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The Case For The Cubs Re-Signing Dexter Fowler

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Should the Cubs keep the soon-to-be free agent?

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It can't be proven definitively, but certainly one of the reasons for the Cubs' poor record the last three weeks is the absence of Dexter Fowler, who hasn't played since June 18, and likely won't be back until the middle of the homestand that starts Friday.

The Cubs are 7-15 since then and have been outscored 133-104, so it's not all Fowler's absence; obviously pitching has been an issue. But the Cubs have averaged 4.73 runs per game over those 22 games, and prior to that they had been averaging 5.39 per game. Again, it's not all Dexter, but clearly, his presence at the top of the lineup has been missed.

The Cubs are 10-17 without Fowler in the starting lineup this year, and (small sample size alert!) were 6-7 without him starting last year, more evidence that his presence helps the team win.

Fowler, as you know, was reportedly close to signing a three-year, $33 million deal with the Orioles last winter when the Cubs suddenly swooped in and inked him to a one-year deal worth $8 million with a $9 million mutual option for 2017 that (at this time) is expected to not be exercised; instead, the Cubs will pay Fowler a $5 million buyout, making his 2016 deal essentially a one-year contract for $13 million. That's more than he would have made in 2016 from the Orioles, and presumably he goes back on the free-agent market this winter.

What if the Cubs decide to sign him to an extension before the season ends, or a multi-year deal during offseason free agency?

Besides the fact that the team has clearly played better with him starting over the last two years (134-76 with Dex starting since the start of 2015, 16-24 without), there's the question of who would replace him. Albert Almora Jr. would be his logical replacement, and there's no question about Almora's defense -- he's better than Fowler both by the numbers and by the eye test -- but Almora still doesn't walk much, doesn't have basestealing skills (no attempts since his promotion) and it's doubtful he'd provide the skills needed for a leadoff man, so the Cubs would have to replace that as well.

If the Cubs did re-sign Fowler, Almora could still be on the team as a fourth outfielder, or even the starting left fielder if Jorge Soler is traded (or in a platoon with Kyle Schwarber in left, if Schwarber returns at full strength). That sort of arrangement might provide more offense than having Schwarber play full-time; he might not be ready for that and Kyle has yet to prove he can hit major-league lefthanders. It would also allow the team to trade Soler for pitching help.

Finally, and this obviously cannot be quantified, Fowler is one of the most popular players in a close-knit Cubs clubhouse. Just look at this reaction on the practice fields in Mesa the day Fowler's surprise signing was revealed to his teammates:

That has value, I'd say. How much, maybe you can't put numbers to, but it certainly does mean something.

Fowler is 30, and still appears to be at the top of his game -- presuming he returns at 100 percent from the hamstring injury that's kept him out for three weeks. He's been careful with it, and I think that's prudent. I'd rather have him miss another 3-4 games and come back 100 percent, than not be completely healed and get hurt again. I don't think there's any question that he could still be productive for the Cubs for three more years.

So I'd offer him a three-year deal for $48 million, after paying his buyout. That'd be a jump from the Orioles' offer from last year, make his 2016 contract in effect a $13 million contract, and account for the usual jump in free-agent salaries this offseason. Obviously, if someone offers him a five-year contract for a lot more money, you thank him and say farewell, but I bet he'd stay for a 3/48 deal.

I think Dexter Fowler is important to the Cubs' success. I'd like to see him stick around for a few more years. How about you?