Dexter Fowler's Continuing Tough Market, and His Connection to the Cubs

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Dexter Fowler’s Continuing Tough Market, and His Connection to the Cubs

Chicago Cubs

dexter fowler outfieldI have to admit when I’m wrong, and, in the case of Dexter Fowler’s free agency, I was wrong. [Brett: You aren’t alone, Michael. I’m right there with you. I guess there’s still time ….]

When the FanGraphs Free Agent Crowd Sourcing Project was revealed, the estimate on Fowler’s contract was approximately 4 years/$54M – a figure that I openly suggested he could beat. Despite the huge group of alternative outfield options available in free agency, I assumed Fowler’s fantastic second half in 2015 (.852 OPS, 15.3% walk rate, .372 wOBA) would carry him into a hefty, well-earned contract. After all, he is only 29 years old.

Now that Gerardo Parra ($27.5M guaranteed) and Denard Span ($31M guaranteed) have signed for just three years and roughly $9-10M per year, that big contract may never come. Although there were always a lot of options and the market has moved slowly, it is the middle of January and Fowler doesn’t have all the time in the world. So what’s going on with Dexter Fowler? Is this all part of a plan?

Whether or not Fowler is purposely waiting out the market or has been forced to because the right deal just hasn’t come around is probably just a matter of perspective. Instead of money being the biggest factor, though, I’m guessing contract length is the primary reason for the delay. While Fowler’s probably looking for something in the 4-5 year range, especially because of his relative youth, it would appear that teams have been more interested in 3-year deals, tops, for players of his caliber and age, this offseason.

And, although it’s been suggested for others, I don’t think a one-year deal, making him a free agent in the weak 2017 class, is in the cards either. Fowler will probably never have more value than he has right now, as a 29-year-old center fielder coming off the best half season of his career.

So which teams realistically remain interested in the Fowler market?

In a recent article for CBS Chicago, Bruce Levine connects Fowler to the Cubs and White Sox – hypothetically – to see how well he could fit logistically in either outfield. While Levine acknowledges that both teams have capable center fielders (Jason Heyward and Adam Eaton), Levine mentions that both would be better served in a corner spot; however, that would necessarily require tangential moves. Just the same, when considering other potential contenders, Levine mentions only the Nationals, Rangers, Mariners and Indians as possible suitors. While each could make some sense, I think there are arguments to be made why none of the six are particularly good fits.

But what if Fowler is forced to go very short-term – two years, let’s say –  would that suddenly open things up? Brett believes that such a contract would indeed strengthen the demand, possibly expanding to include teams like the Cardinals, Tigers, and Orioles, in addition to the six teams listed above.

Would a reunion with the Cubs really be possible? Brett wrote about it back in December, but ultimately landed on the “probably not going to happen” point of view. Specifically, the issue was that while Levine guessed that Fowler might have to sign for something in the two-year/$26 to $30 million range, Brett believe he should and would get a lot more than that.

Again, at the time, I completely agreed with that notion. Now that the Rockies have signed Parra (they were loosely connected to Fowler) and the Giants have signed Span (they were also rumored to be in on Fowler), I’m not so sure …

For the Cubs, though, the biggest issue might not be about money OR years, it might just be about playing time. With all of Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Jorge Soler penciled in to the outfield, and with Spring Training rapidly approaching, there might not be enough time to pull off the series of moves to open up the starting job that Fowler is certainly seeking.

Another lesser, but certainly existing wrinkle to this story is the time of year. We are fairly late into the offseason, and every day that goes by and every free agent off the board pushes team budgets closer into their final amount. There could exist a team that – at one point – would have offered more than Fowler ultimately receives, but is no longer capable of doing so (having already moved on).

Lastly, if you recall, the Cubs provided Fowler with a qualifying offer once the season concluded. Once Fowler does eventually sign, the Cubs will receive a compensation pick after the first round of the draft.  That pick will be lost, because of the Jason Heyward and John Lackey signings, but it will preserve the Cubs’ second round pick, which is still important, even if less so. We’re not quite yet in a situation where the Cubs might have to be concerned that Fowler won’t sign in time to receive the additional draft pick – that won’t be until June – but it does make you wonder what would happen if it reached that point.

Taken all together, this has become an interesting story to follow from a Cubs perspective. For whatever reason, the Cubs remain loosely connected to the center fielder, but I wouldn’t count on too much happening. Still, the effect of the draft pick will keep them (rightly) tied to Fowler’s negotiations until the day he signs.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami