Dexter Fowler has agreed to a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs worth $8 million, with a mutual option for 2017 that could pocket him an additional $9 million if he stays with the team.
“Hold on a second,” you, like the rest of the baseball world at one point, were fair to ask. “He just signed with the Baltimore Orioles on a three-year, $33 million deal. How can he return to the Cubs? And why is he at the Cubs’ camp right now!?”
Apparently, the deal — which to most of the baseball world seemed like a sure thing — fell through because Fowler was looking for an opt-out the Orioles were unwilling to provide. Thus, on the day of his Orioles physical, he instead chose to surprise his 2015 Cubs teammates in Mesa, Arizona, with a visit, and the news.
“This is where my heart is,” Fowler said to reporters at Sloan Park. He’s taking a substantial pay cut — about $7 million less in guaranteed money — to return to the Cubs, rendering such a claim believable.
Fowler’s return is a welcome one for the Cubs. The team was already built to contend and win a World Series in 2016 without him, but his addition provides additional outfield depth in the event of injury or, perhaps, another trade. Chris Coghlan was the sacrificial lamb opening the roster spot, and while Coghlan was versatile and well-liked by teammates and fans, Fowler is an immediate upgrade.
On Baltimore’s end, this is a huge loss. After spending the early part of the week in limbo with Yovani Gallardo over his physical before restructuring the deal, Fowler dips out on them over a contract dispute. It’s a bad look for the O’s, a team in limbo who aren’t doing themselves any favors by not having Fowler.
Meanwhile, the addition of Fowler gives the Cubs their leadoff hitter back instead of forcing Ben Zobrist or Jason Heyward into that spot, and it spreads their power throughout the lineup. Fowler was tenth in pitches per plate appearance last season at 4.09 and posted a .346 OBP in 156 games. His 74-percent stolen base success rate (20 steals overall) doesn’t hurt at the top, either.
It’s also a sign of Theo Epstein and Co. just continuing to get what they want from the free agent market, in one of the most impressive offseason performances in recent history. The Cubs front office swayed Zobrist and Heyward — two of the offseason’s biggest targets — away from attractive offers, and now they get Fowler for $13 million in guaranteed money.
The Cubs now have too many outfielders. There’s Heyward, Fowler, and Jorge Soler, and one could imagine Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez and Zobrist all vying for time out there in any given circumstance. Depth will surely be the last of the Cubs’ problems.
The re-signing of Fowler does open the door for a possible trade, and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts speculated that the front office may not be done yet. Soler suddenly becomes the team’s most attractive trade chip, and if the Cubs are in the market for another starting pitcher his value could go an awfully long way.
It’s a great problem to have, one the Cubs have to feel very good about entering 2016.