In February, outfielder Dexter Fowler surprised everyone—including his own teammates—by re-upping with the Chicago Cubs on a one-year deal. Suffice it to say he'll be looking for long-term security this time around.
On Nov. 4, Fowler talked about his plans to decline his mutual option with the Cubs for 2017, making him an unrestricted free agent.
"I'm definitely going to be a free agent, but hopefully it happens a little bit quicker than last year," Fowler said on SportsCenter (via ESPN.com). "You can't control what goes on, but I loved my time in Chicago and I'm definitely not counting them out, but we'll see what God has planned for us now."
The 30-year-old hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 home runs and 48 RBI in 125 contests this season. He was also instrumental in helping the Cubs win their first championship since 1908, belting the first Game 7 leadoff home run in World Series history Wednesday.
"We would not be in this position without him," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said during the National League Championship Series, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today. "Go back to spring training, and even prior to that where we were trying to put this thing together, and I was on the phone a lot with [president of baseball operations Theo Epstein] and [general manager Jed Hoyer] regarding the composition."
Many expected Fowler to leave Chicago a year ago. He hit the free-agent market after a solid first season with the Cubs, hitting 17 homers and stealing 20 bases while drawing 84 walks early in the order. While his average dipped to a career-worst .250, it seemed inevitable he would find a long-term contract in free agency.
Instead, the market dried up quicker than most expected and left Fowler hanging as spring training approached. The Cubs pounced on a team-friendly one-year deal, which paid Fowler $13 million after a buyout but offered a mutual option.
Fowler responded by putting together the best season of his career. His 4.7 wins above replacement were 1.4 greater than his previous career high, per FanGraphs. Having spent his first six MLB seasons with the Colorado Rockies, Fowler is a rare player who has improved his offense away from Coors Field.
Making things better was his sudden defensive improvement in 2016. Long considered a defensive minus in the outfield, Fowler put up positive stats in nearly every metric—something he attributed to playing at a normal depth rather than shallow.
"I was thinking about it during the offseason," he said, per Nightengale. "I came into spring training, actually walked into Joe's office, and I said, 'I got something for you guys.' I'm going to play a little deeper this year. I want to play where everybody else is playing, and I think that will help me out."
Fowler should not have any trouble finding a long-term deal this winter, but it's unlikely to be with the Cubs. Albert Almora, the organization's 22-year-old phenom, is champing at the bit to become the everyday center fielder in 2017. He looked solid in limited big league playing time last season, hitting .277, and even made the playoff roster.
Fowler will likely command a multiyear deal from a team looking for a reliable outfielder at the top of its lineup. If he's still unsigned when camp gets ready to open next year, something will have gone wrong.
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