The Giants, Cardinals and Blue Jays are all believed to be interested in free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler, per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, who hears that Fowler’s camp is of the mind that they can land a multi-year deal that will pay the switch-hitter $18MM on an annual basis (Twitter link).
[Related: Dexter Fowler’s Free Agent Profile]
Any of the three listed clubs make perfect sense as a landing spot for Fowler. The Giants saw Angel Pagan hit free agency and have somewhat of a vacancy in left field. Beyond that, they could see a significant amount of money come off the books following the 2017 season. Matt Cain’s ill-fated contract extension will come to a close at the end of next year’s campaign, and if he repeats the form he displayed in 2016, Johnny Cueto figures to opt out of the remaining four years and $88MM on his contract. Infielder Eduardo Nunez, too, will be a free agent at season’s end.
As for the Cardinals, they’ve been linked to Fowler for most of the offseason due to the potential void they face in the outfield. Signing Fowler would allow Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to flank Fowler in the outfield. While many are quick to point out that Fowler isn’t necessarily a defensive upgrade over Grichuk in center — improved glovework is said to be a priority for GM John Mozeliak — an outfield alignment of Grichuk, Fowler and Piscotty would be superior to last year’s mix of Matt Holliday, Brandon Moss, Grichuk and Piscotty.
As for the Blue Jays, they’ve previously been linked to Fowler on more than one occasion but also represent an easy on-paper fit. Toronto’s primary corner outfielders from the 2016 season, Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders, are both free agents. Fowler would represent a defensive upgrade while providing the Jays with lineup balance and speed — two elements that GM Ross Atkins has gone on record to call desirable this offseason (when speaking generally and not specifically of Fowler). Signing in Toronto would surely require Fowler to shift to an outfield corner, as Kevin Pillar is arguably the game’s best defensive player, but Fowler’s reported talks with the Orioles last offseason potentially signaled a willingness to do just that. His openness to an outfield corner this winter hasn’t been stated to this point, but he’d certainly widen his market if he were comfortable shifting off of center field.
An $18MM average annual value represents a lofty goal for Fowler, who one year ago languished in free agency for nearly the entire offseason as teams were reluctant to part with a draft pick in order to sign him. Multiple reports indicated that he agreed to a three-year deal with the Orioles in February, but that deal was either never agreed to or never finalized, as Fowler wound up back with the Cubs on a more modest one-year deal worth $13MM. The decision represented a show of faith in Fowler’s talent and somewhat of a gamble from both the player and his agents at Excel Sports, but Fowler’s terrific 2016 season made the decision look wise; in 551 plate appearances with the Cubs, Fowler batted .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers and 13 stolen bases in addition to vastly better defensive and baserunning contributions.
It’s also worth noting that an $18MM annual value can mean a variety of different things, as contract length is often a larger deterrent than AAV for teams when signing players to a long-term pact. An $18MM AAV over five years would represent a massive commitment to Fowler and seems decidedly unlikely, but an $18MM AAV over a four-year term would line Fowler up for the same payday that Alex Gordon scored from the Royals last winter. That outcome seems more plausible, depending on the level of interest in Fowler, but the market for his services does seem to be more robust this year than last.
It’s probably fair to rule out the Cubs as a candidate to make a big splash for Fowler given their signing of Jon Jay and the glut of outfielders up and down the rest of their roster, but plenty of other teams make sense. In addition to the three listed by Heyman, the Mariners, Rangers, Phillies, Dodgers, Nationals, Indians and Orioles (if that bridge isn’t burned) are all logical suitors, though that list is speculative on my behalf.