Last offseason, the Giants sure had their pick of outfielders. I’m sure I could go into the comments and find some of you knuckleheads who were Heyward or Bust, but I’m not here to point out who was wrong (you).
The Giants chose Denard Span, who was a good idea in theory, and kinda sorta okay in practice. I’m certainly not upset that he’s on the team next year, and I’m harboring secret hopes that he just needs one more year of separation between his novel-sized injury list from the year before. Because he’s, what, 28, right? Don’t bother telling me his real age. I’ll just assume he’s 28 and right on track.
Of all the outfielders, though, I was just sure they would pick Dexter Fowler. And I liked him well enough, just not as a defender in center field. The Cubs got him, plopped him back in center, and he was suddenly a quality center fielder according to just about every defensive stat. There are still reasons to be skeptical of that defense. Here’s a post from before last season that compared his fielding to Angel Pagan’s. Brrrrr.
But there’s also a chance that the Cubs positioned him better (read: deeper), which would explain why he consistently passed the eyeball test every year, despite sour defensive numbers. Maybe it was the whole freaking system that was out of order, man.
This comes up now because there’s a whiff of a rumor — trace amounts of the stuff — connecting Fowler to the Giants in Jon Heyman’s latest column:
The Cardinals, Giants and Jays are thought among teams interested in Dexter Fowler, whose big on-base year has put him in much better position this year.
The “are thought” verbiage gives us a clue that this might be coming from a source working for a team negotiating with Fowler, or someone twice removed. But it’s a good enough rumor for me! Really, there’s no way the Giants aren’t checking in. He’s an outfielder, they’re open-minded about acquiring another outfielder, so here you go.
And have you stopped to think about just how much of a Giants player Fowler is? He’s usually good for a smattering of doubles, a sprinkling of home runs, a little speed, but not too much, and an ability to work the count. Add in the part where he’s a switch-hitter, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bobby Evans has a framed picture on his desk. I have no idea why they couldn’t make a deal last year.
That little tidbit might be more important than you think. The Giants had a chance at Fowler last year when the bottom fell out of his market. He was about to sign with the Orioles for a deal close to what Span got, which suggests the Giants got to choose between them in some capacity. They chose Span. They had their reasons. I don’t know if they liked something about Span or disliked something about Fowler, but they made their choice.
It would be very, very weird for them after making that choice to turn around the next offseason and give an older Fowler twice as much money. They would really, really have to believe that he built a new ceiling for himself at 30 years old. That seems like a lousy gamble, and Fowler really is asking for that much scratch, reportedly.
Word circulating is that Fowler camp thinks they can get 18M per on multiyear. Stl, SF, Tor among teams believed interested— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 2, 2016
That is just so much money for a player who will turn 31 during spring training. At least, when you remember that Fowler’s default performance level is “you know, pretty good.” Even if the defense really is much better than the stats used to give him credit for, he’s a player that does everything well, but nothing great. You want at least a little great for $18 million.
We skirted the comparison up there, but the best comp really is Angel Pagan. When the Giants signed him to an extension, he was going to be 31, just like Fowler.
His OPS+ was 120; Fowler’s was 126.
Pagan played center field well enough to not hurt a team, but he wasn’t exactly a Gold Glover. And he’s always had something of a noodle arm. Same with Fowler.
Pagan is a switch-hitter who does a little of everything — hitting for average, stealing a few bases, and always a surprising threat to crack double digits in home runs. That is the exact same description for Fowler.
Pagan is usually good for a trip to the DL every year. So is Fowler.
Pagan has a personal assistant whose last name is Fowler.
Fowler has a personal assistant whose last name is Pagan.
So don’t think too much about $18 million, because that’s a big, scary number. Pagan’s 4-year, $40 million contract would look a lot different adjusted for today’s salaries, and it wouldn’t be that much different from a 4-year, $72 million contract to Fowler. What you have to ask yourself is this: Were you happy with the four years from Pagan?
In Pagan’s first season of his new contract, his OPS+ was 113. It was 110 in the second season, 75 in the abysmal third, and 100 last year. It was accompanied by rapidly declining defense. Overall, the Giants didn’t get their money’s worth, but there was some value in there.
Maybe I’m drawing these parallels a little too close, but the more I look at it, the more I’m hoping the Giants go in a different direction. Don’t forget that Fowler rejected a qualifying offer, so he would cost the Giants their first-round pick next June.
Fowler is a fine player who would help the Giants win next year, and maybe that’s all we should care about. But with the possible contract swelling beyond what was previously expected, I’m hoping the Giants pass. If you’re looking at how Fowler’s contract might end, FanGraphs has a couple guesses, with one of them rather encouraging. But the best guess might be the four years we just watched from Pagan. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
(Also, I’m still mad at him for his 457-pitch at-bat against Jeff Samardzija this year. Maybe that’s my real problem, here.)