Dexter Fowler has been a St. Louis Cardinal for less than two seasons now, and he’s certainly not having a year anywhere close to his career levels of performance. That lack of performance apparently drove Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak to publicly criticize Fowler’s effort, comments that were widely panned.
Mozeliak on Fowler: “I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and question his effort and energy level. And those are things I can’t defend. I try to create opportunities for him, but not if it’s at the expense of other players who are hustling and playing hard.”
— Trevor Vallese (@TVallese) July 2, 2018
A summation, From our Joe Lucia:
To be fair to Mozeliak, the 32-year old Fowler has been pretty bad this season, hitting just .171/.276/.278 with five homers and three stolen bases. Last season, he was fine, and there were no questions about his “effort and energy level” – he hit .264/.363/.488 with 18 homers and seven steals.
Fowler has never been the healthiest player in the world – he’s logged 600 plate appearances in a season just once (2015 with the Cubs), and has played in as many as 140 games in a season twice (2012 and 2015). He managed 118 games for the Cardinals last year, and has played in just 66 this year. The timing of Mozeliak’s comments don’t come at a good time – Fowler is currently out on paternity leave, as his wife is having a baby.
All it does is make Mozeliak look that much worse, and throws his decision making even more into question. The Cardinals haven’t underachieved this season solely because of Dexter Fowler – they’ve underachieved due to problems with the team put together by Mozeliak and GM Mike Girsch. Those problems include, but don’t stop at, the decision to give Fowler more than $80 million guaranteed.
Mozeliak later attempted to clarify his comments by suggesting they were about the entire team, which doesn’t do much to address the point that he was singling out Fowler. Nor does it change the timing, with Fowler out on paternity leave. Fowler hadn’t directly addressed Mozeliak’s comments until tonight, and he made it clear he wasn’t a fan:
“My effort has always been there,” says Dexter Fowler, reacting to John Mozeliak’s comments publicly for the first time. “That’s out of the question. These guys in here know. They’re the ones texting me, saying it’s bull****. I’m playing as hard as I can.” #STLCards
— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) July 5, 2018
Dexter Fowler was quite open in his comments. Said he spoke with Mo and Bill DeWitt. He wants to play. Paused for a long time when asked if he enjoys being a St. Louis Cardinal and admitted it has been up and down.
— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) July 5, 2018
That’s understandable given what transpired the past few days, and even going back to last year, when Fowler was attacked by Cardinals fans online for expressing his concerns over a Muslim travel ban.
When healthy and playing well, Fowler is a very exciting player. He was good last year, and was one of the best players in baseball during a stretch extending from the second half of 2015 through the first half of 2016 for the Cubs; he also contributed a leadoff home run in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Players never want to be injured, and they never want to lose. Mozeliak baselessly (and the comments do seem baseless, going off the reaction of everyone involved since) and publicly criticizing his own free agent signing is either tone deaf or a transparent effort to deflect the blame for his own potential failings onto someone else. (To be fair to Mozeliak, it’s a strategy that’s worked well before.)
The Cardinals are just kind of weird now. They’re not good, they’re not very well-run on the field or in the front office, and they don’t seem to have much of a direction. For a generation of baseball fans who had gotten used to the opposite, it’s certainly been an adjustment. And given how word gets around, it’s hard to imagine free agents wanting to come to St. Louis to help turn things around. A few bad months and your GM could be out there ripping your effort.
It’s kind of a mess.