What Dexter Fowler's Change of Heart Means for the Cubs

Well, it appears as if Fowler is not going to be an Oriole after all. How does that impact the Cubs and Orioles?

Well, I know I'll always remember the Dexter Fowler era in Baltimore with great fondness.

Just one day after it was reported that the Orioles had signed the outfielder to a three-year deal, all of a sudden, there was Fowler in Chicago Cubs camp.

You want proof? You don't want to take Mark Gonzales' word for it? You're so tough to please.

According to Gonzales, it is a one-year deal worth $8 million, with a $9 million option and $5 million buyout for 2017. And because Fowler played with the Cubs last year, Chicago is not required to give up a draft pick for re-signing their own player.

Fowler had reportedly agreed to a deal that would have paid him $35 million over three years, but MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported Fowler wanted an opt-out clause after one year, and Baltimore didn't want to forfeit a draft pick for just one year of a player.

As I wrote on Wednesday
, Fowler hit .250/.346/.411 with the Cubs in 156 games last year, slugging a career-high 17 homers with 102 runs scored and 20 stolen bases. He put up a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .333, a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 110 and an fWAR of 3.2 for Chicago, becoming a top-30 outfielder in baseball.

I also noted it was Fowler's power that really took a step forward in 2015, and there's a chance it'll get better this season.

Not too much changed in terms of his batted-ball data, but one major change was his tendency to pull the ball. He pulled the ball more than normal, and that had a dramatic impact on his home run total.

Year Team HR Pull% ISO
2009 Rockies 4 43.4 0.141
2010 Rockies 6 37.1 0.150
2011 Rockies 5 37.7 0.166
2012 Rockies 13 38.8 0.174
2013 Rockies 12 39.6 0.145
2014 Astros 8 37.8 0.122
2015 Cubs 17 44.1 0.161

Fowler has never pulled more than 39.6% of his batted balls after his rookie season. Last year, that spiked to 44.1%, a career high. His home run per fly ball rate jumped to 10.6% from 7.1, too.

Fowler's career BABIP of .341 dropped to .308 last year. That's still above the league average, but his batting average could see a boost if his BABIP returns to his normal level.

Fowler continued to maintain a solid walk rate, walking in 12.2% of his plate appearances. His career rate is 12.4%. He was in line with his career strikeout rate (22.2%) as well, posting a mark of 22.3%.

So it's obvious why the Cubs wanted him back. He gives them an incredibly deep lineup, but it does raise some questions about some other players on the roster.

Kyle Schwarber had been penciled in as the everyday left fielder and Jorge Soler was atop the depth chart in right field, with Jason Heyward expected to play center. Now, with the addition of Fowler, how do Soler and Schwarber fit into the equation?

Schwarber can also play some catcher but is not good enough defensively to play there any more than about 20 or 30 times this season. For better or worse, he's an outfielder, and it will be hard keeping him out of the lineup.

In just 273 plate appearances last year, Schwarber hit .246/.355/.487 with 16 homers, 43 RBI and 52 runs scored, with a wOBA of .364, a wRC+ of 131 and an fWAR of 1.9. He also performed extremely well in the playoffs.

Soler would appear to be the odd man out after a very difficult 2015. The 24-year-old Cuban hit .262/.324/.399 with just 10 homers in 404 plate appearances, putting up just a 0.1 fWAR in 101 games. He struck out 30% of the time last season and walked in just 8% of his plate appearances. 

While it's unlikely the Cubs are shopping Soler right now, they could be persuaded to move him if a team is willing to give them a number-two caliber starter to slot into the rotation after Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. Right now, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel are expected to man the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation.

But this much is certain. The addition of Fowler puts the fantasy prospects of Schwarber and Soler into question, with Soler perhaps more of a concern than Schwarber.

As for the Orioles, well, they still need to find themselves an outfielder somewhere. 

Sorry, O's fans. Domonic Brown is off the table. I know, you're crushed.

But Marlon Byrd is still out there, as is Alex Rios and Shane Victorino. And who knows? Maybe Ian Desmond could be moved to a corner outfield spot.

Wherever they go, they won't be doing it with Fowler, who rejoins his mates on the North Side of Chicago for one more season.