Giants

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Dexter Fowler is headed from the World Series champions to their biggest rival.

After helping the Chicago Cubs end their long championship drought, he finalized an $82.5 million, five-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Fowler fills the last big hole left in the Cardinals lineup after moves made earlier in the offseason to shore up the bullpen.

"It was an honor just to be considered to be in the Cardinals organization," said Fowler, who will wear No. 25 in honor of his mentor, Barry Bonds, because his usual 24 is retired by the Cardinals.

"You play against the Cardinals, I've been playing against them for eight years now," Fowler said, "and they always come out fighting. Always fighting. And then being with a rival, being the Cubs however many times we play them a year, you see them and - it's always good a winning team wants you."

Fowler was also a free agent a year ago, when he spurned a $33 million, three-year offer from Baltimore, who refused to offer an opt out after one year, and signed a $13 million, one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .276 with 13 homers and a career-best .393 on-base percentage that landed him in his first All-Star Game, then had a pair of home runs in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title in 108 years.

"Playing over there, and playing against the Cardinals, you see them and you saw that they weren't far away," Fowler said. "Obviously they beat up on us, we beat up on them. It was almost even. It was one day or another. I can't put my finger on one thing or another, but we're definitely close."

His new deal calls for a $10 million signing bonus, payable in $1 million installments each July 1 and Oct. 1 for the next five years, and annual salaries of $14.5 million.

He gets a full no-trade provision, $50,000 bonuses for making the All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove, a $25,000 bonus for a Silver Slugger, $100,000 for League Championship Series MVP and $150,000 for World Series MVP. He would get $250,000 for NL MVP, $150,000 for finishing second in voting and $100,000 for third through fifth. He would get $50,000 for Division Series MVP if the award is created.

One of the goals this offseason for St. Louis was to get more athletic, both defensively and on the base paths. Fowler was identified early in the process as someone who filled that role.

"He was always someone we were hoping to sign," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said, "but after this past week at winter meetings ... we certainly wanted to get this done. And we're excited we got this done."

The lanky 30-year-old from Atlanta is a .268 career hitter over nine seasons with Colorado, Houston and the Cubs. He's expected to slot into the Cardinals' leadoff spot, giving St. Louis a switch-hitter in front of lefty-hitting Matt Carpenter and righties Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Yadier Molina.

"You obviously have great presence at the top of the lineup," manager Mike Matheny said. "The athleticism, the excitement of bringing in a player that has all those physical attributes, I think it's been well-said, this is the guy we were hoping to be sitting up here with."

Fowler said negotiations with the Cardinals were easy with one notable exception.

"We were on a 2-hour time difference, and I guess he wanted to get in touch with me," Fowler said, "but I was in the dentist chair, so he couldn't get in touch."

So, Fowler sent his agent Casey Close a photo of him to pass along to Mozeliak - "That was a first for me, that kind of photo," the GM said - and everything proceeded smoothly after that.

The news of his signing started breaking while Fowler was on a plane to St. Louis, and that also created some problems: namely, with his sleep. People started coming up to him while he was trying to take a nap and asking him whether the news was true.

"I was like, 'Uh, you know, I don't know,'" Fowler said with a grin. "It was definitely funny."

Fowler is eager to help the Cardinals add their 12th World Series championship.

"This is a baseball city," said Fowler. "The fans, every time you come here, you see red everywhere. That's awesome to see. Even going through our parade (in Chicago), you saw Cardinals fans out there. They've won World Series (and) they're poised to be back in the World Series and win again. That was a big part of my decision."

The Cardinals were investigating the trade market for an outfielder during the winter meetings, but decided Fowler was their best option. Because Fowler did not accept Chicago's $17.2 million qualifying offer, St. Louis forfeits its top draft pick next June, No. 18 overall, and the Cubs get an extra selection after the first round as compensation

It was a sacrifice the Cardinals were willing to make to not only improve their lineup, but snag a piece away from their biggest rival in the NL Central.

"There's always the baseball angle in all decisions, but there's also the human element," Mozeliak said. "We think about him as a leader. He wants to have a voice in that clubhouse. When you think back to wanting to change the culture of what we have going on - we like what we have, but now it's even better."

Why free agent Michael Brantley could solve one of Giants' big issues

Why free agent Michael Brantley could solve one of Giants' big issues

SAN FRANCISCO — The lack of power sucks up most of the oxygen in the room, but for the 2018 Giants, there was a bigger offensive issue. 

The Giants ranked 14th in the National League with a .300 on-base percentage, the eighth-lowest OBP in franchise history and lowest in 33 years. New president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi knows that’s one of the first issues he must address. The 10 playoff teams last season all finished in the top 13 in the majors in on-base percentage, and Zaidi’s Dodgers ranked third in the NL at .333. 

On the Giants Insider Podcast last week, Zaidi, who previously also worked for the OBP-obsessed A’s, talked about ways to improve a San Francisco lineup that had major issues simply getting on base last season. 

“Any team that walks at a high level, it’s a function of a couple of things,” he said. “One is, it is a function of personnel — there are guys that just have the skill of being able to work the strike zone and being able to take walks. Then there’s a mindset of, ‘What’s our goal?’ Is our goal to put the ball in play, or is our goal to get on base? I think both of those things are areas that we can look at philosophically. 

“How are we attacking the game from an offensive standpoint, and then, also, do we have the type of personnel that can play the type of offense that we want, which is a real grinding approach and getting guys on base and creating pressure for the opposing pitcher.” 

The mindset aspect can be addressed with coaches throughout the organization up to and through spring training. As for personnel, that’s a bit more pressing, and there are multiple ways to add OBP to the lineup in free agency.

