Hold on a sec while I search for last year’s post on the same topic and strategically change a few things around to make it more timely and appropriate. Alright, thank you for your patience, I am now prepared to regale you with my various options for replacing Dexter Fowler.
Before I get started with that, though, I suppose I should address the likelihood that he’s actually going to be gone. After all, he’s clearly established strong bonds with his Cubs teammates and the prospect of repeating as world champions surely provides a lot of emotional currency. At the same time, this is Fowler’s last chance to really cash in on a big free agent deal and it’s unlikely the Cubs would be willing to pony up for more than a couple years. I’d imagine we’ll see the same open-door understanding as we did this past season, but another team will actually pry the center fielder away this time.
So if we operate under the assumption that Fowler will be playing elsewhere, which could mean moving a few miles south or even to the right side of the rivalry, the Cubs have got some holes to fill. If it was just a question of center field, there’s really no issue at all; Jason Heyward and/or Albert Almora could fill in and provide even better defense. Not that Fowler was a liability, he was better than expected in the field. But that’s not the real problem.
Where Fowler’s absence is really going to be felt is as the “You go, we go” sparkplug at the top of the order. As things stand now, the Cubs don’t really have an heir apparent to the leadoff spot and might need to cobble some things together. While Almora and Heyward can take care of the glovework, neither provides an ideal top-of-the-order bat. At least not under current circumstances.
All things being equal, I see a few potential scenarios for the Cubs next season.
Option 1: Schwarber, Almora, Heyward in outfield; Zobrist at second base and leading off
Say what you will about War Bear’s defense, it won’t matter as much one way or the other with those other two out there covering as much ground as they do. Zobrist’s power tailed off in the second half of the season, but he’s still a solid on-base threat (.386 to Fowler’s .393) and a good tone-setter for the young hitters who follow him.
Option 2: Schwarber, Heyward, Zobrist; Zobrist leading off
Just a different configuration, same result at top of the order.
Option 3: Zobrist, Almora, Heyward; Zobrist leading off
Schwarber can’t start every game, right?
Option 4: Schwarber, Almora, Heyward in outfield; Baez at second, Zobrist on bench, Schwarber leading off
Maybe not as crazy as it sounds, particularly when you’re talking about a lineup that features Javy Baez at second. Heck, we could even see this if Zobrist is in the lineup too. War Bear’s propensity for power doesn’t seem to fit as a leadoff hitter, but his approach and ability to impact a game right away could play nicely, even if it’s only sporadic.
If Heyward’s able to regain his form of old, he’s another dark-horse candidate for the top spot. Of course, as bad as he looked at the dish throughout much of 2016, he’s the last guy you’d want trying to set the table. Almora is allergic to walks, so he’s not an option. Same for Javy Baez. You’re not putting Kris Byant or Anthony Rizzo up there, nor would Willson Contreras be a good fit. Addison Russell doesn’t make sense either.
Aside from his gifts of Air Jordans and Johnny Walker Blue, the Cubs are really going to miss Dexter Fowler’s presence in the leadoff spot. There are ways to shift pieces around so as to mask the void he’ll leave, it’s just that he was pretty much the perfect fit for this team in several ways. Beyond his on-field performance, Fowler was a great example of the character and makeup the front office has stressed over the last several years.
It’s tough to lose a guy like that and the truth is that you probably can’t outright replace Fowler, per se. But who do you trust more to figure it out than Sorting news [sic] Executive of the Year, Theo Epstein, and his fellow goat-roasting golden boys?