The sense is Dexter Fowler returning to Wrigley Field as Joe Maddon’s “You go, we go” leadoff guy is highly unlikely, but the Cubs won’t completely shut the door on that remote possibility until he signs somewhere else.
The White Sox didn’t turn Fowler into their SoxFest splash over the weekend, even though he would make a lot of sense on the South Side as a top-of-the-order complement to Adam Eaton.
The White Sox have already built a foundation with Cy Young/MVP award candidates Chris Sale and Jose Abreu, plus elite closer David Robertson and young starting pitchers Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon.
After giving up five young players to get Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie into their everyday lineup – at a time when the Cubs appear ready to dominate the Chicago summer for years to come – why stop now?
The draft pick attached to Fowler has clearly had a chilling effect on his market after he declined a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Cubs. But back in November, no one was saying he should take that deal.
It’s now February and Fowler still hasn’t cashed in after a strong platform season on the North Side.
“I am a little shocked by that,” Cubs hitting coach John Mallee said Sunday in Tinley Park before receiving a coach of the year award from Chicago’s Pitch and Hit Club. “He was a big part of our offense. He was a big part of what we were doing. To (watch) him every day – and look at the (board now) and see he hasn’t gone yet – it is a little surprising. It’s actually really surprising.”
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Theo Epstein’s front office doesn’t like to rule anything out, always trying to keep all options open. But in both public statements and private comments, the Cubs have repeatedly signaled that pretty much all of the heavy lifting for this team is done, not expecting another major move this winter.
The Cubs have a full 40-man roster and need to preserve some flexibility for in-season adjustments and trade-deadline deals after dropping more than $276 million on outfielder Jason Heyward, super-utility guy Ben Zobrist, pitcher John Lackey and swingman Trevor Cahill.
The Cubs have found the cost of acquiring a young starting pitcher to be outrageous, meaning it would be difficult to flip Jorge Soler in a worthwhile trade that would clear a spot in right field for Heyward. Plus, the Cubs understand Soler has untapped potential and Fowler is not a standout defender in center field.
The Cubs would also like to recoup a draft pick after giving up two selections – and the corresponding bonus-pool money – in signing Heyward and Lackey.
What’s a pick in the mid-60s range worth? Jason McLeod, the vice president of scouting and player development, has pointed to his first pick in his first draft with the Boston Red Sox in 2004, when they found an undersized Arizona State University infielder at No. 65 overall: Future American League MVP Dustin Pedroia.
Leading into Cubs Convention weekend in the middle of January, Maddon predicted Yoenis Cespedes making a decision would help clarify the market for Fowler.
“That just seems to be the last shoe to fall,” Maddon said. “I don’t know why. I’m sure he’s going to be fine, because he did have a good year and he’s young and he’s good. I don’t even know if there’s going to be like a pecking order with Cespedes and then him. I guess it depends on the financial (terms) – how they view what they’re worth or not probably matters.”
Fowler went into 2016 still looking for a four-year deal, but there aren’t many obvious fits left on paper.
The Seattle Mariners traded for Leonys Martin in the middle of November. The Cubs reached an eight-year, $184 million agreement with Heyward coming out of the winter meetings. The San Francisco Giants gave Denard Span three years and $31 million guaranteed in early January. The Washington Nationals then acquired Ben Revere.
Cespedes circled back to the New York Mets in late January, compromising on a three-year, $75 million contract that contains an opt-out after this season, which could make him a headliner in next winter’s weak class of free agents.
Maybe a pillow contract will be the blueprint for Fowler, who isn’t an elite centerfielder or a leader in the clubhouse or the most durable player.
But Fowler also won’t turn 30 until March 22. He’s a switch-hitter with a career .363 on-base percentage. He put up 17 homers and 20 stolen bases for a 97-win team last season.
“We had a great year with him,” general manager Jed Hoyer said recently, declining to say anything about Fowler’s future. “We really like him as a guy, as a player. He gets on base. He grinds his at-bats. He did a good job for us on the bases and in center field. He was a big part of what we did last year.”
It’s Super Bowl Week, but there are still two months left until Opening Day, and some team will find the right price point and see an opportunity to jumpstart a lineup and upgrade in the outfield.
Is @DexterFowler worried about it? Check out the video clip posted to his Twitter account on Sunday night: “Oh Dexter Fowler? He’s just dancing in the rain…”
Oh Dexter Fowler? He's just dancing in the rain... pic.twitter.com/b0fhwBwyuA
— Dexter Fowler (@DexterFowler) February 1, 2016