With Major League Baseball free agency nearly done, just a handful of quality free agents remain on the open market. One of the most surprising of the unsigned is former Chicago Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler, a 29-year-old with decent pop and a little speed. There aren’t many teams that could sign Fowler and not improve over their current outfield configuration, but there’s one team that really matches up well for Fowler’s services. That would be the Chicago White Sox.
The Sox have either swung and missed this off-season or not even taken the bat off their shoulder. They made a good trade to bring in slugging third baseman Todd Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds — albeit only for the next two years before he hits free agency — but have done little else to improve on a bad roster that won 76 games last year. In fact, over the last five seasons, the White Sox have averaged just 75 victories per season.
But there is some reason for hope on the south side of Chicago. They have one of the top pitchers in the game in Chris Sale, a slugging first baseman in Jose Abreu, and a few other nice complementary players such as Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, and a potential breakout stud in Carlos Rodon. The White Sox look to have one of the better starting rotations in baseball, but they’re lacking on offense and defense. That’s not exactly a recipe for success, especially when they reside in the same division as the Kansas City Royals.
Fowler could help the Sox improve in both of those areas. Bruce Levine of CBSChicago.com wrote about the interesting free agent off-season that Fowler has had so far, and how he could fit signing with either team in Chicago:
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’s 17 homers would’ve been second on the White Sox to just Abreu last season — and with the hitter-friendly nature of U.S. Cellular Park, it’s possible he could’ve hit more home runs there. He also would’ve been first on the team with his 20 stolen bases and third behind Abreu and Eaton with his .757 OPS.
Fowler is not a superior defensive center fielder, by any stretch, but he has played reasonably well out there in his career — most specifically with the Cubs last season. With the small nature of the outfield when the White Sox play at home, Fowler could push Eaton — who is an even lesser defensive outfielder — over to right field and create a stronger defensive alignment.
This leaves Avisail Garcia as the odd man out, but that’s probably better for the Sox in the long run. Garcia has been a disappointment since being a part of the trade that sent Jake Peavy to the Red Sox in 2013, hitting just .263/.312/.389 in 959 plate appearances in a White Sox uniform. As a man that stands 6’4”, 240 lbs, the Sox front office expected him to be able to hit with greater power than he has shown.
He’s still only 25 years old, but it would be foolish for general manager Rick Hahn to pass on a much more known commodity in Fowler just to give Garcia another shot. The other side of this is that it makes sense for Fowler, too. That depends a lot on the money involved, of course, as he certainly would need an unknown dollar amount to agree to a deal. But the White Sox have only around $117 million committed to the payroll in 2016 (or about $126 million with estimated salaries on pre-arbitration players).
They have some serious dollars coming off the payroll next year with John Danks and Adam LaRoche’s expiring contracts — a total of nearly $29 million for just those two. If the Sox offered Fowler a multi-year deal that was slightly back-loaded, it would make sense for both sides. The team improves in an area of need, both offensively and defensively, and Fowler gets what he has wanted all along—to be able to stay in Chicago, long-term.
There’s no doubt that Fowler enjoyed his time with the Cubs and had made it his top priority to try to stay. Of course, winning 97 games and having a fun post-season run is a big part of that, and there’s no guarantee he’d experience that on the south side. But not having to uproot his family to their fourth city in four years would be a huge bonus, in his case. If the Sox are able to offer up the financial security that Fowler needs, it would be good for both sides to sit down and hash out a deal.
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