On Monday, the Chicago Cubs made a qualifying offer to center fielder Dexter Fowler (per MLB.com). The process of qualifying offers (‘QO’) was implemented to offer teams some sort of compensation for highly valued free agents that leave to sign with another club. There’s a good summary here at mlbtraderumors.com along with an article that talks about the ten players in baseball they anticipated to receive qualifying offers.
To summarize, a team can make a QO to free agents that spent the entire season on the roster – hence, Aroldis Chapman doesn’t qualify for a QO – and that offer is the average of the top 125 players in the league, which is $17.2 million this year compared to $15.8 million last year. If a player rejects the QO and signs with another team, that team must surrender their top unprotected pick in the upcoming draft to the team that lost the free agent.
Now that Fowler has received the QO he has 7 days to accept or reject the offer. It’s largely believed, and rightly so, that Dex will reject the QO and head into the open market as a free agent. Fowler is considered the second ranked free agent outfielder just behind Yoenis Cespedes, who also received a QO from the Mets. Once Fowler rejects the QO and becomes a free agent he has the right to negotiate a contract with any ball club.
Fowler will be seeking a long-term deal to secure his future and his ride off into the sunset with as much guaranteed money as possible. Some, like Jon Heyman, believe that Fowler could reign in a four-year deal. He will be 31 at the beginning of the 2017 season and a four-year deal would last until he was 34 years old.
While the Cubs would love to have Fowler back next year, it’s highly doubtful they get as competitive as the open market will require in order to re-sign him, particularly to a four-year deal. We wrote about this yesterday and we mentioned Albert Almora as the future for the Cubs in center field. Almora is hands-down a better defender than Dexter and we say that with Albert coming off his rookie season, one where he got minimal playing time compared to Fowler. Let’s compare the two.
Dexter Fowler: 125 games played, .276/.393/.447 slash-line, 2.7 Def, 1.0 UZR, 31 years old in 2017
Albert Almora: 47 games played, .277/.308/.455 slash-line, 5.8 Def, 5.7 UZR, 23 years old in 2017
As you can see, both players put up comparable offensive numbers with the exception of their on-base percentages. The difference in OBP can be explained. Albert Almora posted a 4.3% walk rate compared to Dexter Fowler who posted a 14.3% walk rate. This is to be expected from a rookie. It’s pretty common for a young player to come up and have difficultly establishing plate discipline. It’s something that comes over time and by getting more major league at-bats. In Almora’s case, you can expect that to change next year.
On the defensive side, that’s where we start to see a big differentiation. Def measures a players defensive value – how may runs a player saved – relative to league average with an adjustment for position, essentially leveling the field of all players regardless of position to compare relative defensive value. UZR is a more complete measure of defensive value of a player at his position and it attempts to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess, similar to Def.
Dexter Fowler, in has age 31 season, put up solid numbers, true, but those were career best numbers for Fowler. In fact, before 2016 his best Def was 0.6 and his best UZR was 0.3 – his rookie season. Albert Almora, in his age 22 season, put up some impressive numbers, particularly for a rookie. And you better believe that his numbers will only get better with time.
There’s no question that Fowler was an important part of the Cubs’ World Series Championship run. There’s also no doubt that Dex had a great impact on the clubhouse, something that can’t be overstated. In addition, Fowler brought a much-needed veteran presence to a very young team in 2016. That’s something the young guys really needed and may well have been the final factor that helped push this team to become World Champions.
The Cubs have a young core that will serve as the backbone of this team for years to come. After winning the World Championship and gaining that invaluable experience, it only makes sense to put guys like Almora in place and let them to continue to develop on the field. Not to mention, Almora made one huge play in game 7 of the World Series to advance to second base on a fly out to center field. That play resulted in Almora putting pressure on the Indians’ defense, which led to a huge run in the bottom of the tenth inning.
Bottom line is that, while Fowler was a difference maker in 2016, the Cubs are better off sticking with Almora for the long run. Agree or disagree? I’d love to hear you opinion in the comments section below.