Fans and media members alike were shocked this morning when the Cubs announced that they had re-signed Dexter Fowler to a one-year deal, just days after the Baltimore media and a number of national reporters broke the news of a three-year agreement between Fowler and the Orioles. Fowler’s agent, Casey Close of Excel Sports Management, vehemently denies that an agreement was ever in place, however, and even went so far as to say that the two sides were ever even nearing a deal. Close felt strongly enough about what he terms “irresponsible behavior” on the team’s behalf to issue a release with the following statement:
“In my 25 years in this business, never before have I witnessed such irresponsible behavior on so many fronts. Both the Orioles front office and members of the media were so busy recklessly spreading rumors that they forgot or simply chose not to concern themselves with the truth. The Orioles’ willful disregard of collectively bargained rules governing free agency and the media’ eager complicity in helping the Orioles violate those rules are reprehensible. Dexter Fowler never reached agreement with the Orioles and did not come close to signing with the club; any suggestion otherwise is only a continuation of an already disturbing trend.”
Close’s comments are among the most scathing public-facing remarks from an agent or executive that I can recall seeing, and his clear intent is to communicate that his agency in no way contributed to any reports of Fowler’s alleged agreement with Baltimore. That, then, would imply that the information (or, rather, misinformation) came from the team’s side of the equation, though executive vice president and general manager Dan Duquette said today at Yovani Gallardo’s introductory press conference that he was never under the impression that a deal was in place. Via MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko:
“We made a very competitive offer,” Duquette explained. “There was not an agreement to terms because they kept insisting on an opt-out. I don’t see, club ownership doesn’t see the value in that type of arrangement to the Orioles. If we are going to guarantee a contract, it should be a contract.”
The Orioles have reportedly been staunchly against opt-out clauses throughout the duration of the offseason, and while initial reports of talks with both Gallardo and Fowler included mention of opt-out provisions, the ultimately reported agreements (and, in Gallardo’s case, announced agreement) did not include opt-out clauses. Notably, Kubtako writes that while the Orioles will not publicly acknowledge that they believed an agreement to be in place, “multiple sources within the organization” confirmed to him earlier this week that there was an agreement in place, and other reporters followed suit with confirmation of the agreement.
Beyond all of that, the arguable face of the Orioles’ franchise, Adam Jones, went on record with multiple reporters (including ESPN’s Jayson Stark and the Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo A. Encina) discussing his excitement over the addition of Fowler. Jones went so far as to say that he spoke to Fowler himself. “I spoke to him,” Jones told Stark. “He’s excited. He should be on his way here now.” Whatever belief that the Orioles had that an agreement with Fowler had been reached, it trickled down out of the front office. And, if Jones’ comments are accurate, it would seem that Fowler himself at least seemed optimistic about the possibility of a deal being consummated.
What isn’t clear, then, is what specifically led those who believed a deal had been struck to come to that conclusion. Duquette’s comments today signified that the opt-out clause was a persistent sticking point from Fowler’s camp, and it should be noted that Close/Excel are the leaders in the opt-out charge; Close represents Zack Greinke, Masahiro Tanaka, Clayton Kershaw and Jason Heyward — each of whom has secured an opt-out clause in recent contracts (multiple opt-outs, in Heyward’s case). As such, it seems reasonable to expect that an opt-out clause was indeed a longstanding request from Fowler’s camp. However, reports today characterized the insistence on an opt-out as a last-minute wrench thrown into talks, thus serving as the impetus for Fowler’s return to Chicago.
Clearly, there’s no benefit for either involved party to have word of a deal leak out when it isn’t true, but something appears to have either been lost in translation during negotiations or been altered late in the game. The definitive level of transparency required to know exactly what transpired — if that level of clarity even exists one way or the other — isn’t likely to ever be publicly available, however.