- While domestic violence charges against Mets closer Jeurys Familia may soon be dropped, that doesn’t mean he won’t face league discipline. That possibility must be considered by the organization as it charts its offseason, GM Sandy Alderson says, as ESPNNewYork.com’s Adam Rubin reports. Of course, it still seems unlikely that the club will be motivated to spend big on a new late-inning arm, particularly with Addison Reed capable of filling in for the ninth inning after an excellent 2016 season. It’s possible that a reliever, or perhaps some array of young talent, could end up moving to New York if (or, more likely, when) the team deals one of its left-handed-hitting corner outfielders, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reports. The Mets’ strong preference is still to trade Jay Bruce rather than Curtis Granderson; it seems that the latter player may be expected to share time in center with Juan Lagares.
- Alderson also said in an appearance on MLB Network Radio today (Twitter link) that he’d be “surprised” if the Mets got involved with a top-level center fielder in free agency due not only to the draft pick they’d have to forfeit (referring to Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond) and also due to the fact that the team has other needs on the roster. Following the re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets are looking to move an outfielder, with reports indicating that Jay Bruce is the name they hope to shed. However, Curtis Granderson is reportedly drawing more interest, and FanRag’s Jon Heyman reports that the Orioles are among the teams with interest in Granderson (Twitter link). Baltimore doesn’t appear to have much interest in Bruce, however, he adds.
- The Braves put in a strong pursuit of righty Edinson Volquez before he went to the Marlins, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted yesterday. The team’s interest in Volquez came after it had already landed both R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon, but the Braves have been said to be focused on acquiring short-term assets in the rotation or front-of-the-rotation arms that would require enormous trade packages. As such, it’s possible that Atlanta only had interest in Volquez on a one-year deal, but he received two years and $22MM from the Marlins. Atlanta acted quickly to grab another short-term rotation commodity with tonight’s Garcia trade.
- The Marlins, too, still appear to be shopping for arms, as Heyman reports that they have potential interest in free-agent right-handers Jason Hammel and Doug Fister. The Fish are also looking for bullpen help, Heyman notes, which has been a priority in Miami for much of the offseason. Tim Healey of the Miami Sun-Sentinel writes that Miami is hoping to keep right-hander David Phelps in the bullpen following his dominance in that role in 2016. “Ideally, if we can keep a deep bullpen, we can keep him as that multi-inning effective bridge to the back-end guys,” said president of baseball ops Michael Hill to Healey. “He impacts more games for us that way. But we know he has the versatility if he has to move into the rotation to do that seamlessly and not miss a beat.”
- The Nationals are still looking for a closer, tweets Heyman, but it’s likely that they consider Aroldis Chapman to be too expensive. The Nats are interested in a reunion with Mark Melancon, however, he notes, adding that Washington “loved” Melancon’s clubhouse presence in his short stint with the team following a trade-deadline rental this past summer.
Like a few other free agents, Dexter Fowler finds himself back on the market after failing to land the long-term pact he sought last winter. He can expect to do much better this time around.
Fowler, 30, has never really been thought of as a premium hitter, and in truth he isn’t. But he is a somewhat under-rated, consistently above-average batsman who features a seemingly sustainable skillset at the plate. And he’s coming off of a career year.
Since the start of the 2011 season, Fowler has taken 3,331 plate appearances in the majors. His .271/.371/.428 batting line in that span works out to a 113 OPS+, and he has landed within 13 percentage points of that mark in every one of those seasons. If there was a swing, it may have occurred last year, when he posted a personal-best .276/.393/.447 slash.
That consistency is reflected all the more in Fowler’s plate discipline. He has struck out at around the league-average rate for his career (22.2%), but drawn quite a few walks (12.6%), and has never wavered much in either regard. Again, last year was arguably his best in this arena, as he walked in a career-best 14.3% of his plate appearances.
Though his power has bounced around somewhat, and his 2016 output was driven in part by a .350 BABIP (not an atypical mark in his case), Fowler’s overall track record with the bat suggests he’s an excellent bet to continue trucking along as a productive hitter. He knows how to take a free pass; his batted-ball profile is remarkably steady; and he’s coming off of a year in which he both chased pitches out of the zone and swung and missed at the lowest rates of his career.
