Is Dexter Fowler a Potential Free Agent Bargain?

Coming off of a strong season with the Chicago Cubs, Fowler remains a free agent into the new year. Is he shaping up to be a steal?

In terms of outfield help still sitting available on the free agent market, Dexter Fowler fits right behind Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton.

Fowler is coming off his best season as a pro, posting a strong 3.2 fWAR in his first, and likely only, season as a member of the Chicago Cubs. His speed and power potential manifested itself last season, as he hit 17 home runs to go along with a respectable 20 stolen bases.

He was one of seven players to achieve those numbers on a list that includes studs such as Manny Machado, Paul Goldschmidt, and A.J. Pollock.

For some context, prior to the beginning of the offseason, MLB Trade Rumors had Fowler pegged for a 4 year, $60 million contract with the Mets. FanGraphs had a median estimation of 4 years and $56 million.

Given the slow churning free agent outfield market we have seen thus far, it seems fairly likely Fowler could end up only receiving three-year offers. He would likely have no trouble receiving a fourth year if it were not for the qualifying offer attached to him. That forces any team he signs with to give up an early draft pick, which so far seems to be holding teams back a bit.

It is uncommon to see so many solid, everyday players available in January. There is seemingly no quick end in sight either, as Fowler remains just the third best outfield option sitting on the open market, with little reports of anything being imminent for him (or Cespedes and Upton for that matter).

Is the market aligning for Fowler to be a free agent bargain? I sure think so.

A Tale of Two Halves

His season-long numbers from 2015 are surely impressive. As previously mentioned, he was amongst the few players to offer a true power-speed combo in 2015, and he posted a useful .346 OBP to go along with it. His 3.2 fWAR put him 57th in the league among hitters and was the best mark he has reached in his career.

His nERD figure, numberFire’s own metric that determines how many runs above average a player would produce over a full game of about 27 at-bats, was 1.00. This means he is an above average player by our numbers and ranked 75th overall across the MLB in this statistic last season.

While his numbers on the year were good, you would never have guessed that is where he would end up after his weak first half.

Over the first half of the season, Fowler slashed .232/.308/.369. Those numbers put his wRC+ at 87, meaning he was a 13% below average hitter over the first half of the season. His numbers saw a dramatic improvement over the second half, as he slashed .272/.389/.463 en route to a 137 wRC+. His two half seasons represented scrub-and-stud, and any team that signs him has to hope his second half numbers indicate Fowler’s true abilities.

That would appear to perhaps be the case, as Fowler’s first-half BABIP of .283 falls well below his immense .341 career figure. His second half mark of .340 falls right in line with his career average, lending some confidence that his robust performance down the stretch was no fluke.

He hit virtually the same percentage of line drives across both halves but did a much better job keeping the ball on the ground and avoiding fly balls in the second half of 2015. Over his career, he has a 43.0% ground ball percentage but put just under 40% of his batted balls on the ground over the first half versus 47.7% during the second half.

He hit over 5% more fly balls in the first half of 2015 compared to his career average, and for a speedy lefty, that goes a long way in explaining the drop in BABIP and, as such, his numbers across the board.

A Free Agent Bargain

Fowler seems primed to pose significant value to whatever team signs him this offseason. Still not yet 30-years-old, it is unlikely he sees a significant decline in performance if he signs a three-year pact. Even if he manages to grab a fourth year on his deal, he likely will just be beginning the decline of his prime come the end of the contract. With Cespedes and Upton still seeking contracts with 100-plus million dollars in guarantees, a Fowler deal begins to look a lot more reasonable.

@denard spaDenard Span deal of three years, $31 million would be a fairly reasonable contract for Fowler’s agent to base his demands on. While Span did not come with the qualifying offer that is attached to Fowler, it was a fairly widely agreed upon consensus that Fowler would sign a bigger deal this offseason (both MLB Trade Rumors and FanGraphs agreed in this regard).

While Span offers a bit more ability in terms of fielding prowess, Fowler is two years younger and does not have the injury concerns that Span has. The Orioles, White Sox, Tigers, and Angels are all prospective fits for Fowler and the other two premium outfielders remaining in free agency.

A deal in the three-year, $36 million range would be reasonable for Fowler, but it is fair to assume he and his agent are trying to hold out for a fourth year. Whoever nabs Fowler can expect to add a solid outfielder to their club; he profiles as an ideal second hitter.