As MLB’s offseason rolls along and the free agent market continues to dry up, baseball writers everywhere seek out something, anything to write about. Why do you think there’s been so many articles about this alleged tanking problem? We’re out of ideas; we’re tapping out.
Thankfully, there’s Dexter Fowler.
One of multiple victims of the qualifying offer, Fowler remains unsigned. While the one-year pact for $15.8 million seems great, Fowlera��who has played for eight seasonsa��deserves a multi-year deal.
Chicago, where he spent last season, already acquired outfielders Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist this offseasona��though the latter will be the club’s starting second basemana��and may not have room for Fowler. With Heyward, there’s still Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Chris Coghlan. All spent time in Chicago’s outfield last season.
Now Bryant is primarily a third baseman; Soler projects to be their starter in right; and Schwarber will continue to learn on the fly in left instead of remaining behind the plate.
Coghlan, who’s only 30 and has had back-to-back productive seasons after a rough three-year stretch, shouldn’t be denied too much playing time in 2016. From 2011-2013 he played in only 174 games, slashing .209/.275/.302 with the Marlins. In two seasons with the Cubs, he’s hit .265/.346/.447, justifying his ’06 first round selection for the first time since ’09.
Here’s the thing: signing Fowler wouldn’t necessarily make Coghlan the odd man out. He played all over the infield last season except for at shortstop, and there’s no denying the affection the Cubs have for utility players. On the other hand, with Heyward transitioning to center field, where would that leave Fowler? Of the 7,280 innings he’s played in the outfield, all but one has been spent in center.
The veteran played in a career-high 156 games in ’15 and slashed .250/.346/.411a��a slight clip below career averages of .267/.363/.418. He added 29 doubles, 17 home runs (a career-best), and a wRC+ of 110. He added 20 stolen bases, the most since 2009 (27).
Defensively, using the Baseball Prospectus metric of Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), Fowler was considered average last season with a mark of 1.1. That said, it was his best season defensively since 2011 (12.9). In the two years before that it ranged from -7.4 to -5.3. Worse yet, in the three seasons following 2011 he averaged -11.9.
All things considered, Chicago and Fowler comes across as a perfect match for one another. But as it turns out, the Cubs aren’t the ballclub from Chicago that’s reportedly interested. On Monday it broke that Texas was linked to the outfielder as well and still looking for a bat. But they’re obviously not from Chicago, which leaves the White Sox:
The White Sox are in play for Fowler as are the Texas Rangers. He is hearing from a few teams that still want a bat.
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) February 1, 2016
If he’s looking for a winner I’d imagine Fowler would choose Texas. After all, the Rangers won the AL West last season while the White Sox finished fourth in the AL Central. As far as center field options go heading into 2016, let’s take a look at what Texas and and Chicago have along with their 2015 statistics.
Delino DeShields (CF): .261/.344/.374; 94 wRC+, -1.2 FRAA.
Texas will want to move forward with the 22-year-old’s development. With 121 games under his belt this past season and reasonable production at the plate, there’s no reason they shouldn’t. He started as a second baseman in the minors, but hasn’t played there consistently since 2013. It appears he’d continue manning center.
On the bright side for Fowler, DeShields played 35 games in left field last season. If the Rangers aren’t expecting Josh Hamilton to produce much, DeShields could be more of a primary option there. Discounting that, because barring injury I fully expect Hamilton to play the bulk of the season, what about transitioning Fowler to right field?
Nope, not while Shin-Soo Choo is in town.
Fowler is also unlikely to be an appealing option at designated hitter, but even if he were there’s no chance he’d have an opportunity between Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland. Let’s move on.
Chicago White Sox
Adam Eaton (CF): .287/.361/.431; 118 wRC+, 2.1 FRAA.
Eaton, who’s cheaply under contract through 2019 (with options for ’20 and ’21) isn’t going anywhere. Unlike Texas, Fowler may have an easier time fitting into Chicago’s corner outfield positions assuming he’d want to make that transition. Here’s why:
Melky Cabrera (LF): .273/.314/.394; 91 wRC+, -7.6 FRAA.
On numbers alone, signing Fowler and transitioning him to left to replace Cabrera seems like a no-brainer. That’s before you take into account that Cabrera’s making $29 million over the next two years. So unless they find a trade partnera��his value continues to lessen, they’d have to take on the majority of that salarya��Cabrera is their left fielder until further notice.
GarcA�a doesn’t turn 25 until June and is under team control through 2020. Going off BP’s metric he’s also a plus-defender, but has struggled at the plate every year in the majors other than his 51 plate appearances back in 2012.
Again, if Fowler would be open to transitioning, GarcA�a would provide Chicago with a solid fourth outfield option off the bench. But there’s one final thing we must take into consideration: compensation.
And The Verdict Is…
Signing Fowler would force any team (excluding the Cubs) to surrender a draft choice. I would’ve assumed a 76-86 record was likely to prevent the White Sox from surrendering a draft pick on anyone, then they went out and had a pretty good offseason by acquiring Brett Lawrie, Todd Frazier, and Alex Avila.
Their rotation boasting a front three of Chris Sale, JosA� Quintana, and Carlos Rodon is very promising. But they have to be careful: Chicago finished 19 games out of first in the Central and 10 games back of the second wild card spot. Judging from the moves they’ve made so far though, they’re looking to compete.
Between the White Sox and Rangers from a personnel standpoint, the former would be a better fit. But looking at it through the lens of which club is more likely to be successful in 2016, I’d still side with Texas. Yet, regardless of how difficult it may be, a reunion with the Cubbies would trump them both.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Reference, and Fangraphs