There’s some recent good news on the defensive side, too. Long rated as a below-average performer in center, Fowler drew solidly average marks from both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating in 2016. While nobody will buy into him as a difference-maker up the middle, it’s certainly possible that teams will still believe they can get a few seasons of plausible glovework in center.
Indeed, Fowler has shown no signs of a general drop in athleticism. He has typically drawn strong reviews on the bases, and that was never more true than in 2016. As usual, he wasn’t a huge stolen-base threat — he swiped 13 bags last year — but nevertheless ranked eighth among qualifying hitters in overall baserunning value, by measure of Fangraphs’ BsR.
In the aggregate, Fowler was worth between four and five wins above replacement in 2016, amply justifying his first All-Star selection.
Of course, qualifying for the mid-summer classic is driven by first-half production, and Fowler’s power did fall off somewhat down the stretch, as he slugged .408 over his final 61 games. That ties into one of the largest questions facing his free agent case: is he, or is he not, a center fielder capable of delivering average-or-better power for at least a reasonable portion of a new contract?
In terms of pop, Fowler has never been much of a home run threat, and his 13 dingers from a year ago seem to represent a reasonable expectation moving forward. He delivered a .171 isolated slugging mark in 2016, and landed right at league average the prior year (.161), but posted sub-par marks in the two preceding campaigns (.122 in 2014 with the Astros and .145 in 2013 with the Rockies). Any erosion in that arena, or a drop in his lofty career .342 BABIP, could significantly reduce Fowler’s value even if he can largely maintain his healthy walk totals.
That’s all the more relevant given the questions over Fowler’s efficacy up the middle. Both DRS and UZR have largely panned his glovework over his career, excepting 2016. Though he isn’t particularly error-prone, Fowler has typically rated poorly in terms of range and throwing ability. While it’s arguable that he faced tough defensive assignments in Coors Field and Minute Maid Park, there are certainly questions as to whether and how long Fowler can passably roam the middle of the outfield.
If you take the pessimistic view, then, Fowler could be seen as a marginal power source that is limited to left field — a position he has never played in the majors. Plus, there are at least some durability questions. Fowler has never missed huge swaths of time, but has averaged only 131 games annually since breaking in as a regular in 2009. And he has only once topped 600 plate appearances (in 2015, his first year with the Cubs).
An additional factor worth considering is that the switch-hitting Fowler has typically fared better against left-handed pitching, the short side of the platoon split. He has been just fine against righties — compiling a lifetime .255/.356/.413 lifetime batting line — but any drop in overall productivity at the plate could leave him as a sub-optimal roster piece.
Fowler and his wife, Darya, have one daughter. A Georgia native, Fowler signed with the Rockies out of high school after being taken in the 14th round of the 2004 draft.
Fowler appeared in the 2008 Olympics for the U.S. national team and broke into the majors that same year. He was ultimately dealt to the Astros (in exchange for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes) and then on to the Cubs (for Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily). Fowler reportedly nearly signed with the Orioles last winter before returning to Chicago.
While he comes with draft compensation attached once again, Fowler appears to have a wide array of possible suitors. That likely won’t include the Cubs — even if they aren’t ruling it out — now that the team has added Jon Jay to the fold.
Several organizations are in need of help up the middle, including the Cardinals, Nationals, Rangers, and Indians. Any could make good fits, possibly planning to utilize him in center for part of the deal before eventually shifting him to left. The Mets, too, potentially still have a need in center, though that would be contingent upon a lot of other moving parts with Yoenis Cespedes re-signing.
There are other teams that might like the idea of installing Fowler’s high-OBP bat in the lineup while trying out his glove in left. That Fowler is capable of playing center also makes him a possible part-time option there — a scenario that might make particular sense for the Giants, Mariners, and even the Dodgers, who could spell Denard Span, Leonys Martin, and Joc Pederson (respectively) at least on occasion against left-handed pitching. A similar arrangement could make sense for the Blue Jays, who utilize light-hitting defensive stalwart Kevin Pillar up the middle, though he hits from the right side.
