Dexter Fowler has had arguably his best season in the big leagues in the year prior to becoming a free agent. The Cubs acquired Fowler from the Astros in January for Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily. Valbuena was surprisingly productive as a Cub from 2012-2014, but hasn’t been quite as successful this season with the Astros in large part because UZR thinks he’s been a worse fielder. Straily has made a few starts and they haven’t gone particularly well. Fowler, meanwhile, has been very productive atop the Cubs batting order.
He’s hit .252/.349/.414, which is good for a .337 wOBA and 113 wRC+. It’s his 3rd best wRC+ in his career behind 2012 with the Rockies and last season with the Astros. UZR believes he’s been a plus fielder and my lying eyes agree. Fowler has not typically been a good fielder in terms of UZR though. He’s been worth 2.8 fWAR, which is already a career high.
He’s making $9.5 million in his final year of arbitration and turns 30 in March. The Cubs have Albert Almora in the minor leagues who they hope is the centerfielder of the future, but he’s more than likely going to begin 2016 in AAA. Almora has been better this year despite being one of the youngest players in AA, but probably hasn’t put up the eye-popping numbers a lot of fans were hoping for. There’s no hurry with Almora. They also have Matt Szczur, but unless the Cubs are really confident in Almora’s ability to cruise past AAA, that’s not really the best option.
The Cubs could also feasibly move Starlin Castro to CF if he rebounds in this final month. There’s also the possibility of Javier Baez shifting out there and the improbable odds that the Cubs would go with Kris Bryant or Chris Coghlan in CF.
There will be other options available via free agency and/or trade, but the Cubs like Fowler and they should. They won’t break the bank for the veteran outfielder, but they will at the very least give him a qualifying offer. The qualifying offer is a one-year guaranteed contract worth the average salary of the top 125 players. That figure was $15.3 million last offseason so it’s probably closer to $16 million. There’s no risk whatsoever in offering Fowler that. If he declines, the Cubs would get draft pick compensation next year.
Fowler is going to be looking for a long-term contract this offseason so he’d likely decline that, but I expect the Cubs to try to sign him for at least a few years. What would it realistically take to extend Fowler?
ZiPS rest of season projections have Fowler at basically where he’s at right now. It has him hitting .259/.361/.410 with a wOBA of .340 and a wRC+ of 115. Add in his defense (projected to be below average) and you get about 2.5 to 2.6 fWAR over 550 plate appearances.
The value of the win since 2011 has been somewhere between $6.5 million and $8.0 million. I feel if we use $7.5 million we can get a decent idea of his value.
I just guessed at how Fowler might age. I’d like to think I was a bit optimistic, but maybe someone feels differently. I’d seen someone throw out 5/80 and thought that was a bit high and it appears to be. Especially if you add in the hometown discount teams generally get when they sign players who they were previously with. Not that it’s universal.
I’m not sure what kind of contract Fowler is looking for, but this is the best guess I can come up with at the moment. I’ll take another look when the season ends. I would prefer the Cubs stay away from 5 years, but 5/64 isn’t too bad.