The winter meetings are done, and for a while, the stove will cool down, and we'll be left to settle in and brace ourselves against the long weeks before spring training begins. Or, at least, until the first of the players report to Arizona in very early February and we have something to dream on. That's a momentary salve, though, and even the spring training games get old after a while, if I'm being honest.
There's still plenty to say about the events of the past week though, so let's get to it.
Only in the deeper recesses of our childish Christmas hopes did we really cling to the idea that Dexter Fowler just might be gearing up to come striding back onto the Cubs' 25-man roster. Only there did anyone genuinely think he wasn't just headed off into the
sunset room full of cash waiting for him. I had the dark suspicion that it would be the Cardinals that would nab him too. On an episode of The Den, I voiced as much, and I even tweeted it before that:
It's all fun and games until the Cardinals end up being the team that signs Dexter Fowler.
— Jared Wyllys (@jwyllys) November 7, 2016
I am still unhappy to be right, but I will continue my appreciation for Fowler, no matter where he plays. Thankfully, I have not seen any takes so far condemning him for being a "traitor" or any other juvenile silliness of that strain. In general, the people in St. Louis seem happy to have him (which they should be), and Cubs fans seem only appreciative of what he did in the past two seasons (which they should be).
The move to let Fowler just walk after arguably his career best season (4.7 fWAR) represents the kind of clinical approach to constructing a successful team that is necessary. It's a vote for the future in Albert Almora, Jr. and it's an unwillingness to overspend on a player because of sentimentality. It's said that Red Auerbach, of Boston Celtics fame, once put forth that letting a player go a year too early is better than hanging on to him for a year past his usefulness, and that's what's unfolding here.
Though he plugs a pretty significant hole in the Cardinals' roster, five years is long for the guy who'll be 36 when that contract ends. I'm sure St. Louis will get a year or two of very productive work from him, and while they think that this acquisition is closing the gap in the division, that is probably just the kind of baseless positivity that fills the winter months, and they could very well have hamstrung themselves for the years in the near future when a large chunk of the Cubs roster is really hitting its peak.
But thankfully his reception in St. Louis seems warm so far, and I do hope that he is successful there. Just not enough to get them in the playoffs. And when he returns to Wrigley, I will pour an Old Style on the head of anyone who boos him.
So Who's Up First?
I tossed around the idea a few weeks ago that either Ben Zobrist or even Jason Heyward might be a good fit to take the first spot in the batting order with the then assumed departure of Fowler, but I'll admit that Kyle Schwarber never occurred to me.
Just yesterday, though, Sahadev Sharma may have convinced me that I made a pretty glaring omission when wondering about the best choice to lead off in 2017. (John: I broached the idea here as well last week). The idea was perhaps first sparked when Jed Hoyer actually speculated on the radio about the job of finding an out with a top three of Schwarber, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo:
“It’s pretty terrifying if you say you went Schwarber, Bryant, Rizzo to start the game, that pitcher’s coming out for that first inning and he knows he’s in trouble right away,” Hoyer said. “And I love that idea. I think it’s intimidating and getting your best hitters up there the most often is the most important part of our strategy.”
Imagine those three and then still have hitters like Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, and a (hopefully resurgent) Heyward to deal with. With that, "You go, we go," might turn into a trifecta of terror for opposing starters.
Schwarber isn't a choice just based on intimidation, either. As Sharma put it:
The reality is, if you can’t find the perfect leadoff man to fill the spot, Schwarber fits the bill. He posted a 13.2 percent walk rate in his rookie season and scouts believe that as he continues to develop, his bat-to-ball skills will improve and his .355 OBP from 2015 may just be scratching the surface.
During his very, very brief time as a minor leaguer (621 plate appearances in parts of two seasons), he had a gaudy .429 OBP. No one expects that, or even close to it, but he's consistently shown the capability of getting on base with regularity as a professional, so maybe sending him to the plate to start the game isn't an idea out of left field.
Some Good Reads
I don't read as much as I should. The work schedule and home schedule just don't allow for it, but I'm in the midst of this book by Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh and genuinely enjoying it so far. As for the short term, here are a few things I came across today and found interesting:
- Rian Watt at 538 on the shift in hitters' ability to make good contact on pitches outside of the zone (linked here). As much as I'd be in love with a league full of guys who can do what Vladimir Guerrero did, that's not quite what's happening, but it was still intriguing.
- Nick Stellini at Fangraphs speculating on the baseball equivalent of the slam dunk (linked here). I'm inclined to agree with his conclusion, but I'm also partial to the knee-buckling called third strike.
- Eric Roseberry (who has a phenomenal podcast, by the way), at the Red Reporter on watching a rebuilding team stay mostly silent at the winter meetings (linked here). It was a nice reminder that the Cubs were, not that long ago, in the throes of a challenging rebuild, and that the road to competitiveness for the other teams in the NL Central is not an easy one.
That's all for this week, denizens.