Cheap Seats

The Dexter Fowler saga shows why the elite players don't want to come to St. Louis

After just a year-and-a-half in St. Louis, Dexter Fowler is clearly wishing he'd stayed with the Cubs — or signed with one of the other 27 teams.
After just a year-and-a-half in St. Louis, Dexter Fowler is clearly wishing he'd stayed with the Cubs — or signed with one of the other 27 teams. AP

The St. Louis Cardinals have a bigger problem with the Dexter Fowler situation than owing a sub-.200 hitting bench player two-thirds of a 5-year, $82.5 million contract.

When Fowler was a free agent two off-seasons ago, the word was that he wasn't sure if he wanted to play for St. Louis because he didn't know if he was a good match for Redbirds manager Mike Matheny. And this was on the heels of the guy Fowler replaced, former St. Louis right fielder Jason Heyward turning down more money from the Birds to defect to the Chicago Cubs because he didn't think his former team had the core of players or the commitment to building the roster it needed to be a World Series competitor. Sadly, he was right because the Cardinals haven't made the playoffs since he left.

A story came out Thursday that said St. Louis President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak met with Fowler to clear the air after the former publicly called out the latter for loafing on the field on the way to losing his starting job. According to the article, when asked by Mozeliak if he was happy being with the Cardinals, he said his experience was "up and down." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

So now you've got a guy who questioned whether he wanted to take another year and $15 million more than his next-highest offer from the Cardinals when he was a free agent and he's second guessing himself in public a year-and-a-half later. How is that going to be received by other free agents when the Redbirds come calling this winter and next? I know, I know, the local team has a reputation of not exactly being free spenders in the free agent bidding. But it's fairly obvious that the third baseman and cleanup hitter this team needs isn't on the roster or in the high minors.

Many players share the same agents and word gets around. The Cardinals just a few years ago were a place where guys like Mark McGwire, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran and Larry Walker were eager to play. These days, St. Louis couldn't get Giancarlo Stanton to even think about wearing the Birds on the Bat.

Some people think the Cardinals could trade for Manny Machado and convince him that St. Louis is once again baseball heaven. But the Birds can't afford to bet on that when they're struggling near the .500 mark and they don't seem prepared to make the big moves necessary to turn things around quickly? I certainly wouldn't risk the likes of Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson or Jordan Hicks on that sort of gamble.

While I think Machado is going to end up out of St. Louis' reach, I'd love to see the Cardinals go after Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. A target of the Birds' front office a couple of years ago, the Rockies wouldn't part with Arenado then. But he's a year-and-a-half away from free agency and has been pretty forthcoming that he doesn't want to remain a part of Colorado's perpetual rebuilding program.

The Cardinals would be wise to try to turn around their negative image among players as soon as possible. Step one is to replace their unimaginative manager with a more dynamic, fundamentally sound skipper who can relate to younger players. Second, the Cardinals could trade for Arenado to make the team better in the short run and give it a chance to win this season. Then they could reinforce their commitment to winning next winter by adding a front of the rotation starter to bolster the crew of young flamethrowers that will be the core of the club in the future. Hopefully those bold moves would be enough to convince Arenado and Ozuna to sign long term deals with St. Louis

In one winter, the Birds could become younger, more athletic, better defensively and a team that is attractive to the best players in the game. Or they could just keep doing what they're doing and miss the playoffs again, deepening the conviction that St. Louis is no longer an ideal destination for players who want to have a chance to win every year.