That turned into a far more interesting morning for Cubs fans than we expected.
It all started with the news that Chris Coghlan had been traded to the A’s for the least interesting Aaron Brooks in sports. Fair enough, most of us thought. Being left-handed, unable to play center didn’t really open up a lot of spots for Cogs. He couldn’t really platoon with anyone, would have to wait for the days Schwarber would catch or Soler to flame out in some way. Replacing him with a right-handed hitter who could play center made sense, which is why Austin Jackson’s name had gotten a little buzz lately. Coghlan had been a better soldier than we ever imagined, but seem superfl….
Then Theo Epstein, clearly inspired by Shane McMahon’s return to WWE on Raw this week, rolled out Dexter Fowler during a team meeting. That’s Dexter Fowler who had agreed to terms with the Orioles. At least so we were told. That’s Dexter Fowler, accepting a one year deal from the Cubs.
There’s a lot to clear through here, and I don’t know that this will be in any particular order.
-The thought, and what Fowler has indicated, is that he just wanted to come back that badly. You can add to that with his insistence on an opt-out after one year with the Orioles that they didn’t offer, Fowler also thinking, “I don’t want to be in Baltimore any more than I have to be.” I think we can all understand that. Usually, when the feeling being put out there is that a player “just really wanted to be here,” I’m quizzical at best. But it’s hard to see something else here. That’s if the opt-out with the Orioles was a sticking point, which I’m not convinced it was.
Fowler turned down a three-year deal and a guaranteed starting spot with the O’s for only one year and an option here and possibly a 4th outfielder role. He gave up some cash for sure, though that’s balanced by him not having a 1st round pick dangling around his neck next winter, which clearly scared some teams off this winter. If he can just replicate last year’s numbers, he’ll be a more attractive free agent than he was this time around.
Still, it’s clear that Fowler, like the rest of the Cubs, had a blast here last season. They all did. Fuck, we did watching them. There’s obviously a sense of something special here, and I can be safe in saying that wanting to be a part of it certainly played at least a part in his u-turn.
-For what it means for the Cubs outfield, that makes me a little urpy. Theo Epstein said they’re not trading anyone, which means Schwarber, Fowler, Heyward, Soler, and Baez are basically the outfield. Maybe Can’t Fight The Szczur can carve out a 5th spot, but it’s unlikely.
It certainly presents a lot of options. On days facing righties, the Cubs could roll out six left-handed hitters. Against lefties, they can roll seven right-handed hitters (if you consider David Ross a hitter, and you probably shouldn’t). There’s obviously everything in between.
Still, it puts the Cubs in a kind of weird position for the season. This is a team that’s certainly going for it, and it should. But it’s going for it with a roster still packed with young players, who are going to have to adjust to not playing every day. Usually you’d say a team in the position of the Cubs can’t worry about development. But some of the Cubs’ expectations are built on the possible development of the kids. Baez isn’t going to play center, or so it would appear (though he could get some time in the corners and the infield). Soler’s ABs are going to be scaled down too. There’s still a lot of what-if with Soler, but we all want to see him live it out. Will he playing three or four games a week?
While Fowler has never played in the corners, one wouldn’t think it should be a hard transition for him if that’s required. What it does is allow Joe Maddon to have the four-man bench he almost certainly wants, because he’s going to want 13 pitchers. Given that Baez, La Stella, Heyward, and Schwarber can play multiple positions (and they’ll have Bryant doing so too), they have more flexibility than you might first think.
And we know they’ll take 13 pitchers because the main narrative since spring training began was to conserve Arrieta and Lester and Lackey so that they’re as fresh in October as they can be. They can get more innings from the pen now. And we’ll probably see a few more 18-batter outings from Hendricks and Hammel. I’m sure Hammel will love that.
It’s weird. It’s unexpected. But swapping out Coghlan for Fowler is certainly an upgrade. I’ll try and remember that when Soler is dealt at the deadline.