What the Padres Can Learn from the Dexter Fowler Saga

Dexter Fowler turned a U-Turn on his way to Baltimore and came back to the Chicago Cubs on essentially a 1 year deal for less than the qualifying offer he had rejected just a couple of months earlier. Why did he do it and what the Padres learn from watching his about face?

To understand the significance of this, consider the following:

  • Fowler started off free agency by rejecting the 1 year $15.8M qualifying offer
  • He was reported to have agreed to a 3 year, $30M deal with the Orioles
  • He ended up with a 1 year $8M deal with a mutual option for the second year at $9M or a $5M buyout. Many are calling it a 1 year deal for $13M.

When asked what would cause him to come back to Chicago, he said “This is where my heart is”.

Teammates were surprised and happy to learn the news as he walked in street clothes to surprise them at Spring Training. In quotes that would only come out of a team where Joe Maddon was the manager, several players thought the surprise would be a zoo animal.

Said Anthony Rizzo, who had sent congratulatory texts to Fowler when he heard about the Orioles deal, only to be surprised when Fowler showed up in the flesh: “Ran into Theo yesterday and he said, ‘Hey, I got a surprise for you guys.’ But when someone says they have a surprise, you think elephant, giraffe; you don’t know. That was the last thing on my mind,”

Jason Hammel had the same reaction: I had no idea, Joe said we were going to have a moment and I thought for sure he was bringing in some circus animal or some type of weird magician doing something.”

The move makes it much easier now to move Jason Heyward back to his usual position of right field and makes sense of the team sending Chris Coghlan off to Oakland in a trade that morning.

It also shows a surprising and refreshing trend that is perhaps suggesting that teams are choosing to stay with teams where they can win rather than just following the money – Zack Greinke excluded. Alex Gordon had a chance to leave in free agency and came back to the team that drafted him, had patience in him, and eventually watched him lead their team all the way to the World Series.

Yoenis Cespedes ignited the Mets mid-season and also spurned other free agency offers to come back to the Mets in a similar deal to Fowler in hopes the Mets can also return to the World Series and finish teh job this time.

Another team that has been watching all of this very closely I must imagine is the Pittsburgh Pirates. Homegrown superstar Andrew McCutchen has expressed a desire to stay a Pirate forever – will they be able to build around him to entice him to sign a long-term deal as he enters not only his free agency prime but his prime as a player?

For the Padres, Andrew Cashner has shown glimpses of brilliance but not yet put it all together. In his walk year – if he has a great season will the Padres be able to sign him to a deal that is club friendly enough they will be able to get other good players and watch their prospects grow up around Cashner, not without him?

The Padres lost Adrian Gonzalez in 2009, who certainly was poised to be the next lifetime Padre in the vein of Tony Gwynn. From the current Padres roster, there is no one save maybe Tyson Ross who could be seen as a potential franchise cornerstone. They have watched Jake Peavy go on to win a World Series in Boston, and had to give up on countless other players. Is the tide changing for players to follow the winners and not just the money?

Many see the Fowler move as a gamble for himself financially. On the Orioles, he would be given more guaranteed playing time. On the Cubs, he is the older veteran on a team loaded with young talent. What if he only plays in 100 games and his numbers suffer as a result, the Cubs buy him out and he has trouble getting a contract to his liking next year?

Fowler though has been around baseball long enough already to know a great team when he sees one. He is betting that he can have a good year leading off and helping the Cubs and their young talent end the Cubs Championship drought that has been plaguing the team since 1908. If he ends up celebrating on the field after the last out of the World Series – it will all be worth it.