By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The center field position is manned by potential All-Star players on both the north and south sides of Chicago. With Jason Heyward signed for eight years with the Cubs and Adam Eaton under White Sox control for six more years (the team holds club options in 2021 and 2021), it would appear neither team has to worry about center field in the near future.
On the other hand, both clubs would be stronger on defense with these two quality players in right field. Heyward is a three-time Gold Glove winner in right field. Eaton had a difficult 2015 season on defense after showing much better skills the previous year. Before the club dealt away Trayce Thompson to the Dodgers in a deal to acquire third baseman Todd Frazier, White Sox manager Robin Ventura said in early December that the competition for the center field spot would be open this spring.
With that as context, we now turn our attention back to Dexter Fowler, a free agent who has yet to find a new home after submitting a quality season for the Cubs in 2015. Fowler had a (full-season) career-low .346 on-base percentage, but that’s still a good number in comparison to the league average mark of .317. Fowler was tied for 51st in on-base percentage in all of baseball. Playing in a career-high 152 games, he also was fourth in the National League with 104 runs scored and had a career-high 20 stolen bases.
Fowler declined the Cubs’ one-year qualifying offer of $15.8 million and has since watched the market for outfielders — and center fielders, more specifically — grind on at a really slow pace. So, if this slow free-agent market continues, is either Chicago team an option for the 30-year-old Fowler on a short-term basis?
The Cubs would have to make a decision on moving an outfielder before bringing Fowler back as an everyday player. The assumption would be that 23-year-old Jorge Soler could be moved in return for pitching, in either the rotation or bullpen, before bringing on Fowler would be considered.
For the White Sox, the switch-hitting Fowler would give them some speed at the top of the order, a respectable on-base percentage ahead of their sluggers and left-handed pop in their home run-friendly ballpark. Of Fowler’s 17 homers last season, 13 came from the left side.
Fowler was a mixed bag defensively in 2015. Not known for great range in the past, his path to the ball improved in 2015. The Wrigley Field bricks also weren’t inviting to an impending free agent like Fowler, who played better defense in road contests.
Fowler’s work ethic was intense last season. Both he and teammate Anthony Rizzo had head-spinning strength training workout regiments before every game. The reps alone would have worn out some Olympic hurdlers.
The Cubs coaching staff implored Fowler to lead with energy and plate discipline. He responded by drawing a career-high 84 walks, while also striking out 154 times. Cubs manager Joe Maddon and bench coach/outfield coach Davey Martinez were extremely influential in Fowler’s successful season.
Fowler has been trapped in the free-agent outfielder mix this offseason. On Thursday, Denard Span signed a three-year $31-million contract with the Giants. This may or may not be good news for Fowler, who made $9.5 million in 2015. Getting more money on average annually after the Span signing may be difficult, but several teams still would like to sign a center fielder.
Among potential contenders, only the Nationals, Rangers, Mariners, Indians, White Sox and Cubs are really any kind of fit for Fowler.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.