Posted on November 4, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
Less than 24 hours after leading off Game 7 of the World Series with a home run and winning a championship with the Chicago Cubs, Dexter Fowler announced that he’s hitting the free agent market. Fowler re-signed with the Cubs in late February despite earlier reports that he was signing with the Baltimore Orioles. That deal was for one year with a mutual option for 2017, but Fowler said on Thursday he’s not going to be activating his side of the option, putting him back on the open market when free agency officially begins.
“I’m definitely going to be a free agent, but hopefully it happens a little bit quicker than last year,” Fowler said Thursday. “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’s free agency didn’t exactly work out as planned last year. He turned down a qualifying offer from the Cubs that would have been worth $15.8 million for the 2016 season. He nearly signed a three-year deal with the Orioles, but instead chose to return to Chicago for just $8 million.
Of course, Fowler will be getting a World Series ring out of the deal, making the drop in salary worthwhile for him. “I think I made the right decision. The Cubs came in last minute, we got something done, and it was a decision of a lifetime,” Fowler said about returning to the Cubs in 2016.
The Cubs could conceivably make Fowler another qualifying offer this year, giving him the chance to return to Chicago for a third straight year at the price of $17.2 million. However, there’s no guarantee that the Cubs will do that. On one hand, it seems likely that Fowler will seek a multi-year deal elsewhere and sign with another team, giving the Cubs an extra draft pick if they make him a qualifying offer. But the Cubs may not want to risk Fowler taking the $17.2 million after he declined the team’s qualifying offer last year.
Despite all of the positive contributions Fowler made this year, he may not fit into Chicago’s outfield next season. With Javier Baez finally establishing himself at second base, Ben Zobrist’s move to the outfield may be more permanent, taking up a spot in the outfield. The Cubs also need to find a home for Kyle Schwarber, which could take up another outfield spot, forcing Jason Heyward to take over Fowler’s position in center field. The Cubs also have Albert Almora Jr., who appears close to ready for an every day job in the majors and could be Chicago’s long-term solution in center field.
That somewhat crowded outfield could drastically decrease the odds that Fowler ends up back with the Cubs next year. However, coming off one of the best seasons of his career, Fowler is likely to be a valuable commodity on the free agent market. He is arguably the best free agent center fielder available, and in theory, he should not have difficulty landing a long-term contract. Fowler will be 31 on opening day next year, and so opting out of his deal with the Cubs and trying to land a lucrative long-term deal appears to be the best decision for him.