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Playoff ratings were up 20 percent from last year

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So much for the whole “baseball is dying” theme. MLB issued the following press release this afternoon declaring this year’s playoffs as a ratings success:

For the entire month of Postseason baseball beginning with the Wild Card games, viewership increased +20% across FOX, TBS and MLB Network (6.3 million average viewers), the largest year-over-year increase since 2009. In addition, 2013 marks the first year since 2001 that viewership increased for every round of the Postseason as well as the All-Star Game.

The World Series finished with an average of 14.9 million viewers, up +17% over last year and marking the largest year-over-year viewership increase for the World Series since 2009. As for Game 6 on Wednesday night, 19.2 million viewers tuned in, making it the most-watched MLB game since Game 7 of the 2011 World Series, based on Nielsen data. The game was the highest-rated show across all of television on Wednesday, and FOX once again won the night in primetime against all competition, something it has done on all six nights of the World Series.

There are some caveats with this announcement, as the Associated Press points out. Last year’s World Series had the lowest average rating ever and didn’t have much drama to it, so it didn’t take much for this one to be a marked improvement by comparison. This year’s World Series will also go down as the lowest-rated for a matchup that went at least six games. However, it’s perfectly logical to see this as a sign of the times with television viewership on the whole as opposed to “sky is falling” evidence of baseball’s downfall. All in all, a pretty good month for MLB.

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)
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.