After putting together two fantastic seasons with the Cubs, Dexter Fowler left to sign a five-year $82.5 million deal with the Cardinals – a contract that he’d earned, but that was not going to be matched (or even close to it) by the Cubs, given the state of their young roster. There were no hard feelings, and, outside of how it might impact the Cubs, I think everyone wished him well.
He had perfectly solid numbers in his first year with the Cardinals in 2017, but it’s no secret that year two for Fowler in St. Louis has been a disaster.
So far on the season, Fowler is hitting just .171/.276/.278, which is a mere 57 wRC+, and he’s been worth negative 1.1 WAR this season. I imagine his walk-off homer against the Cubs earlier this year might be the sole highlight in the minds of Cardinals fans.
Those fans, as you’d expect, have been incredible hard on Fowler, often in ways that go far beyond expressing displeasure with a terrible season. You expect that from fans – not just The Best Fans in Baseball, but really any fan base is going to have some contingent that crosses the line when a big-money free agent doesn’t perform. Fans do care about a player’s effort, but they mostly want to see results. All pros are trying hard and want to succeed, it’s just that sometimes it doesn’t happen, and fans offer mixed reactions in those situations. It’s expected.
But I’ll tell you who I didn’t expect to hear publicly criticizing Fowler’s effort during this season-long slump: his President John Mozeliak.
I can barely believe my ears listening to this interview on the radio today in St. Louis. Here’s Mozeliak’s entire comment on Fowler. Just wow:
“It’s been a frustrating year for everybody involved. Here’s a guy who wants to go out and play well. I think he would tell you it’s hard to do that when you’re not playing on a consistent basis. But I’ve also had a lot of people come up to me and question his effort and his energy level. You know, those are things that I can’t defend. What I can defend is trying to create opportunities for him, but not if it’s at the expense of someone who’s out there hustling and playing hard. And really I think everyone just needs to take a hard look in the mirror, and decide what they want that next chapter to look like. And in Dexter’s case, maybe taking a brief time out, trying to reassess himself, and then give him a chance for a strong second half is probably what’s best for everybody. I’m hopeful to touch base with him in the near future and decide what makes the most sense, but clearly he’s not playing at the level we had hoped.”
I kept waiting for him to say, “But actually what I mean is …”, or “here’s where they’re wrong,” or … something. Anything except that. But, nope. He just aired it all out.
To sum up, you’ve got the team’s president of baseball operations publicly airing out anonymous complaints about Fowler’s effort and energy level, suggesting that Fowler isn’t hustling or playing hard, telling him to take a look in the mirror and decide what he wants to do next. And this was not totally-off-the-cuff stuff, either. It sounded very well-considered.
This, by the way, is taking place while Fowler is out on the paternity list because his wife is having a baby. Real classy, family-friendly organization you got going on there, St. Louis.
I can understand the disappointment with Fowler’s performance so far. To an extent, Cubs fans understand it well as it relates to Jason Heyward’s monster contract and first two seasons. And I cannot comment on the hustle/effort/energy stuff with the Cardinals, because I only know how Fowler was with the Cubs, and that is basically a model player and teammate. I can say that it’s pretty messed up for the team’s president to be calling it out publicly like this. Is he trying to push Fowler out the door?
Hopefully the Cardinals quickly find somewhere to “dump” Fowler so that he can get as far away as possible from that place, and resume his career. Because it’s clear that they don’t want him, and that they are not expecting him to receive significant playing time to get back on track.
I continue to be (1) glad Fowler got paid, and (2) sad that it’s been a completely awful experience ever since. Other free agents will take note.
UPDATE: Not sure that this clarifies much more than the implication that Mozeliak hadn’t talked to Fowler about these issues before airing them out:
I spoke with John Mozeliak. He stressed he understands what fans are saying concerning their frustrations and hopes the players do as well. He stressed there’s time to win and it wasn’t to single out Dexter or any specific player. He will personally speak with Fowler today.
— Dan McLaughlin (@DannyMacTV) July 2, 2018
Also, if you didn’t mean to single out Fowler, why did you very explicitly single out Fowler?