Dexter Fowler reportedly was in St. Louis Thursday night for a physical and could sign with the Cardinals as soon as Friday. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

The Cardinals watched last winter as the Chicago Cubs signed away two of their free agents, Jason Heyward and John Lackey. They could be about to return the favor by signing outfielder Dexter Fowler.

Frank Cusumano, sports director of KSDK TV, reported Friday night on Twitter that Fowler was in St. Louis to take a physical. That report was followed by news from Bob Nightengale of USA Today that the Cardinals and Fowler were moving toward a deal.

It’s possible the signing could be announced as early as Friday.

Fowler, 30, was the center fielder and leadoff hitter for the Cubs for the last two seasons, helping them win the World Series this year, their first title in 108 years.

Fowler reportedly had been seeking at least a four-year contraft worth at least $18 million a years. Terms of the Cardinals’ offer have not been reported but it likely will be the largest free agent they have given a position player who wasn’t already in the organization.

The Cardinals were believed to have submitted an offer to Fowler and his agents during the winter meetings, but apparently increased that offer on Thursday.

Signing Fowler would force the Cardinals to give up their first-round pick, currently the 18th overall selection, in the amateur draft next June.

Fowler is a career .268 hitter in his nine seasons in the major leagues, which include six years in Colorado and one with the Houston Astros. He is coming off a .276 average this season with 13 homers, 48 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.

Signing Fowler would allow the Cardinals to move Randal Grchuk to left field, which will help with their stated off-season goal of improving the team’s defense.

Fowler was ranked by most as the top center fielder available in this free agent class. The Cardinals had explored several potential trades for a center fielder during the winter meetings this week but found the asking price more than they wanted to pay.

Manager Mike Matheny was asked about Fowler when he spoke with the media on Tuesday at the winter meetings just outside Washington, D.C.

"He's an exciting player and we've seen him from the other dugout enough to realize he's the kind of player that can make a difference, especially at the top of the order," Matheny said. "You watch a Matt Carpenter-style at-bat, going in and grinding and figuring out a way to get on base and figuring out what that does to an opposition and what it does to a pitching staff and how it elevates pitch counts and how it does create a sense of rhythm in your offense. To be able to have a player like that in your team, we've seen the benefits when Matt Carpenter is going right, how our offense works. The more players that you can have like that, I think the better off you're going to be."

Signing Fowler likely would drop Carpenter to third in the batting order.