You can go straight to the top of the market with Bryce Harper, who led MLB with 130 walks and ranked seventh with a .393 OBP, but there might be a much more cost-effective option. Michael Brantley, formerly of the Cleveland Indians, ranked 17th with a .364 OPB, which would have led the 2018 Giants. 

Throughout an injury-plagued career, Brantley has shown an ability to get on base. He has a .351 career OBP — only one current Giant, Buster Posey (.359), finished above that mark in 2018 — and has finished above .350 in four of the last five seasons.

There’s a reason Brantley, who hit 17 homers and had a .832 OPS last season, isn’t looking at a massive contract, of course. He has had trouble staying on the field, with shoulder, ankle and biceps injuries limiting him to just 101 total games in 2016 and 2017. That, plus the fact that he turns 32 in May, will limit his market, and MLB Trade Rumors predicts that he’ll receive a three-year, $45 million deal. That would be less than the Giants paid Hunter Pence annually.

Zaidi wants to get younger and more dynamic in the outfield, but if he’s looking for a short-term solution that won’t break the bank, Brantley might end up being a solid fit, and someone who could help solve one of the Giants lineup’s most glaring issues.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Tuesday is dedicated to free agent outfielder Michael Brantley.
Why the outfielder-rich A's should pass on Brantley
Does Brantley really fit the White Sox's long-term plan?
Brantley should be far down on Red Sox's free agent list
Phillies should pursue Brantley if they whiff on Harper
Could signing Brantley soften blow of Nats losing Harper?

Bryce Harper's 2019 home (Phillies? Cubs? Nationals?) is up for debate

Bryce Harper's 2019 home (Phillies? Cubs? Nationals?) is up for debate

Bryce Harper is a free agent, but don't expect him to play baseball in the Bay Area next season -- unless it's as a visitor.

While some Giants fans have drooled at the prospect of the slugger in orange and black, it doesn't appear likely, given their new head of baseball operations' past history. Agent Scott Boras, who's masterful at building markets for his clients, sees San Francisco as a fit, even if the team probably does not, with the reported $40 million-per-season asking price too rich.

There's no way Harper will join the payroll-light A's, either. In fact, his annual salary could cost more than a possible Oakland 25-man roster.

So, where exactly will Harper end up when the dust created by Boras' bluster is all said and done? Giants insider Alex Pavlovic and A's reporter Ben Ross debated that question and came up with different conclusions.

ALEX: Ben, this is the Winter of Bryce and Manny ... but so far Bryce Harper has been the one on center stage. That’ll happen when your agent stands up in front of reporters at the GM Meetings and declares that Harper’s Bazaar is open. It’s been a cold market so far. The Yankees say they’re out, the Cubs say they don’t have payroll space, and I reported last week that the Giants aren’t as interested as they once were.

Where does that leave us? Phillies? Dodgers? White Sox? The #MysteryTeam? His Nationals? Who am I missing?

BEN: The Phillies definitely look like the favorite at this point, but who knows? It seems like every article about him is telling us why he WON’T sign with a certain team. I still say he’s not worth the ridiculous salary being projected. Am I wrong?

ALEX: I think we've found over the years that most of the massive deals don't work out. A year ago at this time, we were on Giancarlo Stanton Watch, and he had a pretty quiet 2018. It's definitely safer to spread that money around, but you know Boras will find an owner -- and make no mistake about it, he goes straight to the ownership level -- to write that check. I know what I would do if I were Harper, but what do you think he should do?

BEN: Maybe I'm an idiot (actually, that's confirmed), but I think Harper is a little overrated. He's obviously a really good hitter, but he's only hit 30-plus home runs twice in seven years. Want to know where he ranked in WAR last season? Tied for 186th. If I were him, I think I'd stay with the Nationals. What would you do?

ALEX: I would stay with the Nationals, too. It's different if you can get yourself closer to home by playing for the Dodgers or Giants, or put yourself on the biggest stages in Chicago or New York -- but if it comes down to choices like the Phillies, I'd definitely stay home, unless the contract difference is overwhelming. It's rare that you're given an opportunity to be THE GUY in one city for your whole career, and it seems like the Nats really do want him back.

As for the overrated part, you're not an idiot -- I've talked to plenty of scouts and executives who point to Harper's poor defense and say he's not worth close to $300 million. Will he get it? We'll see. I think he will, which leads to our two big questions: Does he get the largest contract in MLB history, and where does he end up?

BEN: Good point on his defense. His career defensive WAR is -3.0. I still think he will get the largest contract in MLB history, although I don't expect him to end up out West. The Phillies seem like the best bet at this point, based on chatter around baseball, although I'm not completely convinced the Yankees and Cubs are out of it, regardless of what they say.

But if I had to bet, I'd pick the Phillies on a 10-year, $375 million contract. They have the money to spend, and they're a big-market team looking for a new face of the franchise. Harper would be that.

ALEX: All year, I've thought Harper would end up with the Cubs. But now everyone I check with around the game points to the Phillies. I get it -- and they probably have the most money to offer -- but for some reason, I just can't get on board with him jumping to another NL East club like that. It feels dirty.

Boras has a history with the Nationals, and I think he'll ultimately go back to ownership there and find a way to make a reunion happen. I'll say it's 10 years and $340 million, with at least two opt-outs that allow him to get back onto the market if he wants to go through all this again.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Monday is dedicated to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.

Giants could use Harper money to fill numerous other needs
Harper would be an entire roster's worth of salary for the A's 
Phillies could use Harper's personality just as much as his big bat
Why Harper sacrificed home runs with Nationals to save his season
White Sox would have to pitch Harper on possibility of bright future
World champion Red Sox not a part of Harper's free-agent journey