The Cubs 2015 season is over. It was a great season. In order for this team to contend, they needed to get significant production from some of what they are hoping will be future stars. They did. They not only contended, they won 97 games. They finished with the 3rd best record in all of baseball (no team in any other division won more), they beat Pittsburgh in the wild card game and beat St. Louis in the LDS. They got beat in the LCS. It happens. When I think back on 2015, I'm going to have a lot of good memories. Unfortunately, the LCS and World Series won't be among them, but that's baseball and it doesn't take away from the great season. End of season.
Now it's time to move on and figure out how best to improve this team. First of all, you're not trying to improve on 97 wins. The Cubs got a little lucky this year and they're unlikely to win 97 or more next year. Forget about win totals for the time being. Let's start to focus on some of the players that might have played their final game in a Cubs uniform. Dexter Fowler is probably most important among them.
Fowler turned 29 years old in March and proceeded to put together what was arguably the best season in his career. He'd had a higher wRC+ in 2012 with the Rockies (Coors Field to consider) and then again in 2014 with the Astros. He was better defensively this season according to UZR. He was well below average in 2012 and 2014, but only slightly below average in UZR in 2015. Overall, Fowler hit .250/.346/.411 with a wRC+ of 110.
His walk rate was just over 12% and fits in perfectly with what Theo and company are trying to do in Chicago. It remains to be seen whether or not the Cubs will be able to keep Fowler around, but it won't be because the Cubs don't want him. Joe Maddon told the media and he told Fowler directly over and over that, "you go, we go." The Cubs will want to keep him around. But can they?
Steamer projects Fowler to hit .252/.350/.390 with a .327 wOBA and 106 wRC+. They also project him to be worth 8 runs less defensively and only 1.6 fWAR. Marcel projects roughly the same in terms of batting line (.258/.351/.408). It's 110 wRC+. Let's be generous and go with a 2 WAR projection in 2016.
Before you tell me that's low, he's been worth 12.6 fWAR in his career. He topped the 2 WAR mark in 2011, 2012 and 2013 with 2.1, 2.3 and 2.2 fWAR respectively. He's been worth 13.9 rWAR. Four times he's been better than 2 (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015). He was worth 2.2 rWAR in 2015. Going with 2.5 is too high. He's never shown he can be that good or stay that healthy. His UZR in 2015 may have been a fluke. 2 WAR is somewhat generous and he's on the wrong side of the aging curve.
Fangraphs is using $8 million per win in 2015 so let's bump that up to $8.5 million for 2016 and $0.5 million higher each year thereafter.
2016: 2 WAR
2017: 1.7 WAR
2018: 1.5 WAR
2019: 1.3 WAR
2020: 1.0 WAR
Total: 7.7 WAR
2016: $17 million
Total: $70.05 million
I think that's a generous amount and regardless of whether you think there's some additional value to being a leadoff hitter that's not present in other stats, that's about the maximum that you should expect.
The Cubs have Albert Almora and Billy McKinney that might be able to play CF for the Cubs as soon as 2017 so a 5-year deal is out of the question. I would think the Cubs would want to keep an offer to Fowler to 3 years or below. They could move him to a corner if needed or trade if one or both of the prospects comes up to stay. Using the numbers above, that's a maximum of 3 years and $46.55 million.
I'm guessing that Fowler will find a team willing to offer 5 years, but it might not be a team that is in contention. That's a lot of years for someone who isn't much better than average overall, if at all better than average.
I'd be tempted to give Fowler his qualifying offer, as well as extending a 3-year $45 million contract at the same time. If he doesn't take it, the Cubs can re-sign Austin Jackson for a year. Jackson could probably be had on a 1-year deal, which wouldn't block the position for Almora or McKinney. His on-base skills aren't nearly what Fowler's are so you probably wouldn't want him at the top of the order. Signing Jackson to a 1-year deal is much preferable to signing Fowler to an absurdly long contract.
So yeah, at the right price they should sign Dexter Fowler. There was a lot of talk earlier in the year about how he'd get a 5-year $85 million or more contract. That seemed high to me then and it still does. Dexter Fowler is a good player, but he's going to be 30 years old and much of his value is in his ability to play centerfield. It's unlikely he'll be able to stay there much longer. He's average to below at this point in his career and won't be getting any better. That doesn't mean that some team won't overpay for him, but I'll be surprised if he gets more than 5/75. I think 5/65 might be closer to what we should expect over 5 years.
My prediction: Cubs final offer is 3/45 and he signs for 4/60 elsewhere.