When the trade of Luis “Bat-Flip Man” Valbuena for Dexter “Didn’t Play Very Good Defense in Colorado and Houston” Fowler was announced just after the Cubs Convention last season, not everyone was on board with the move. By season’s end, however, pretty much everyone was hoping the Cubs would find a way to bring Fowler back. That sentiment has continued through the center fielder’s refusal of the one-year qualifying offer the Cubs extended and the lack of any significant progress in his talks with other teams. But does it have merit?
No, and it shouldn’t. That’s not to say I didn’t like what Fowler meant to the Cubs last season and that I don’t think he could provide value, just that he doesn’t fit with the team as it’s currently constructed. That poor fit comes as the result of several different factors that all fit together like the pieces of a sliding puzzle. You can’t just insert one piece at a time, but must reconfigure them in order to complete the whole picture.
With Denard Span signing in San Francisco, once thought to be a potential landing spot for Fowler, on a 3-year, $31 million deal, the market for the former Cub seems to be dropping a bit. Turning down the $15 million qualifying offer made sense initially, as the thought was that Fowler would be able to command at least that in AAV over 3-4 years on the open market. But is that still the case, or might he be willing to return to the relative safety of Chicago on a more team-friendly deal? Maybe, but I think that ship has sailed.
First, where does Fowler play? With the corners occupied by Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler and center held by Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler has no guaranteed role. In order for a deal to make any sense for either side, Fowler would have to take over center while Heyward slides to his natural position in right. But that means benching or, more likely, trading Soler. And therein lies our first problem.
I’ve been pretty vocal in my support of the idea of trading the big Cuban, but I’ve tried to stress that it’d have to be the right situation. While no one’s perfect, the brain trust in the Cubs’ front office is pretty darn good when it comes to extracting value from their trades. It’s unlikely, though, that they’d be able to do that with Soler given the scenario above. Think about it: signing Fowler would necessitate moving Soler, which would erode a great deal of the Cubs’ leverage in bargaining with other teams. While the slugger would still bring back a significant piece, you never want to deal from a position of weakness.
Speaking of weaknesses, one that’s always brought up in any discussion of Soler is his health. It’s the primary source of my worry about his ability to fully mature as a baseball player and it’s something that has hampered him in his professional career thus far. That fear, however, is mitigated by the presence of immense potential that can’t be denied, which is another reason re-signing Fowler isn’t going to work. When you think about it, you’re basically trading Fowler for Soler. Is that a move you’d be willing to make?
Okay, that was a bit short-sighted, as the Cubs would surely be getting back another player (or two) in return for Soler. Based on needs/wants/previous rumors, the ideal trade would net a young, cost-controlled starting pitcher. Sounds good to me, let’s do it. Ah, but now we’re sliding a couple of those puzzle pieces around again and trying to make things work. And, wouldn’t you know it, more issues come up when we rearrange things further.
Another starting pitcher means bumping one of the presumed members of the rotation, likely Jason Hammel. It’s possible Kyle Hendricks could be displaced instead, but I don’t think either guy’s stuff plays well in the bullpen and I’m giving Hendricks the nod to start. So now we have to either move Hammel to the ‘pen or trade him, a scenario I don’t see unfolding. Call me naive, but I can’t see Theo Epstein moving the pitcher again after the whole saga of signing/trading/re-signing him before, during, and after the 2014 season. Yeah, yeah, I know: it’s a business.
Then again, signing Dexter Fowler might actually necessitate a trade of Hammel just as it does Soler. That’s because the first move not only displaces an outfielder, but it also increases a payroll that should be sitting somewhere in the $165-ish million range. The Cubs aren’t going to want to push that to $175-180 million, so Hammel’s $10 million would be an easy way to keep things under control. It would also serve to sweeten the deal centered around a guy whose value was diminished the need to trade him, particularly if the team doing the trading was losing a starter of their own.
Finally, bringing back last year’s CF could mean blocking the path of Albert Almora. While Almora hasn’t yet emerged as a sure thing, particularly from an offensive standpoint, he doesn’t have a role with the Cubs if they lock someone else in to a long-term contract to play center. Not only that, but we’re back to that whole issue of decreased value, however incremental, that comes from having other teams know that you’ve got no other options for a given player. I don’t see this as a big stumbling block though, primarily because you can’t base today’s moves on the hope that an inconsistent prospect might put it together and be your center fielder of the future.
Still with me? Cool, I’ll try to wrap this up. The Cubs shouldn’t re-sign Dexter Fowler because the value they’d get from him is unlikely to equal that which they’d be forced to surrender to get him. The Cubs can’t re-sign Dexter Fowler because doing so would require a subsequent series of moves that would all need to work out in order for the whole thing to make sense. Then again, I suppose they could reach a wink-wink, nudge-nudge agreement with Fowler and then swing a deal involving Soler and Hammel before publicly announcing that they had brought their 2015 leadoff hitter back. I mean, it could happen. Just seems far-fetched to me.
Unless they’re absolutely blown away by a deal between now and Spring Training, I can’t see the Cubs making any big moves to shake up the outfield at this point. I don’t think they need or want to either, and that’s as it should be. They’ll continue to kick tires, listen to phone calls, and keep options open, but I don’t see Dexter Fowler being a part of their future in any way.