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Cardinals expect Fowler to reclaim spot in RF

O'Neill, Martinez offer backup as outfielder returns from foot surgery
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAS VEGAS -- While the Cardinals spent Day 1 of the Winter Meetings canvassing the trade and free-agent markets for bullpen and bench additions, they are notably underprioritizing the search for additional outfield options.

Instead, they remain ready to give Dexter Fowler a shot at redemption.

LAS VEGAS -- While the Cardinals spent Day 1 of the Winter Meetings canvassing the trade and free-agent markets for bullpen and bench additions, they are notably underprioritizing the search for additional outfield options.

Instead, they remain ready to give Dexter Fowler a shot at redemption.

"If we were to open [the season] today, assuming he's what we think he is physically, yes, he'd get that opportunity to start," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Monday evening. "We're certainly bullish on him coming into camp and reverting back to what we saw two years ago."

In doubling down on their commitment to Fowler, who was cleared to resume baseball activities last week, the Cardinals continue to situate themselves on the outside of the Bryce Harper sweepstakes. They'd prefer to see the position capably filled by a player who still has $49.5 million due to him over the next three years.

The question, of course, is whether Fowler can have the bounce-back season that everyone desires.

He is coming off season-ending foot surgery and a career-worst year at the plate. Fowler posted an OPS+ of 58 while slashing .180/.278/.298 over 90 games. Along the way, his relationship with former manager Mike Matheny soured and his playing time was shaved.

Yet, the Cardinals remain unconvinced that Fowler, at age 32, has hit a career decline that can't be corrected.

"Dex has a lot of pride, and he certainly wants to come back and show what he's capable of doing," Mozeliak said. "Obviously we invested heavily in that, and we're very hopeful that will be the outcome."

Video: STL@CIN: Fowler belts a go-ahead home run in the 11th

The Cardinals will have protection behind Fowler, right now in the form of Tyler O'Neill and Jose Martinez. The club is still exploring with Martinez, though, so he may not be around as backup by time next season opens.

As far as Fowler's physical state, the club received a favorable report from head athletic trainer Adam Olsen, who recently visited Fowler in Las Vegas. They've also outlined a conditioning program for Fowler to follow leading up to Spring Training.

Health is a key part of the equation. Ultimately, though, it's production that will determine whether the Cardinals were prudent not to pursue other options for the position.

"I want him to chase that carrot," Mozeliak said. "I want him to be someone who shows up to camp and wants that everyday role."

Medical report
• Mozeliak confirmed that catcher Yadier Molina will undergo a "very small" cleanup procedure on an unspecified knee Thursday. The surgery is not expected to affect Molina's offseason preparation.

Marcell Ozuna remains in the therapy portion of his rehab following shoulder surgery in late October. The Cardinals anticipate getting a better gauge for where he is, as far as baseball activities are concerned, in early January.

Alex Reyes continues to rehab from season-ending shoulder surgery and projects to open camp as one of several pitchers the Cardinals will stretch out next spring. Mozeliak said the organization will keep an open mind about where Reyes fits best on the roster until after they see how he progresses.

Worth noting
• Free agent Tyson Ross signed a one-year deal with Detroit, the Tigers announced on Monday. Ross finished 2018 by making nine appearances for the Cardinals.

• The Cardinals do not anticipate clearing a roster spot this week for the purpose of having room to make a selection in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

St. Louis Cardinals, Dexter Fowler