Dexter Fowler had a very good year as the Cubs' center fielder this past season. While his batting average was down from his career norm, he set career highs in runs (the first Cub to score 100+ runs since Mark DeRosa in 2008), home runs and walks.
Defensively, he was just about as advertised. Some of us thought the smaller outfield area of Wrigley Field (compared to his previous home parks in Houston and Colorado) would make his defensive numbers look better, but in reality, they turned out to be pretty much the same as previous. Fowler played shallow much of the time and that wound up having some balls go over his head, even with his decent speed. You can find all of Fowler's defensive numbers here.
Fowler turns 30 next March, shortly before Opening Day. This is his first foray into free agency, and coming off a pretty good year for a playoff team, he's likely to get a lot of attention.
Given his good numbers, the likelihood that he could probably still produce that way for another two or three years, and the fact that he's reported to be a good clubhouse presence, it might be a good idea to try to retain his services. Theo Epstein thinks so, too, speaking shortly after the Cubs' NLCS loss to the Mets:
"Dexter Fowler had an unbelievable year," Epstein said. "He fit in tremendously well in this organization. I think really highly of him as a player and as a person. "He’s a free agent. He’s earned that status. It’s not something I take lightly. Players rarely have the ability to go out and see what their market is and what teams are interested in them. "We’ll see what the future holds. But certainly there’s an interest in sitting down at the appropriate time with Dexter and his agent, Casey Close, and seeing if there’s a way to keep him as a Chicago Cub."
I take Theo at face value here. He'll certainly do exactly what he said above, and see if there's a financial way to keep Fowler as a Cub. Fowler will certainly get a qualifying offer, though he's unlikely to take it, as no player given one has yet taken it in the years that system has been in place.
Fowler made $9.5 million in 2015. It's likely going to take at least two years, probably three, at a cost of somewhere around $12 million, perhaps a bit more, as a starting point in negotiations. There's also the question of which teams besides the Cubs both need a center fielder and could afford to pay Fowler more than that in terms of years and dollars.
There are other potential choices for the Cubs in center field. They could sign Denard Span, who's also a free agent. Span is two years older than Fowler and missed much of 2015 with injuries. He'd be no more than a stopgap. Or they could re-sign Austin Jackson for a year, at likely a much lower cost than Span or Fowler.
Jason Heyward -- he'll be the subject of another article in this series, and obviously would be quite a bit more expensive.
I think I'd try to bring Fowler back, but only at the right price. If he gets too expensive, I think the Cubs have to look elsewhere. What say you? Vote in the poll and leave your thoughts in the comments.