In his first hours back from paternity leave, St. Louis Cardinals Center fielder Dexter Fowler is already fielding tough questions regarding his own organization’s criticism of his on-field play.
While Fowler was away having his second child on Monday, Cardinals’ president of baseball operations John Mozeliak criticized Fowler’s “effort” and “energy level” on a podcast.
Here’s what Mozeliak said about Fowler in response to host Dan McLaughlin’s question:
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.
For what it’s worth, Mozeliak has since doubled back on his statement, and told MLB.com that he did not mean to single out Fowler and instead meant to address team’s underperformance at large.
Regardless, Fowler was asked to respond to the comments before the Cardinals took on the Giants Thursday. He was understandably displeased, and was clear that his teammates are on his side:
“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
Fowler added that his time with the team hasn’t exactly been smooth-sailing:
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
Last month, before Mozeliak commented, Fowler’s wife got into a well-documented argument over Twitter with a reporter who blamed an error on Fowler’s “swag.”
Fowler also said he’s effectively being used as a scapegoat for the whole team’s down year, which is in line with what Mozeliak tried to clarify.
This quote exemplifies the theme of Dexter Fowler's seven-plus minute pregame interview, during which he consistently stressed his desire to play his way out his first-half slump. He is out of the lineup again today, and has started just six of the last 18 games. pic.twitter.com/7fUgsLe7eD
— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) July 6, 2018
Fowler signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal at the end of 2016, and had a largely positive 2017 campaign, slashing .264/.363/.488 with 18 home runs. His 2018 has been undeniably terrible. Through 66 games and 250 plate appearances, he’s hitting .171/.276/.278 with five home runs.
While Mozeliak and company’s comments might be justified in terms of Fowler’s production level, it’s never a good look for a team official to publicly criticize his own players, and an even worse one to speculate about effort level.
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