It’s been an underwhelming season for the St. Louis Cardinals. They’re third in the National League Central with a 42-40 record, which isn’t where they wanted to be halfway through the season.
One of the big frustrations has been Dexter Fowler. The Cardinals signed him to a five-year, $82.5 million deal at the end of 2016, and while he had a productive 2017 (he hit .264/.363/.488 with 18 home runs), his 2018 has been abysmal. Through 66 games and 250 plate appearances, he’s hitting just .171/.276/.278 with five home runs. Not exactly what the Cardinals were hoping for.
The Cardinals’ president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has some feelings about Fowler, and he made them known in a podcast interview he did with Dan McLaughlin. Here’s what Mozeliak had to say about Fowler, along with the question that prompted his comments.
McLaughlin: I know you know Dexter Fowler very well, and he’s having a tough year, no other way to put it. How do you try to get him going, what do you do from a Cards standpoint to get him on the right track?
Mozeliak: I would agree, it’s been a frustrating year for everybody involved, and here’s a guy that wants to go out and play well. I think he would tell you it’s hard to do that when you’re not playing, and 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. 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’s who’s out there hustling and playing hard. I think everybody needs to take a hard look in the mirror and decide what they want the next chapter to look like. In Dexter’s case, maybe taking just a brief timeout, try 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 to decide what makes the most sense. But clearly he’s not playing at the level we had hoped.
Mozeliak’s statement about Fowler is mind boggling. In response to a question about what the Cards can to do get Fowler going, Mozeliak responded by saying absolutely nothing about baseball. He didn’t talk about how Fowler has been hitting, what more he could be doing, or what the Cardinals could do to help him. He could have dug into Fowler’s stats even a little bit and found that his batting average on balls in play is .201. That is far, far below the league average, which typically sits in the low .300 range. It means Fowler has been getting really unlucky whenever he hits a ball in play — fielders have been finding his balls and they haven’t been squeaking through for hits.
Instead of hitting on the stats or anything Fowler could do to get himself out of his funk, Mozeliak decided to publicly call out Fowler’s commitment to his job, questioning his energy and effort. He doesn’t explain why he’s doing this, he doesn’t cite any examples of times when Fowler hasn’t given what Mozeliak perceives to be 100%, he just says he can’t defend Fowler when people question his “effort” and “energy level.” By doing that, he’s saying that Fowler’s season-long slump is due to Fowler not caring enough instead of bad luck on balls on play or any number of other actual baseball things.
Oh, did I mention that Fowler is currently out on paternity leave because his second child is being born? The Cardinals’ president of baseball operations decided to badmouth one of his own players while he was away for the birth of his child.
It’s easy to understand why Mozeliak (and the phantom fans he mentioned) would be frustrated with Fowler. He’s a high-salary player who’s having a bad season, and the Cardinals are struggling. But for Mozeliak to go on the radio and essentially say that he thinks Fowler has been struggling because he doesn’t care enough, that’s pretty galling. There are actual baseball reasons behind Fowler’s issues this season, but Mozeliak chose to question the character of a player he himself signed.
Mozeliak seems deeply unhappy with Dexter Fowler. You don’t tell someone to “take a hard look in the mirror” if you like what they’re doing. But if Mozeliak wants to move Fowler to another team, his comments certainly didn’t help. He made Fowler look as unattractive as possible to any team who might want to trade for him.
Fowler has a good track record as a baseball player. He’s a bit injury prone, but he usually puts up solid numbers. His talent and ability didn’t just disappear — he’s obviously better than he’s been showing, and he’ll probably break out of this slump in time. But it doesn’t sound like Mozeliak wants to wait anymore. The Cardinals are struggling, and he appears to want things to change immediately. Publicly shaming one of your own players is certainly a way to try and force that change. Everyone, Mozeliak included, will have to wait and see if it works, or if it backfires spectacularly.
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