So the Orioles signed Dexter Fowler to three-year deal the other day, except it seems that it seems that they didn't. The Cubs have just announced that Fowler is returning to Chicago on a one-year, $8 million deal. The contract includes a $9 million mutual option and a $5 million buyout. All told, Fowler is guaranteed $13 million over the life of the deal. That's less than the $15.8 million qualifying offer that the Cubs tagged him with at the start of the offseason. According to Jon Heyman, Fowler's agreement with Baltimore fell apart when Fowler insisted on an opt-out clause after the first year of his contract.
It's a massive loss for Baltimore and just as large a gain for Chicago. Fowler is an OBP-proficient leadoff hitter and reached a career high in home runs in 2015. He'll slot back into center field and allow Jason Heyward to play right field, where he's more valuable. Despite the fact that they traded Chris Coghlan to Oakland to clear the outfield logjam, the Cubs figure to be incredibly deep at every position and have excellent players pretty much everywhere. That's even more true if Addison Russell's bat takes another step forward. Joe Maddon will have to find playing time for Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez. That's a very, very good problem to have.
Meanwhile, the Orioles miss out on a badly needed competent outfielder that isn't named Adam Jones. Mark Trumbo, who has the defensive range of a potato, will probably have to see a fair amount of time in right field. The Orioles spent a total of $207.8 million to retain Matt Weiters, Darren O'Day and Chris Davis. That's before they actually added by signing Yovani Gallardo and Hyun-Soo Kim. It too can be argued that the signing of Gallardo is a lateral move at best because he's filling the spot vacated by Wei-Yin Chen. Lateral moves generally aren't the best way to make a team better.
The Orioles claim that they didn't want to surrender a draft pick to sign Fowler when there was a chance that he was only going to be in town for just one season. That makes some amount of sense, especially since Baltimore needs to add more talent to their farm system. They've already lost the pick they gained when Chen signed with the Marlins by signing Gallardo. If they've spent so much money to simply keep talent in-house, why not go all out and do what they can to contend? The AL East certainly has talented clubs in Toronto and Boston, but the Orioles' window is now.
Though Fowler's deal in Baltimore would have supposedly have paid him $33 million, it's strange to see a player of his talent settle for less money than the qualifying offer would have given him. The specter of draft pick compensation hung over him like it did for Gallardo and like it still does over Ian Desmond. Being in the same class as Heyward and Justin Upton also undoubtedly hurt him. Fowler told the media that he followed his heart back to Chicago and while that partially explains why he signed for so little, the man also clearly wanted a job. Then again...
is fowler the fourth cub to take less guaranteed money to sign this offseason?— zack moser (@BeersNTrumpets) February 25, 2016
Mr. Moser is correct. Both Heyward and John Lackey had larger offers from the Cardinals, and Ben Zobrist reportedly had a larger offer from the Mets. Fowler was stuck between a rock and a hard place with Spring Training already in session, but it makes total sense for him to so quickly go back to Wrigley Field once the Baltimore deal fell through. The Cubs are going to be very good. They won 97 games, and now they've added many talented players. They'll also benefit from full seasons of Russell and Schwarber.
Meanwhile, the Orioles will be pretty much the same team they were last year, after spending over $200 million. Not only are they ill-prepared to stack up against the rest of the division, but they've further hamstrung themselves down the road when they'll be wanting to keep Manny Machado from signing elsewhere. Trumbo hits his share of dingers and the tiny confines of Camden Yards will only help him there, but his defensive ineptitude and lack of speed could combine to make him virtually replacement-level.
Prudence is a fine quality to have in building a ballclub. However, at a certain point, the team has to win. That point doesn't look like it's going to come for Baltimore this year. It's starting to look like destiny for Chicago. Hide your goats.