Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

Fowler fallout: 4 questions after his return to Cubs

MLB.com @castrovince

A deal is not a deal until it's a deal.

But man… Dexter Fowler shockingly showing up at Cubs camp on Thursday morning after widespread reports that he was about to ink a contract with the Orioles? What's the deal with that?

A deal is not a deal until it's a deal.

But man… Dexter Fowler shockingly showing up at Cubs camp on Thursday morning after widespread reports that he was about to ink a contract with the Orioles? What's the deal with that?

Here are four questions raised by the saga that had both Spring Training states buzzing.

Video: Fowler discusses decision to sign with the Cubs

1. What will the Orioles do now?

This has not been an ideal week for the Orioles. At one point, it appeared they were on the verge of stabilizing their rotation with Yovani Gallardo and the top of their lineup with Fowler. And though they did still get to the finish line with Gallardo, the final agreement only came after issues with his shoulder were raised by the team physical, prompting added concern that they just forked over a 2016 Draft pick in the teens for a guy who might have trouble delivering the kind of season he just had in Texas (184 1/3 innings, 3.42 ERA).

Video: Gallardo introduced as latest member of the Orioles

And then, of course, the Fowler idea fell through, reportedly because the Orioles balked at giving him an opt-out after 2016.

Ian Desmond is still out there, and to sign him, the Orioles would not only have to give up their second-round pick, but also believe he can transition from shortstop to the corner outfield. At least his power would play at Camden Yards. There are multiple established outfielders still on the open market -- Austin Jackson, David Murphy, Will Venable, Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd, Drew Stubbs, Will Venable among them -- but the 29-year-old Jackson is the only guy on that list south of 31, and just about all of them rate more in the depth or platoon category. If they really want to get daring, they could have Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis frequent right field and sign Pedro Alvarez. But the O's highly value defense.

It's probably time for the Orioles to more seriously talk trade. They've shown interest in the Reds' Jay Bruce, whose near-trade to Toronto fell through earlier this week. But they prioritized Fowler because of concerns about Bruce's streakiness. The O's could talk to the Dodgers about Andre Ethier.

But another option that might actually make the most sense at this stage would be a familiar one -- Nick Markakis. The Braves are always game for trade discussion, and the Orioles need somebody who can get on base.

2. Does this mean Jason Heyward won't play center field regularly?

Eh, not so fast. As currently concocted by the Cubs, the plan is to put Fowler in center and Heyward in right, with Heyward filling in at center on occasion -- much like he did with the Cardinals in 2015 (he made eight starts in center last year). This plan makes sense. Fowler was the Cubs' center fielder last year, and Heyward routinely grades out as one of the biggest impact outfielders in the game because of his defensive work in right. Prior to Fowler's surprise return to the North Side, there was an open question as to whether Heyward's defensive value would be compromised by the position switch to center.

Video: Outlook: Heyward could see uptick in power with Cubs

With all that said, never, ever underestimate the evolving nature of baseball plans. Maybe moving Heyward from right to center isn't totally ideal, but he is just 26 years old, and some scouts feel the nearly 30-year-old Fowler is better suited to an outfield corner at this stage of his career. So while Heyward might sacrifice some of his Wins Above Replacement standing should he log more time in center than right, there is still the distinct possibility that the Cubs eventually will conclude he is their best defensive option in the middle of the outfield.

3. What does this mean for Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez?

Don't let its spot on this list deceive you. This is the key question for the Cubbies. The problem of too many good players for not enough spots is no problem at all, but it's still a situation that will require careful consideration and -- most importantly -- clear communication on the part of the Cubs.

The good news there is that Joe Maddon is a master at achieving buy-in from his players. Still, this will be an interesting adjustment, especially for Soler, who, in the wake of Thursday's developments (both the re-signing of Fowler and the trade that sent Chris Coghlan to the A's), likely finds himself in a Coghlan-esque role -- filling in at both corner outfield spots.

Schwarber had only a .481 OPS against lefties last year, so there's the possibility of him forming a left-field platoon with the right-handed Soler. But if that is the decision, you're running the risk of stunting the offensive development of both players. And while a hybrid catcher/left fielder would be an incredible asset for any club, it's a tough trick to pull off for a soon-to-be 23-year-old still finding his footing at both positions.

Video: Yallof on Schwarber's homer breaking a car windshield

And none of the above even covers Baez, the natural shortstop who is currently being groomed as a super-utility type. Honestly, where he fits into this jigsaw puzzle is still anybody's guess. Hopefully the spring season will help showcase whether Baez can handle the outfield and whether the serious strides he made in discipline and two-strike approach last season have staying power.

The Cubs are still interested in adding a young, controllable arm to their rotation options, so we can't rule out a trade involving one of these guys. But such blockbusters are rare in Spring Training, and the most likely outcome is Maddon trying a variety of approaches to see what sticks.

4. Will the Orioles' tough physicals and refusal to give an opt-out affect their reputation among players?

It's a fair question. Regarding the opt-out, you can understand the hesitation to give up a Draft pick for a guy who might only be with you for one year (though the Orioles did just that with Nelson Cruz in 2014). Opt-outs are a somewhat sensitive issue in a lot of places right now, because they are increasingly common and yet not at all team-friendly.

But the physicals thing is more of an Orioles-centric issue, because there are multiple instances in recent years of their process impacting the state of agreements. Here, again, you can't fault the O's for taking a thorough approach to medicals. You think back to two years ago, when their two-year deal with Grant Balfour fell through, and in hindsight we can say, unequivocally, that Baltimore did the right thing in letting Balfour walk.

At the same time, players negotiating with the Orioles have to know by now that if they're choosing between Baltimore and another team, there is an increased risk of a renegotiation after the physical with the O's. Once information about "concerns" or "questions" regarding a physical becomes public, that impacts a player's market, should he opt to start looking elsewhere (for that reason, it was unsurprising to see Gallardo almost instantly agree to the reworked terms).

So yeah, this could impact other Orioles pursuits. But with the money on the line in these matters, teams have every right to prioritize a thorough medical evaluation.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Chicago Cubs, Dexter Fowler