With baseball’s regular season winding down, teams not in the mix for the playoffs have already shifted their attention to improving their clubs for next year and beyond. Fortunately for the Cubs, the year will not come to an end next Sunday. The Cubs have their sights set on another month of baseball and achieving the ultimate goal.
One of the many reasons the Cubs have the best record in baseball is Dexter Fowler. It’s hard to imagine where the Cubs would have been this season without Fowler and if Jason Heyward would have struggled the way he has. Remember, reportedly the plan going into Spring Training was to have Heyward play center field and hit leadoff. The Cubs might be in the same position they are with a week to go in the regular season or the year could have turned out completely different.
The Cubs surprised everyone when they re-signed Fowler in late-February. Fowler was reportedly on his way to Baltimore and then he appeared on the backfields at the Cubs complex in Mesa announcing to his teammates he was back.
The Cubs re-signed Fowler to a one-year, $13 million contract that includes a $9 million mutual option for the 2017 season. Fowler’s salary for this season is $8 million, the buyout on the mutual option is $5 million. When Fowler re-signed it was believed the Cubs were basically paying him $13 million for this season because he would opt-out and test free agency again.
Fowler got off to an incredible start to the season. Fowler hit .347/.474/.613 with nine doubles, a triple and three home runs for a 1.087 OPS in April. Fowler stayed hot through May before ending up on the DL in June. Fowler earned the trip to San Diego to participate in the All-Star Game. But a hamstring injury kept him from playing. Fowler hit .290/.398/.483 with 19 doubles, three triples and seven home runs before the break.
The Cubs’ offense went south while Fowler was on the DL from June 20 to July 22. The Cubs limped into the break without Fowler as the stretch of 24 games in 24 days just took its toll on the entire team.
Fowler had an excellent day Saturday in the loss to the Cardinals. And he’s been running the bases a lot better of late than he was for about a month after coming off the DL. Fowler went from first to third on a single to left on Friday. On Saturday, Fowler was a homer shy of a cycle in five plate appearances.
Over his last 19 games, Fowler is batting .270/.393/.473 with two doubles, two triples and three home runs for a .866 OPS.
For the season, Mr. ‘You Go, We Go’ is hitting .275/.388/.450 with 24 doubles, seven triples and 13 home runs for a .838 OPS. A better season than he had a year ago when looking at the numbers side-by-side.
The Cubs extended a qualifying offer to Dexter Fowler last fall that he declined. The Cubs are expected to make Fowler a qualifying offer this fall if he declines his part of the mutual option for next season. Fowler could have language in his contract that prevents the Cubs from making him a qualifying offer, if he does, that information has not been leaked and reported by a trusted outlet.
Buster Olney reported in late July that the current estimate for the qualifying offer is $16.7 million, a $900,000 increase from last year’s $15.8 million.
With the Cubs focused on this season and the ultimate goal, it’s too early to know if the front office will re-sign Fowler or not if he opts out. Many feel that the Cubs will let him test free agency again and go another direction for a centerfielder and leadoff hitter.
Albert Almora Jr. is the heir apparent in center. As for a top of the order hitter, the Cubs really don’t have one on the Major League roster that could step in for Fowler and provide similar production from the leadoff spot.
Jon Heyman recently provided early guesses on what the top 30 free agents will receive this off-season. And Fowler checked in at No. 20 on his list.
Heyman thinks Fowler will land a two-year, $24 million contract. If Fowler were to sign that two-year deal, his AAV would be less than the guaranteed contract he received from the Cubs for this season and almost $5 million less than the one-year qualifying offer.
If he opts out, it will be interesting to see if Fowler inks a deal closer to the rumored three-year, $33 million contract he had in place with the Orioles last February or the two-year deal Heyman thinks he will get this off-season.
Dexter Fowler turns 31 in March (March 22). He’s been a big part of two of the best regular seasons in Cubs history. And Fowler loves playing for the Cubs. There is a lot of work to be done and goals to accomplish before opt outs are exercised and qualifying offers are made.