Position: Center field
Bats: Both – Throws: Right
Born: March 22, 1986 (Age 30)
Dexter Fowler surprised his Chicago Cubs teammates last spring training, showing up to the Mesa, Arizona training facility in street clothes after agreeing to a one-year $8 million deal to stay in Chicago. It was reported through multiple outlets that Fowler had a three-year $33 million offer from the Baltimore Orioles on the table, however, Fowler’s agent Casey Close scorned the Orioles for irresponsibly spreading rumors about the signing of Fowler before anything was completed, further adding that Fowler never reached an agreement with the Orioles to begin with. Fowler himself said he just wanted to stay in Chicago, where he felt “respected” and “comfortable” there.
Whatever the reason, Fowler had one of his finest seasons of his nine-year career, slashing .276/.393/.447 with 13 home runs, 48 RBI, and 85 runs scored in 125 games played. Fowler set career highs in OBP, BB% (14.3), wRC+ (129), and fWAR (4.7). In terms of National League outfielders, Fowler ranked second on FanGraphs in fWAR behind only teammate Kris Bryant (ranked as both third baseman and outfielder).
Fowler also posted positive numbers in center field this season, the first time he’s done so over a full season, according to FanGraphs. Fowler posted a 1.0 UZR/150 while manning center, with one defensive run saved, and also posted a 2.7 defensive rating on FanGraphs as well, which was a career high.
What Fowler also offers is a premium leadoff hitter, one who will get on-base at a high clip (career .366 OBP), has some speed (has double digit stolen bases the past eight seasons), and has good splits against both righties and lefties. In 2016, the switch-hitter had an OPS of .827 against right-handers, and a .876 OPS against southpaws. Even for his career he’s posted solid splits, with a .770 OPS against righties and .835 against left-handers.
With runners in scoring position, Fowler posted a .253/.395/.418 line with 33 RBI in 91 at-bats in ’16. And how about this for setting the table; in the first inning of games, Fowler hit .382/.479/.706 with seven home runs in 102 at-bats.
Fowler did reject the Cubs’ qualifying offer of $17.2 million, so any team that signs him will have to forfeit a draft pick for the soon to be 31-year-old. However, with several teams in the mix to add outfielders this winter, Fowler should be in the mix for at least a three year deal, possibly four. I envision Fowler receiving a four-year, $60 million contract, similar to the one Curtis Granderson signed with the Mets in 2013, with interest from the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Giants, Mets, Phillies, Rangers, and Mariners.
Fowler should be viewed as a plan “B” for the Mets, especially if the team is unable to retain Cespedes in the offseason. Fowler offers the Mets a true leadoff hitter with double digit power, speed, average center field defense, and the ability to get on base at a high clip. He presents an intriguing candidate to replace some of the production Cespedes offers, and it would be in the Mets’ best interest to keep tabs on him throughout the winter.