There are a few additional organizations that could conceivably get involved. The Athletics have a hole in center, though Fowler figures to be too expensive; likewise, the White Sox would make sense, but that is heavily dependent upon what course their offseason takes. The Orioles need another corner piece. And the Phillies might still utilize Howie Kendrick at second if they trade Cesar Hernandez.
It is important to bear in mind that there are alternatives, even with Jay somewhat surprisingly snapped up by the Cubs. Several notable players could be had via trade, and the open market still includes Ian Desmond and Carlos Gomez as center field options.
While he is hardly a flawless player, that’s not necessary to strike it rich in free agency. Fowler profiles as a solid regular, and certainly seems to have a better case than did Josh Reddick — who just signed with the Astros for $52MM over four years. We’re predicting a four-year, $64MM contract for Fowler.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
7:16pm: Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Jays are also “showing a strong interest” in Dexter Fowler. In the event that the Jays were to sign Fowler, he’d slide over to one of the currently vacant outfield corners, as Kevin Pillar stands out as one of the game’s premier defensive players and is locked in as Toronto’s center fielder.
From my vantage point, Fowler is a vastly better fit for the Blue Jays than Bruce, as he’d provide a definitive defensive upgrade over either Bautista or Saunders in one of the outfield corners and would also add both the speed and lineup balance that Atkins has stated to be offseason priorities. The additions of both Fowler and Morales would give the Jays two switch-hitters to inject some much-needed left-handedness to a lineup that currently features right-handers Russell Martin, Devon Travis, Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Pillar.
Signing Fowler would require the Blue Jays to forfeit the No. 24 overall pick in the 2017 draft, though the team could recoup a compensatory pick in the event that either Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion signs elsewhere. Fowler, 31 next March, batted a robust .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers and 13 stolen bases in 551 plate appearances with the Cubs while turning in the best defensive metrics of his career in center field.
4:47pm: The Blue Jays are “among the teams making a push for Jay Bruce,” reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (on Twitter). Toronto has an obvious need for corner outfield help following the departures of Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders, and Bruce figures to be a trade candidate now that Yoenis Cespedes is reportedly in agreement with the Mets on a new four-year, $110MM contract.
[Related: Toronto Blue Jays Depth Chart]
Toronto has already tried to trade for Bruce once, back in Spring Training, and was believed to be on the verge of completing a three-team trade with the Angels and Reds before the medical reports on some of the minor league talent involved in the deal caused the trade to break down. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins has stated that he’d like to add some left-handed bats to the lineup to help balance it out, and Toronto has already succeeded to some extent by signing switch-hitting DH Kendrys Morales to a three-year deal.
Bruce, 30 in April, is fresh off his best offensive season since 2013, having batted .250/.309/.506 with 33 homers between the Reds and Mets in 2016. However, he struggled greatly for much of his time with the Mets, and while he did catch fire in the season’s final two weeks, that marks the second straight season in which Bruce performed well for most of the season before fading badly in the second half. He’s also seen his defensive ratings drop dramatically in recent years — perhaps not coincidentally after undergoing knee surgery early in 2014. Defensive Runs Saved pegged him at -11 this past season, while Ultimate Zone Rating was at -9.
Bruce would give the Jays a short-term bat with plenty of pop, though, and his $13MM salary for the upcoming season is one that the Jays could certainly afford. The Mets picked up a club option on Bruce after the season due to some uncertainty surrounding whether Cespedes would return, and recent reports have indicated that he’d be marketed in the event of a Cespedes re-signing.
The Yankees’ top relief target this winter is their own former closer Aroldis Chapman, but they have made contact with other stars at various positions as well, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag Sports writes. The Yankees have also been in touch with closer Kenley Jansen (although they prefer Chapman, since he’s pitched for them before and since signing him wouldn’t cost them a draft pick) as well as hitters Carlos Beltran, Edwin Encarnacion, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Bautista, as has been previously reported. They’ve also likely spoken to representatives for starters Rich Hill (in whom top Yankees exec Brian Cashman has stated interest) and Jason Hammel (about whom the Yankees were previously known to be gathering information).
