Reflecting on Dexter Fowler’s St. Louis Cardinals Tenure

JUPITER, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 19: Dexter Fowler #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals poses for a photo on Photo Day at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on February 19, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 19: Dexter Fowler #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals poses for a photo on Photo Day at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on February 19, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Cardinals have traded outfielder Dexter Fowler to the Los Angeles Angels. Although full of ups and downs, his tenure in St. Louis should be recalled fondly.

When the St. Louis Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler before the 2017 season, he was at the height of his baseball career. Fresh off an All-Star appearance and a World Series title, Fowler sailed into free agency with an opportunity to really market himself as a key part of a contending team.

When the Cardinals signed him, they needed outfield help. After missing out on the playoffs in 2016 they knew they needed some upgrades and center field was an area they targeted. Fowler and the Redbirds ultimately agreed to a five-year deal worth $82.5 million. Another part of that contract was a no-trade clause that would allow him to block any potential trades.

Here we are in February of 2021, just weeks before the scheduled start of spring training in what is the last year of Fowler’s contract. Only he won’t be in Jupiter, Florida with the Cardinals. He’ll be preparing to start his first season with the Los Angeles Angels. The move sees him reunited with manager Joe Maddon, under whom Fowler has had some of the best seasons of his career so far.

In the trade, the Cardinals are getting in return cash considerations or a player to be named later. The deal made sense. The St. Louis Cardinals want to transition to their younger outfielders, most notably top prospect Dylan Carlson. Fowler would probably have seen a reduction in playing time, so this move will hopefully benefit him.

During his tenure as a Cardinal, a span of four seasons, Fowler was (by all accounts) a great teammate and asset in the community. Moving from a champion to a division rival is likely a complicated transition, but Dexter Fowler seemed to fit in right away. His tenure did have some rocky moments and ups and downs, though.

There was the well-documented drama with (then) manager Mike Matheny before he was eventually fired. Fowler was not long for the center field position and was later moved to right field. He also lost his leadoff spot in the lineup. He seemed to handle it all gracefully.

Fowler’s first season in the Birds on the Bat, he hit .264 with a then career-high 18 home runs. His next season was when things started to get bumpy. In 2018 he hit .180 in 90 games with an OPS+ of 59. It seemed to me like many fans took this season and used it as fuel to disregard Fowler and he had a way to go to climb out of that hole that some fans unjustly put him in.

In 2019 he batted .238, not great by any means but significantly better than .180 the season before. For those who don’t like the batting average metric, his OPS+ bounced back up to 100. On top of that, he had a new career-high in home runs and RBI. He also played in 150 games.

Still, entering the next offseason some fans were still not impressed. An OPS+ of 100 is league average so by that statistic Fowler was average in 2019. His overall batting line was solid and the fact that he was penciled into the lineup 150 times showed his durability for that season.

In the shortened 2020 season, he batted .233 with an OPS+ of 92 in 31 games. Not too far off his 2019 stats in a much shorter sample size.

It was also reported that Fowler was battling depression during his St. Louis Cardinals tenure and specifically that it played a big role in his struggles during the 2018 season.

During his time as a St. Louis Cardinals player, Fowler almost seemed to be up against more than just the opponent on the field. The issues with Matheny, some injuries, and of course depression. In some ways, it seemed like a portion of (though not necessarily a big part of it) the fanbase was up against him too.

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For some reason, it seems as though Fowler never really found his footing during his four seasons in St. Louis. That’s unfortunate because he’s a good player and he had a couple of really productive seasons with the Cardinals.

I wanted to write this because I think that Dexter Fowler needs to be appreciated. You don’t have to be a fan, you can think his contract was bad, those are separate points entirely. I do think that he embraced the Cardinals and wanted to help the team win. Certainly, I imagine that all parties involved were hoping for more.

Dexter Fowler signed to play baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals for five seasons. He played four. In those four were enough ups and downs to serve as an adequate roller coaster in an amusement park. But I like Dexter Fowler the player and he seems like a great person as well. Even though the team did not accomplish a World Series title with Fowler, they made a few playoff appearances and even an NLCS appearance in 2019.

When fans look back on Dexter Fowler’s tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals, I hope they realize that it was good and respectable. The best of intentions don’t always lead to the desired conclusions. Through it all, he kept his signature smile. It should also be appreciated that he felt comfortable going public with his depression.

That is a serious thing and shows that even professional athletes with money and fame can still battle it. Even though they are famous, they are just as human as the rest of us. I think that is something that fans should take away from this.

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Bottom line is this, Dexter Fowler and the St. Louis Cardinals did not work out. Both sides I’m sure tried to make it work, and Fowler still had a couple of extremely productive seasons with the Cardinals. With that said, I still look at his tenure in a positive light. He was a part of some good teams and a few playoff teams. I’ll still root for him to succeed with the Angels and wherever his career leads him after that.