Coming into free agency as a 29-year-old, bouncing off the best year of his career, Dexter Fowler should have been on the top of several lists this season. His offense was solid with a slash line of .250/.346/.411, an OPS of .757. He got 149 hits, 46 RBIs (and that is low because he was the lead-off batter most of the games in the season with fewer runners and opportunities). He hit 17 home runs and 29 doubles. He stole 20 bases. He was, in fact, so important to the Chicago Cubs success that at one point General Manager Joe Maddon told him,, “as you go, we go…” He’s a 2.2 WAR guy for you stat fanatics, an above average and nearly elite fielder with great range and speed and a good arm.
And those are the tangible aspects of Dexter Fowler. He played in 152 games. He was a rock for the surging young Chicago Cubs, providing on-field leadership, coming through in the clutch, and providing offense and defense on every metric expected of him, and then some. His attitude is positive – his off-season workouts have been solid and at times spectacular. He takes nothing for granted and he gets the job done.
The word on the street is that Jason Heyward is a slight upgrade defensively, which is yet to be seen in center field, but what tends to be ignored is that one of the driving forces behind the season that brought an October series to Wrigley field, and a very young team that was not supposed to go as far as they did, to within a few games of the World Series has been lost. Not a small part – a driving force. This is a player who puts it all on the line every night and plays baseball the way it was meant to be played, with passion and a smile on his face.
A very good argument can be made that the qualifying offer sabotaged what should be the defining moment of a great ballplayer’s career. That offer, $15.8 million, is nothing to sneeze at, but what if that was not the way it worked? What if, at that point, the team could offer any amount they wanted with $15.8 million as a lower limit? What if a serious offer over multiple years was an option? Would Fowler still be wearing the Cubs pinstripes and grinning out in center? I kind of think the answer is yes.
Now everything has shifted. The Cubs are still in on Fowler for 2016, if rumors can be trusted (they rarely can). The White Sox should be in, but there’s no indication as to if they are. Outfielders coming off injuries, with big questions, with all kinds of downsides have already been traded and signed, and here is a healthy, athletic, plus-performing guy waiting to see where he will play, and whether he’ll get the money that he deserves. There are some serious flaws in the free-agency system that I hope are handled properly in the next CBA. A player should not work his entire life to get to the point where his work is meant to pay off and then fall prey to a clunky system that clogs up the works. If Dexter Fowler can’t get a three- to five-year contract for the money he deserves, and has to go for a pillow contract for a year, that puts him in free agency at 30 – not old, but a world away from a 29-year-old in his prime.
As a baseball fan, I find the situation incredibly frustrating. As a Chicago Cubs fan, I feel as if – in some way – we have let him down. There are not many days left for a deal to materialize. Heck, it could happen while I’m typing up this article, making it obsolete out of the gate. I’d be good with that.
I’m a Dexter Fowler fan. I have a postseason jersey with his name and number on it from 2015, and I’ll never forget the memories – I watched about as many games as he played… and I listened to the rest on the radio. I was there for the best year of his career, and I’m looking forward to his next, wherever he plays it.
Somebody sign this guy already, he’s a slam dunk.