With Edwin Jackson’s contract coming off the books this winter, the Cubs should have a bit of additional payroll to play with this coming offseason. Aroldis Chapman and Dexter Fowler, both of which who figure to play important roles in the postseason for the Cubs, are set to become free agents in the offseason. While it’s unlikely that the Cubs will sign both, signing one of the pair would tremendously help the Cubs over the next couple years.
Off-the-field issues aside, Chapman would be a fantastic addition to any bullpen. Since Chapman became a full-time closer for the Reds in 2012, he’s ranked 2nd in saves behind Craig Kimbrel with 167, 1st with a FIP of 1.73, and 1st with 12.4 WAR among qualified closers.
With the recent emergence of Carl Edwards Jr., paired with the success of Hector Rondon, having a 7th-8th-9th inning trio of Edwards, Rondon, and Chapman for the next two years could be lethal to opposing hitters. If Rondon were to depart via free agency after the 2018 season, the Cubs would still have Chapman to close out games, and a quality setup man in Edwards, assuming that he continues to pitch at a similar level that we’ve seen this year.
Pedro Strop is set to become a free agent after 2017, and is already 31. Strop may have one or two good years after this season before he’ll begin to decline, and resigning Chapman in the offseason would make Strop expendable after his contract expires.
Chapman comes with off-the-field baggage, which has been thoroughly discussed since his acquisition. And while Chapman’s character has been called into question, the front office, as well as chairman Tom Ricketts, are big believers in acquiring high-character guys. I don’t believe they would have acquired Chapman without trusting that he’d represent the Cubs well, on and off the field.
Entering the free agent class with Chapman will be Kenley Jansen, one of baseball’s top closers. With Jansen (who is the same age as Chapman) in the market, teams will have two top tier closers to choose from, ultimately lowering the price to acquire Chapman. Chapman will seek to become the highest paid reliever in the history of baseball, and it was rumored that the Cubs were offering an extension of four years worth a total of $60 million. While those rumors proved to be false, the AAV for Chapman is right on the mark. With the value of an additional WAR being worth around $7.7 million, Chapman would be slightly under his market value as he has averaged an annual fWAR of 2.58 during his last four full seasons.
A four-year deal would secure Chapman in his prime, as he would be locked down for his age 29-32 seasons. If the Cubs were to sign Chapman instead of Fowler, the Cubs would be securing one of the best closers in baseball, while also picking up an extra first round pick as Fowler would surely decline a qualifying offer, before departing in free agency.
We’ve all heard how good the Cubs are with Fowler in the lineup, and losing him in the offseason would be a big blow to the Cubs offense. Fowler is having a career year in his age-30 season, ranking fifth in the NL in OBP (.397), while having the 4th highest fWAR on the Cubs, recording a 3.2 fWAR. During his tenure with the Cubs, in games in which Fowler scores a run, the Cubs are an incredible 90-32, good for a .738 win percentage.
With Fowler having the best year of his career, paired with a thin free agent class this year, Fowler will likely look for a four year deal, with an AAV of somewhere around $16 million. With a Gold Glove caliber center fielder in Albert Almora Jr. waiting in Iowa, Fowler could prove to be expendable. Almora was solid while he was with the big league club in June and July, batting .265/.291/.422, but was lacking in walks. In Almora’s minor league career, he has an OBP of .325, well short of Fowler’s career OBP of .366.
The Cubs have struggled in a number of ways when Fowler has been absent, but perhaps the most notable decline in production is from the leadoff spot. When Fowler missed 28 games in between June and July, the leadoff spot had a horrendous line of .210/.314/.319. Without a true leadoff guy at the top of the lineup, the Cubs have struggled mightily. Fowler is the catalyst to this Cubs offense, and as Joe Maddon has aptly stated to Fowler: "You go, we go."
If the Cubs were to re-sign Fowler, the Cubs would have five major-league caliber outfielders in Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Almora, and Fowler. This could open the possibility of including Soler or Almora in a package for a young, cost-controlled starting pitcher.
While it isn’t guaranteed that the Cubs will resign Fowler or Chapman, I am curious to see who Cubs fans would rather have next year. Assuming that both players would command a similar contract in terms of AAV and total value in the offseason, which one would you rather the Cubs sign?