I was shocked earlier this week when asked about fans' perception that St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler is loafing in the outfield that team President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said he couldn't defend the allegation.
Usually front office types aren't going to say anything critical of their own players — even if they're the biggest clubhouse cancer in the history of recorded history — because all it does is decrease the problem player's trade value. But let's be honest, if Fowler has any trade value at all, you'd have to find it with a microscope. The guy is hitting .171 with five homers a little more than halfway through the 2018 season. Brought to the Cardinals as a free agent to provide offensive spark and clubhouse leadership, the tall fly chaser hasn't done much of either as he's pouted his way out of the lead-off spot then down, down, down the batting order and eventually to the bench.
So, I am OK with what Mozeliak had to say because about the only tactic he has left to use with Fowler is to appeal to the guy's sense of pride and professionalism in order to try to light a fire beneath the player. There is no team out there that is going to save the Cardinals from the approximately two-thirds of Fowler's $82.5 million contract that remains. I don't know if the Cardinals could find a taker even if they offered to pay the vast majority of the remaining $50 million plus left on the deal. There just isn't much demand for a player over the age of 30 with a -1.2 WAR.
Two years ago, I was one of the biggest cheerleader for a Fowler signing. The gregarious outfielder would add speed and high-pressure play to the offense and help to mentor the young outfielders the Birds have coming up through the system. Critics worried that he'd be a liability in the last third of the deal because of his age. But we're not to that point yet. The guy is only 31 years old. This isn't age, it's a lack of desire — unless Fowler is hurt and isn't telling anyone. Frankly, I'm more annoyed Mozeliak got cold feet later Monday and tried to soft pedal his earlier statements, explaining that he wasn't trying to single Fowler out because all the St. Louis players need to perform better, than I am that he unloaded on a player in public.
Look, what Mozeliak said isn't exactly breaking news for anyone who has watched the Cardinals this season either at Busch Stadium or on television. To say Fowler seems disinterested is an understatement. He has all the telltale signs of a guy who finally got the big contract he sought and then decided he had nothing else left to play for.
I don't want to lay all the blame at Fowler's feet for this situation, however. Mozeliak built this roster and that includes not only putting players on the team who are skilled on the field — it involves finding players who put the team above themselves, who are interested in trying to always get better and who are mentally engaged. It also involves having a manager who instills confidence and knows how to handle the players. St. Louis skipper Mike Matheny allegedly caused Fowler to have great reservations about coming to St. Louis as a free agent. Was there something to that which caused Fowler to go from a firebrand to a wet blanket in the course of one season?
Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon chimed in Tuesday that he couldn't understand what the problem with Fowler is in St. Louis because the player was always was always a great guy when he was with the Wee Bears. It can't help the Birds' efforts to land free agents to have one of the few guys the signed to a long term contract turn out to be a miserable bust.
It seems like for both the good of the player and the team, the Cardinals need to find a way to get rid of Fowler one way or another. It seems like the only chance to find another team with a player in a disaster of a contract and engineer a swap in hopes that a change of scenery would do both guys some good.