The Cubs acquired the everyday outfielder that hits at the top of the lineup the front office has been looking for in Dexter Fowler. Jed Hoyer told the beat writers on a conference call the Cubs started talking to the Astros about Fowler in early December.
According to the Sun-Times, the front office targeted and was focused on acquiring Ben Zobrist. When Zobrist was dealt to the Athletics, the Cubs shifted their full attention to Dexter Fowler.
Jed Hoyer would not commit to Fowler being the Cubs leadoff hitter when the spoke to the beat writers. Hoyer said Joe Maddon would determine the lineup but Fowler is a strong candidate to leadoff games.
Ace of MLB Stats pointed out Monday that Fowler was pretty good hitting with the bases empty and no outs last season. Fowler had 133 plate appearances in 2014 and hit .388/.466/.681 either leading off a game or an inning. For his career, Fowler is a .262/.362/.428 hitter leading off a game or an inning.
Joe Maddon was asked about a possible lineup and what he looks for in a leadoff hitter during Saturday’s session at the Cubs Convention. Maddon said the ideal leadoff hitter would have a high on-base percentage, a guy that looks over pitches and hopefully a guy that can run a little bit.
Maddon went into detail Saturday about the importance of a team getting on the board first. Maddon explained it’s a simple concept. The team that scores first has a 70-percent chance to win the game. And with a good leadoff hitter that can get on base, the chance to take an early lead obviously increases. Maddon said it’s important to have that guy at the top of the lineup.
The Cubs hitting coach, John Mallee is excited to have Fowler with the Cubs and for the chance to coach him again. Mallee was Fowler’s hitting coach in Houston last year. Mallee spoke with ESPN Chicago about Fowler and said he doesn’t take pitches just to take pitches. Fowler understands the strike zone.
Dexter Fowler had a 12.5 percent walk rate last year and saw 4.13 pitches per plate appearance, 14th in baseball.
The front office has another arbitration eligible player to agree to terms with on a contract for next season. Fowler and the Astros were not able to find a middle ground on a deal prior to Friday’s deadline to exchange salary figures. Fowler made $7.35 million last year and submitted a $10.8 million figure for the upcoming season. Houston filed at $8.5 million.
Joe Maddon is very good at using his entire roster. It is also very important for Maddon to keep his players as fresh as possible. As he said last weekend, if a player is in a uniform he’s going to play. With the addition of Dexter Fowler, Arismendy Alcantara likely slides into a utility role and will see playing time in the infield and outfield.
Jed Hoyer told the beat writers Monday that Alcantara “brings a smile” to Maddon’s face because “he’s the type of player he loves.” Hoyer said if Fowler is in center, Maddon will have a similar player in Alcantara that he had during his tenure in Tampa.
Arismendy Alcantara caught Maddon’s eye last season when the Rays were at Wrigley. And it appears Maddon paid close attention to the progress he was making in Winter Ball.
Dexter Fowler gives the Cubs outfield depth, Joe Maddon options in the field and a top of the order bat that can get on base. It will be interesting to see how Maddon utilizes Fowler in the spring. Fowler has played center field all but two games during his pro career, minors and majors, and the metrics point to a concern with his defense in center. As Baseball Prospectus mentioned, Fowler may grade out better using the Cubs’ proprietary statistics or the front office might be willing to surrender defense for what he can provide offensively.
The front office improved the roster Monday. It will be up to Joe Maddon and his staff to get the most out of Dexter Fowler and put him in a position to help the team succeed.