Dexter Fowler has taken some criticism during his tenure as a St. Louis Cardinals player. While things have not always been smooth sailing for the outfielder wearing the birds on the bat, it’s not all his fault.
Dexter Fowler is currently penciled in as the starting right fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals. After signing a five-year free-agent deal with the team following the 2016 season, expectations were high. As we wait to begin the upcoming shortened 2020 season, the optimism regarding Fowler may never be lower. But is that fair?
It was Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Fowler stood in the box and set the tone for the historic Cubs championship win by hitting a leadoff home run. Fowler was the catalyst for a dynamic Cubs offense that snapped a long championship drought. He was, and probably still is, a beloved figure to Cubs fans and an important part of one of the best Cubbie teams of all time.
Following the champagne and the celebrations, Dexter Fowler was tasked with looking ahead. He had won the championship and cemented his legacy in Chicago Cubs lore. What was next?
A few months later, Fowler jumped ship and landed on deck with the St. Louis Cardinals. In his press conference, he wore a Cardinals red cap and his famous smile. Fowler looked excited and ready for the new opportunity.
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One of the people sitting with him at that press conference was manager Mike Matheny. A lot has been said and speculated regarding these two and I’m not going to dig into it all. It was no secret that these two seemed to have at least professional differences, and could have played a role, along with the team’s on-field struggles, in Matheny’s firing halfway though the 2018 season.
Fowler’s first season with the team was solid. Overall I would say he met expectations and seemed to fit well with the team. Fowler’s role as a positive clubhouse presence was another major part of his appeal to a team and the Cardinals seemed like a great fit.
Things went off the rails for him in 2018. He only played 90 games and saw his numbers plummet. This is when the fan perception seemed to change. Fowler almost seemed to be a scapegoat for the struggling team, and his personal on the field struggles during that season were well documented.
Jump ahead to last season, 2019. Under manager Mike Shildt, he had a bounce-back season. The magnitude of this bounce-back can be debated but it was much closer to his career norms (while setting career highs in HR and RBI) and showing that his 2018 season might be an outlier.
It is a fair argument to make that Fowler has not met or exceeded fan expectations. I don’t think that it is all his fault. The last time fans saw Fowler before he put on the Cardinals jersey, he was winning the World Series with a stacked Chicago Cubs team. As bitter rivals, that might level some fans with a bad taste in their mouths.
Seeing a key player from a rival team win a championship and sign a big free-agent deal with your favorite team would probably make the excitement level high and build a pretty high level of expectations.
I have no doubt that Fowler is doing his best, and if you take away the 2018 season his numbers with the Cardinals have been pretty much comparable to the rest of his career. There are a few other reasons to note as to why Fowler has not been the same player he was earlier in his career.
The first reason is pretty obvious and that is age. Most, if not all, players will eventually regress and the age-related decline for an athlete is a real factor. It’s not fair to expect that Fowler, now 34, will be the same player he was even several seasons ago. With that said, he quietly put up the highest home run and RBI totals of his career last season for the Cardinals.
Another major reason for some fans being disappointed, if that’s the correct word to use here, has absolutely nothing to do with Fowler at all. Compare the Cubs rosters in 2015 and 2016 to the Cardinals rosters of the past few seasons. It’s not particularly close, in my opinion. The Cardinals have not had a great offense for several seasons, and even after the big trade for Paul Goldschmidt, the offense is still lacking.
Meanwhile, the Cubs have had a star-studded lineup including Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Kris Bryant. With those players sprinkled throughout the batting order, it’s no wonder that Fowler found more opportunities and better pitches.
As we edge ever closer to baseball in 2020, I ask fans to keep an open mind and be optimistic regarding Dexter Fowler. He’s been a great player during his career, and while his Cardinals tenure has been a bit hit or miss, it is important to recognize that it is not all his fault. Let’s see what he has in store for us this season. We just might be surprised.