John Russell on the hot seat? Hell, he may have gotten a contract extension!

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I still stand by all the stuff I said yesterday about Ken Rosenthal’s Pirates report and the art of rumor-mongering in general, but this business with John Russell and the Pirates seems to quickly be turning into a bad example of an otherwise sound theory.

To review:  Ken Rosenthal reported on Tuesday night that John Russell was close to being fired by the Pirates. Team president Frank Coonelly denied it.  That’s where my little essay fits in.  But the story goes on!

Yesterday Rosenthal walked it back a bit, saying that Pirates’ officials still talked about Russell’s fate, but maybe Coonelly wasn’t part of those talks.  Possible, but it certainly means that the likelihood of Russell getting canned was way, way down once it became apparent that the guy who would pull the trigger wasn’t on board, right?

Today is the topper: Rosenthal reports that, not only is Russell not likely to be fired soon, but that it’s possible he has been given a contract extension!  Rosenthal is sticking with his report that those above and below Frank Coonelly still seem to want Russell gone, but if Coonelly is extending him, those sentiments are rather academic, aren’t they? At least for the purposes of running with a “Russell is on the hot seat” kind of report?

Look, I still think that Rosenthal is a good reporter and — for the reasons I said yesterday —  one need not get off a story just because someone in power has denied it.  But at this rate it seems like John Russell is going to own the Pirates before he gets fired by them, so maybe it’s time to excise the “but sources with the team say Russell is toast . . .” part of this article and go on to the next thing.

Cardinals, Dexter Fowler agree to a five-year, $82 million deal

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.

The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.

For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.

Are the Cardinals about to go on a free agent binge?

John Mozeliak AP
Associated Press
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The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.

St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.

The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.

Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?

Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.