the best option either. I personally like his offensive but I’m not sure he is worth the risk on defense.  Perhaps Carlos Gomez (reviewed yesterday) would in actuality be a better selection than Blackmon. If I were to pick between Fowler or Blackmon then I would suggest Blackmon for fewer years (admitting the higher risk) to save the money and dig in for next year’s FA class.

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What do you think? Until the Cardinals land a new center fielder- if at all- I will spend the next couple of posts examining and comparing the available names against Fowler who we can assume is the hottest name in this season’s free agent class for center fielders. Check back and stay with us as we drive toward a selection!

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