Encarnacion, Heyman writes, could be a high priority for the Yankees, although he also reports that the team has spoken with Cespedes’ agent up to five times already. As has been previously noted, the Yankees are involved in Beltran’s market, along with the Astros, Red Sox and perhaps Rangers.
Heyman also adds a few new names to the mix: those of Dexter Fowler, Matt Holliday, Mike Napoli and Brandon Moss. The Yankees currently have Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Aaron Judge in the outfield and Tyler Austin at DH, but Judge and Austin are inexperienced, and the Yankees could trade Gardner to clear playing time and payroll space for an impact bat.
Heyman cites Napoli, who is coming off a solid .239/.335/.465 season in Cleveland, as one option who could be particularly intriguing. Napoli or Holliday could help the Yankees at DH, while Fowler would likely play the outfield, and Moss could help in the outfield or first base, or at DH. Either way, it’s unclear to this point whether the Yankees are looking for one player for outfield and DH or two.
There’s a growing expectation in the industry that Yoenis Cespedes will indeed get a five-year deal this offseason, writes Mike Puma of the New York Post, which could be problematic for the Mets. Puma cites an industry source in reporting that the Mets could be comfortable in the $100-110MM range over a four-year term, but the team’s comfort level with a fifth year and a total value approaching $130MM is considerably less certain.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson has previously said that he hopes to have resolution on the matter one way or the other by the end of next month’s Winter Meetings, and Puma notes that the Cespedes camp has a similar timeline. Whether the team is able to re-sign Cespedes or not will also have a significant impact on Jay Bruce’s future, Puma writes, as the team could look to trade Bruce if Cespedes returns to Queens. New York is currently listening to offers for Bruce, he continues, though the Mets wouldn’t make any kind of move until they know the outcome of the Cespedes situation.
If Cespedes does sign elsewhere, that doesn’t preclude the Mets from moving Bruce, though, as Puma notes that Alderson and his staff could look at signing either Jose Bautista or Dexter Fowler as a fallback option. If they’re able to do so, then a trade of Bruce would again be back on the table.
It’s not entirely clear which clubs pose the biggest competition for Cespedes at this time. He’s been connected to the likes of the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees and Nationals, though certainly there are other clubs that have corner-outfield vacancies, including the Orioles, Rangers, Mariners, Blue Jays and Phillies, to name a few. And, unlike last season, Cespedes is now the top position player on the board, whereas last year he had to compete with a number of other corner outfielders, including Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Alex Gordon. While Cespedes does have a qualifying offer attached to him this time around, his status as top dog on the free-agent market (and yet another excellent season added to his track record) should yield a more robust market.
As for Bruce, the 29-year-old (30 in April) has long struck me as a curious fit for the Mets. With Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto both in the mix, the Mets already have two left-handed-hitting outfielders that should be limited to the corner slots. None of the three lefties handles lefties particularly well, either, and while there’s hope for Conforto to make some strides in that area it’s unlikely that either Bruce or Granderson will make any marked improvement at this point in his career. Shopping him around certainly makes some sense, even if Cespedes doesn’t return. It’s a tough market to do it in, as there are several free-agent alternatives, but Bruce has drawn interest from the Blue Jays in the past and would fit their current desire for a left-handed-hitting outfielder. The Giants, Rangers and Orioles each make varying levels of sense for Bruce as well, although those names are listed here purely in speculative fashion at this point. Bruce is owed $13MM in 2017 and batted a combined .250/.309/.506 with 33 home runs last season.
Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler will reject the team’s one-year, $17.2MM qualifying offer, writes FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman (he also previously tweeted the news). Fowler has been widely expected to do just that despite the problems he faced after rejecting a QO from Chicago last winter, as he even said himself recently on ESPN’s Sportscenter that he would be a free agent again this offseason.
