SATURDAY: Fowler is now officially a free agent, per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times (Twitter link).
FRIDAY: Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler will decline his half of a $9MM mutual option and re-enter the free-agent market, Fowler himself said on ESPN’s Sportscenter last night (via ESPN News Services). The news comes as little surprise on the heels of a career year for Fowler, who should be one of the top outfielders and top all-around free agents on this year’s open market.
“I’m definitely going to be a free agent, but hopefully it happens a little bit quicker than last year,” said the 30-year-old switch-hitting outfielder. “You can’t control what goes on, but I loved my time in Chicago and I’m definitely not counting them out, but we’ll see what God has planned for us now.”
Fowler, who will turn 31 next March, batted .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers and 13 steals in 125 games/551 plate appearances for the Cubs in the regular season before kicking in a trio of postseason home runs on during the Cubs’ curse-breaking World Series run. He’s a surefire candidate to receive a qualifying offer from Chicago, which would give him a one-year, $17.2MM offer to return to the team, but based on Fowler’s comments it seems safe to say he’ll be rejecting the QO to again test free agency.
That’s familiar territory for Fowler, who rejected a QO from the Cubs last winter and spent much of the offseason languishing on the free-agent market. While he reportedly came close to a three-year deal with the Orioles in February — many credible reporters indicated that the deal was agreed to, though Fowler’s agent vehemently denied that rumor after the fact — Fowler ultimately settled for a one-year deal to return to Chicago instead. That was a surprising development, considering Fowler entered the offseason seemingly poised to score a strong free-agent payday. Some teams weren’t willing to part with the draft pick required to sign him, however, and that could again prove true this winter. However, it also seems less likely, as Fowler is now coming off the two best seasons of his career and has seemingly erased some concerns about his defense in center field. Fowler recently told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale that teams last winter weren’t convinced of his ability to play center field, but he altered his positioning this year and drew slightly above-average marks from both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved for the first time in his career.
Alternatively, if Fowler is open to playing an outfield corner, his market would almost certainly grow even more robust, as a number of contending clubs with money to spend (e.g. the Giants, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Rangers) could look to the free-agent market to find help in the outfield corners. It was genuinely surprising that a long-term deal did not materialize for Fowler earlier in the offseason last winter, but it’ll come as even more of a shock if he’s not able to lock down a lucrative multi-year commitment in the 2016-17 offseason. From my vantage point, Fowler should be able to land at least a four-year contract this winter even after rejecting the qualifying offer.