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Chicago Cubs: Dexter Fowler declines option, will become a free agent

Nov 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) celebrates after hitting a solo home run against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning in game seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) celebrates after hitting a solo home run against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning in game seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Cubs adopted the “You go, we go” with Dexter Fowler in the leadoff spot this year. And go they did, to a 103 wins and a World Series championship. But for now, it looks as if the Cubs might lose him to free agency.

I think the Chicago Cubs learned last year that nothing is ever a “done deal”. Heck, they can look to this World Series, down 3-1 and know it’s never really over. But just a day after winning their first title in 108 years, it seems that Dexter Fowler won’t pick up his side of the mutual option, electing to become a free agent instead.

Some Cubs’ fans were unaware there was even a chance he could return to the team next season. The two sides put in a mutual option, which would have paid Fowler $9 million if they both picked it up. The buyout will pay him $5 million but doesn’t mean he can’t return to Chicago next season. It just means Fowler is looking for that payday he passed up on last year. That gamble looks to have paid off for him.

"“I’m definitely going to be a free agent, but hopefully it happens a little bit quicker than last year,” Fowler said on SportsCenter Thursday evening. “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.”"

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Last season, it was reported that Fowler was going to sign with the Baltimore Orioles for a three-year, $35 million deal. He instead never agreed to the deal and returned to the Cubs for $8 million this season. In 2015, Fowler slashed a .250/.346/.411 with 17 home runs and 46 RBIs. He walked 84 times while striking out 154. Fowler improved on those numbers in 2016: .276/.393/.447, walking 79 and striking out just 124 times. He did miss 31 games due to injury but was also selected to his first All-Star team (He did not take part due to injury).

Improvement at the plate, in the field

In the outfield, Fowler was a much-improved defender. When you look at the basic numbers, you won’t actually see that. His fielding percentage was actually better in 2015 (.988 to a .983 in 2016). But his Rtot (Total zone total fielding runs above average) jumped from seven last season to 16 this year. And we saw it on display in the playoffs as he made several highlight-worthy grabs. His secret? Not playing so shallow, backing up and allowing himself to keep the ball in front.

I can’t expect Fowler to return unless the Cubs are willing to give him a long-term deal to keep him. I’m not opposed, but the Cubs are going to have other financial decisions to make soon, and is Fowler where you want to start? Keep these numbers in mind. 85-40 in games he appeared in. And when he didn’t? Just 18-18. Those are staggering, even if he’s not the ONLY reason for those.

No shortage of options

The Cubs have no shortage of outfielders heading into 2017. Even without Fowler, they’ll have Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, Jr. and Jorge Soler under contract. That also doesn’t count Willson Contreras, Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist who saw time out there this season. Could Almora step in and replace Fowler? Defensively, of course. And Almora’s baserunning in extra innings of the World Series to tag and move up to second on Bryant’s  fly out was critical. The question is can he match his on-base potential. Right now, I think that answer is no–at least for the time being.

I made my opinion known on this three months ago. I said the Cubs and Fowler should agree to the option and bring him back. The option is off the table, but the team can still bring Fowler back into the mix. With David Ross retiring, Fowler is one of the few “veterans” on the team. I feel like—if not an exorbitant amount–a deal to bring Fowler back would be the best thing for the Cubs.

Next: Series journey started with Rizzo

Last year Fowler’s decision ran all the way up into Spring Training. Hopefully, he’ll make his decision sooner so if it ISN’T the Cubs they can move forward with Almora, Jr. or whoever they might have in mind to take Fowler’s spot.

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