Fowler, 31 in March, had a career year at the plate, hitting .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers and 13 stolen bases — providing well-rounded value in every facet of his offensive game. As the switch-hitter himself told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale last month, though, it was questions about his glove that led to skepticism over Fowler’s value and ultimately prompted him to linger on the free agent market. As Fowler explained in that interview, he altered his positioning in center field, believing himself to be playing too shallow (the Cubs agreed), and the results manifested in both his Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved marks. Both metrics graded him as one run above average, which isn’t a ringing endorsement but is a significant step forward for a player who had delivered negative ratings in each of the five previous years.
Of course, if Fowler is an average or even slightly below average center fielder, he could probably perform well in either corner outfield slot, and there are undoubtedly teams that would like to see him in either left field or right field (and atop their lineup) in 2017. His reported near-deal with the Orioles last February, for instance, would’ve sent Fowler to right field, and the market will surely present similar opportunities this winter as well. Fowler, though, has considerably less competition on the free agent market for outfielders this time around and is also coming off a better all-around season in terms of offense, defense and baserunning (he rated as MLB’s eighth-best baserunner in 2016, per Fangraphs’ BsR metric).
While the Cubs would probably love to have Fowler back on a short-term deal once again — they could sort the subsequent outfield logjam via offseason trades and platoons in 2017 — the market should present a considerably better offer for Fowler this time around. On paper, he makes sense for any number of teams, including the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers, Phillies, Mariners, Rangers and Athletics, among others. While not all of those teams will have interest in Fowler at the price he could command, interest should still be great enough that he’ll land the payday that eluded him last winter. MLBTR rated him sixth on our top 50 free agent list and pegged him for a four-year, $64MM deal.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Blue Jays are still at the top of the list of free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion, agent Paul Kinzer said in an appearance on Sportsnet 590 (audio available here). Toronto has made an offer, though it “wasn’t quite where [Encarnacion’s camp] wanted to be,” and it seems that there’s still some hope of a reunion. There are other suitors, but Kinzer notes that Encarnacion will weigh matters beyond the pure contract and that “there’s a short list of where he would go to.” Kinzer noted that the market has thrown some “curves” thus far. The Red Sox have been somewhat less aggressive than had been expected, the agent acknowledged, though he noted that some unexpected teams have been in talks. While it seems there’s a lot of ground still to cover, Kinzer suggested that a signing could come together by the start of the Winter Meetings — and might well take place sooner.
Here are a few more notes on some prominent free agents:
- The Astros have serious interest in free agent outfielder/DH Carlos Beltran, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. The Rangers still have Beltran on their radar, too, per that report. And the Red Sox remain intrigued by Beltran, but view him as one of many possible candidates, per Rob Bradford of WEEI.com (via Twitter). Boston is still casting a “wide net” in seeking a new DH. All told, it seems that the 39-year-old will have multiple options as he chases an elusive World Series title in what will be his 20th major league season.
- Yankees GM Brian Cashman downplayed any connection between his organization and top free agent slugger Yoenis Cespedes, as Feinsand reports. Cashman acknowledges that there has been some contact, but characterized it as more of a routine opening of a channel to obtain medical information and perhaps pursue dialogue in the future.
- The Mets had “preliminary talks” involving free agents Jose Bautista and Dexter Fowler over the last several days, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post (via Twitter). But the team remains focused on trying to engineer the return of Cespedes. GM Sandy Alderson met with his agent yesterday, Anthony DiComo of MLB.com tweets. Meanwhile, rival organizations have reached out to New York to ask about the availability of lefty-swinging outfielders Michael Conforto, Curtis Granderson, and Jay Bruce, per Marc Carig of Newsday (Twitter links). It’s all supposition at this point, but there does seem to be some sense in the idea of signing a right-handed-hitting outfielder while dealing a lefty. The three possible targets noted above all hit from the right side (with Fowler also switching to the left side to face righties).
