When Dexter Fowler strolled into Cubs camp on February 25, no one knew what to make of it. Had he come back to say goodbye? Did he forget his favorite socks in the locker room?
Was he going to return to the Chicago Cubs?
Although the latter question was the right one, no one ever could have guessed it, because no one even knew he was a free agent.
By all reports, Dexter Fowler had signed a three-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles, just two days earlier. Now, of course, we know that a deal was never actually agreed upon, and we know Fowler’s agent was pretty upset by whatever happened, but we never really found out what happened or how close the two sides actually were… until today.
Here’s what Dexter Fowler has to say on the fallout with the Orioles, via Peter Gammons:
“One of the stranger revelations of the spring came Friday when Dexter Fowler explained what happened in his reported signing with the Orioles, which was falsely leaked to the media. ‘We never really were close,’ says Fowler. ‘They wanted me to pay them what they said the draft choice I was costing them was valued at. They wanted me to pay them for the pick. So we said, OK, then give me an opt-out after one year, and they said that’s something they won’t do.’ So Fowler moved on to the Cubs for what amounts to one year and $13M, and he can stay in center field.
According to Fowler, the two sides had some sort of rough agreement on what the details of a multi-year deal might look like, AND THEN, the Orioles said, “now subtract the value of the pick we are losing.” Fowler, without much leverage, requested an opt-out, to recoup some of the lost value, but was ultimately denied.
With no clear path forward in Baltimore, Fowler moved on to the Cubs, and got the one year deal he was looking for.
So, thanks to some relatively candid words from Fowler here, we now have a much clearer picture of the impact of a qualifying offer. More specifically, we have a clearer picture on how damaging it can be to a guy like Dexter Fowler. In theory, the qualifying offer system is supposed to protect small market teams, whose star players are leaving for greener pastures (and more money). Instead, it’s become the concrete shoes that drown mid-tier free agents and prevent them from receiving fair value on the free agent market.
After all, every actor besides the free agent benefits, at least in some small way, from this arrangement (former team gets a pick, signing team gets a discount).
(And, before you say it: yes, he could have accepted the qualifying offer and received a little more money, but no one reasonably believed at that time that one year and $15.8 million was the best he could do. Far from it.)
This isn’t the first offseason we’ve seen this affect, but it is the first time we’re getting something close to confirmation of this behavior (from MLB teams and players). With the CBA set to be re-negotiated in the coming year, though, I suspect this story will be a topic of great interest to the Players’ Association.
But, unless the rule fundamentally changes, we’re going to continue seeing teams take advantage of the system, and guys like Dexter Fowler will bear the weight of the consequences.
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