The next chapter in the Dexter Fowler-Cardinals saga saw light Thursday when the embattled outfielder returned to the club from paternity leave in San Francisco, speaking for the first time regarding all recent malarkey.
If you’re a Cards fan living under a rock, you can get up to speed on said malarkey here. (We understand this season may have driven some fans under rocks).
While most of this week’s headlines have keyed on Cardinals president John Mozeliak’s recent comments questioning Fowler’s effort level, our insider Mark Saxon posits the real friction resides between Fowler and Mike Matheny and has since the beginning of the season.
Saxon goes in detail on the story in a recent piece for The Athletic and was also kind enough to share his knowledge with ‘The Bernie Miklasz Show’ Friday. The scribe had been privy to Fowler and Matheny’s soured relationship for a while, and felt the player’s less than exuberant answers to certain Thursday questions made it a good time to report what he’s heard.
“I had been hearing that for a long, long time,” Saxon said. “When Dexter came back and had those comments; not real declarative on whether he was happy here, I just thought it was the time to sort of bring that to a point. I just started hearing it from more and more people.
“As I understand, it really started…If you’ll remember back early in the season when Dexter, Matt Carpenter and [Marcell] Ozuna were all sort of struggling in tandem, I think Dexter felt like he was the only guy whose spot in the lineup was being moved around a great deal, and I think it sort of started around then.”
Saxon also mentioned a prominent communication lapse between Fowler and Matheny.
“Mike Matheny sends out, I think nightly, text messages with the next day’s lineup on them and usually like a motivational-type message in there. And I think Dex kind of blocked those and started ignoring those,” he said. “So it’s not great I don’t think; communication between those two.
“But it’s not as if that’s unprecedented. I think there were guys who, at times, Tony La Russa didn’t have a great deal to say to either. So people should know this goes on in clubhouses all around the country.”
Saxon went in depth with the Bernie Show on the whole situation and you can read more of his inside scoop below, which is followed by the full interview’s audio.
Saxon on the Matheny and the Cards potentially losing some faith in Fowler:
“I’m sure to some extent that’s how Dexter looks at it; that [Matheny has] given up on him and doesn’t view him as that dynamic, top of the lineup guy that he has been. And there’s always the counterargument: What about [if] Dexter’s performance would sort of encourage [Matheny] to feel that way?
“I think one of the reasons he did move more in the lineup early on is the Cardinals knew well what you and I can now access too, and that is the stat-cast data that shows that unlike Ozuna and Carpenter, he wasn’t hitting the ball as hard. His sprint speed is down. It’s a complicated thing and that’s one in the Cardinals’ court: Why they wouldn’t have trusted him to be the kind of catalyst that he’d been the year before.”
On whether the club has tried reaching out to Fowler before this week and his relationship with Mo:
I think Mike has at times tried to…has enforced some conversations I guess you could say, with Dexter, but I just get the sense that Dexter is kind of avoiding it. I think his pride is hurt a little bit and he does feel wronged from early on. That’s the sense I get.
“In terms of mediating; the thing with Dexter Fowler and John Mozeliak was, in a sense, blown out of context because John Mozeliak has been Fowler’s greatest advocate through this whole thing. I think for them to talk after the whole Mo thing was actually relatively easy because they get along well.
“John Mozeliak really really played up Dexter’s arrival more than just as a player, but as someone who could be good for the community and all these things. Great in the clubhouse and change the culture, so he put a lot on him and he had a lot of reason to want to see him succeed.
“I think that speaks to some of his frustration; that he would go so far as to criticize his effort level really tells you how frustrated he was with Dexter’s performance.”
On what a possible trade situation would look like:
The team would just have to take a very big financial hit. Could they trade him and maybe a team would take on a third of his salary? Something in that range? Yeah, that seems reasonable to me.
“He looks like, potentially, a good candidate for a change of scenery kind of bounce-back because if you go back to end of last year he was playing great. He had a good season last year. He’s 32 years old; that’s typically not an age where you see steep decline. It is in the decline years, but you wouldn’t see a guy, a position player, fall off a cliff like that. He seems healthy.
“I think they could move him, but it’s complicated even by the fact he has a no-trade clause. They work out a deal with a team that he’s not interested in playing for, he could just torpedo it. I would expect this to go into the offseason, which means they have to come to some kind of understanding at this point.
“I just couldn’t see them getting that deal done in the next three weeks, but it’s happened before and it’s possible they’re already having talks along those lines.”
On if the Cardinals have tried to spin Fowler’s ‘lack of effort’ to their advantage:
I do think from Mike Matheny’s standpoint; he doesn’t want to be caught in sort of a boldfaced lie. Because if it turns out that he says, ‘Oh yeah, I think he hustles great,’ and then something happens and they change the narrative, I don’t think he wants to be seen as that guy.
“So I think what he does is he gets this sort of wry grin on his face, kind of a challenging look like, ‘Well, how could you even ask our guys about effort?’ It’s sort of a show that he puts on. But I do get the sense that if you can’t answer a direct question, then clearly there’s something you’re avoiding and that’s why I kind of wrote it like that. Because three days in a row we have asked him, ‘Do you think Dexter Fowler hustles?’ And his answer’s always been, ‘We keep an eye on our guys. Our guys always play hard.’ He never once used [Fowler’s] name and answered the question directly. I thought that was interesting.”
On how Fowler’s teammates have responded to everything:
“Players are kind of used to this kind of stuff in clubhouses…They’re used to kind of rifts and feuds, and I think there is almost a bemused side to it. First of all, they like Dexter Fowler. He’s an easy guy to get along with. For the most part, they seem to really like him.
“After Mo’s comments, he got a ton of texts from guys saying, ‘That’s BS.’ So I think for the most part they like Dexter and they just see it as a guy who’s ticked off who’s not happy with his role and they’ve seen that before. Tommy Pham, for example, has been that guy before.”