- There have been some conflicting signals of late as to how interested the Mets are in bringing back veteran righty Bartolo Colon, but GM Sandy Alderson said today that there’s still interest, as MLB.com’s Barry Bloom reports. Still, it doesn’t seem as if there’s any sense of urgency, with Alderson suggesting the pitching market will have more clarity in a few weeks’ time. If the Mets don’t push to bring back Colon, the division-rival Braves may be there to step in, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets that Atlanta has ongoing interest. (Of course, the team already landed an over-40 pitcher today.)
Major League teams had until 5pm ET today to extend qualifying offers to their impending free agents — a decision that could significantly impact the market for a number of players this winter. For those unfamiliar with the process, the collective bargaining agreement stipulates that teams can make a “qualifying offer” to free agents that spent the entire season on the roster — midseason trades and signings are ineligible — if they wish to secure draft pick compensation for the loss of that player. The QO is a set one-year value determined by averaging the salaries of the top 125 players in the league. This year, the value of that sum comes to $17.2MM.
A player will have one week to survey the market and determine whether he wishes to accept the QO or reject in search of a more lucrative free-agent deal. If a player accepts the offer — something that has happened only three times since the system’s implementation in 2012 (Matt Wieters, Colby Rasmus and Brett Anderson) — that player is considered signed for the following season at $17.2MM. The contract is considered a free-agent deal, and as such, that player is not allowed to be traded without his consent until June 15.
If the player rejects a QO, he’s free to sign with any team for any amount (including the team from which he rejected the QO). However, whichever team signs a player that has rejected a QO must surrender its top unprotected pick in the upcoming draft (unless the player re-signs with the team that made the QO). The first 10 selections are protected, so those clubs would only be required to part with their second-highest pick. A team that signs multiple players that have rejected a QO continues to forfeit its top unprotected pick for each subsequent signing. The team that lost the free agent in question, meanwhile, will receive a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round. The order of comp picks, like the draft order itself, is determined based upon the previous year’s standings.
Last year there were a record 20 players to receive QOs (valued at $15.8MM based on 2015 salaries). There should be fewer this year, given the weak free-agent market, but there should still be a double-digit total of QOs extended. Here’s a list of who will reportedly receive qualifying offers thus far, and we’ll update this throughout the day and include the full list when the 5:00pm deadline has passed:
- Mark Trumbo, Orioles (link)
- Jeremy Hellickson, Phillies (link)
- Yoenis Cespedes, Mets (link)
- Neil Walker, Mets (link)
- Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays (link)
- Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (link)
- Ian Desmond, Rangers (link)
- Dexter Fowler, Cubs (link)
- Kenley Jansen, Dodgers (link)
- Justin Turner, Dodgers (link)
For a more in-depth explanation of the qualifying offer system, you can reference back to our post Explaining The Qualifying Offer System from last October. In the past, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes has also spoken to both agents and general managers about the importance of avoiding the qualifying offer and the impact it has on teams’ decisions. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd, meanwhile, penned a pair of insightful posts in an effort to contextualize and assess the QO system and its purposes on the heels of the 2013-14 offseason.
Fowler, who’s fresh off helping the Cubs to their first World Series title in 108 years, declined his half of a $9MM mutual option for 2017 on Saturday and became a free agent. Fowler is all too familiar with the open market, as the 30-year-old rejected a $15.8MM qualifying offer from the Cubs last November and then went without a deal until February. After nearly taking the Orioles’ three-year, $33MM offer, Fowler re-signed with the Cubs for a guaranteed $13MM.
Fowler will once again have first-round compensation hanging over his head this offseason, but he should fare much better this time around as perhaps the second-best outfielder on the market, trailing only Yoenis Cespedes. The former Rockie and Astro is coming off the top season of his career, having slashed .276/.393/.447 with 13 home runs and 13 steals across 551 plate appearances to earn his first All-Star nod. Combining Fowler’s work at the plate, on the bases and in the field, where a change in positioning led to improved metrics, he accounted for a personal-high 4.7 fWAR.
While it’s possible Fowler will re-sign with the Cubs, prospective contenders like the Mets, Mariners and Rangers, to name a few, are among clubs that are likely to search for outfield help via free agency. Fowler has spent his entire career in center, but marketing himself as a corner option could lead to more suitors, thus driving up his price.
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.