With all the accolades being lobbed at the Cubs these days, it’s easy to start at the top and praise those who are leading the Cubs.
“Leading” can be a bit of a vague term though.
Leading on a day in, day out basis? That’s the bespectacled Mad Scientist perched on the top step of the dugout. Leading on the field? The MVP candidate first baseman. In the clubhouse? Among others, the going-gray, 38-year-old catcher with a sub .200 batting average.
But literally leading them? That would be Dexter Fowler, a rare breed in the context of this 2015 Chicago Cubs lineup, a high-level producer who was brought in from outside the organization.
At 29, Fowler finds himself in a contract year with numbers that tell two different stories. On one hand, he’s hitting a career low .254 (as of August 21st) and currently posting his lowest on base percentage since 2010. However, his previous two teams – the Astros and Rockies – play in notorious hitters parks.
It’s worth noting his time spent hitting at Coors Field and Minute Maid Park, because even though his pure hitting numbers are down – he’s already tied his career high in home runs. Barring injury Fowler should easily pass his career mark for runs scored, he’s within striking distance of his career high in hits, and he’s on pace to be the first Cub since 2012 to steal 20 bases.
There is however, another wrinkle that comes with the Dexter Fowler story and the aforementioned contract year. Given his solid productivity, the Cubs would probably like to keep Fowler if the price is right. However the 2015 centerfield free agent crop is unspectacular – with decent players like Denard Span, Rajai Davis, Colby Rasmus and Austin Jackson joining Fowler.
Depending on your view of him, Fowler might be the best of bunch. And at 29 years old, he’s ripe for a long term deal.
The Cubs probably wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be interested in committing four or five years, as they have in house options like Albert Almora that ideally will replace him by 2017 if not 2016. Fowler is currently making 9.5 million, so it’s conceivable the Cubs are interested in something like two years and $22 million, but should Fowler be?
He’s no dummy, he sees that Almora is probably coming at some point and would he really want to spend the last true years of his prime waiting to be replaced? Given the unspectacular CF free agent market, there should be plenty of suitors for Fowler with more years and dollars than the Cubs will offer. That doesn’t mean a different “placeholder deal” in center isn’t out of the question for the Cubs, as Denard Span will be 32 and probably more than willing to hold down a starting spot on a contender.
It’s easy to remember Fowler’s drawn out offensive lull from early June to the All Star Break in which his numbers took a pretty steep dive, and that lull will probably be the reason he won’t get back to some of his career averages this year. But even while he slumped, he played a solid centerfield (+2.5 Defensive WAR) and found ways to get on base every day.
The term that comes to mind with Dexter Fowler is “oddly productive.” His batting average won’t tell you that, but nevertheless he’s been a plus WAR player on both offense and defense. Just look at his NL ranks for the “leadoff man” categories this season: 3rd in runs scored, 4th in triples, 6th in walks.
Pretty damn good.
Considering what he was acquired for from Houston – Luis Valbuena who is having an Adam Dunn type year and Dan Straily who’s only thrown 15 innings – the Cubs appear to have won the trade by swapping two spare parts for an above average major leaguer at a high value position.
It’s possible that Fowler may indeed be a one-year Cub and a footnote on an epic story the Cubs are hoping to write, but he’s been a significant one. Regardless of what Dexter Fowler’s baseball future holds, the fact is that in the present he has emerged as a key cog on the young and growing Cubs.
And for a team that has found its success unexpectedly, it seems right that they’re led (off) by one of baseball’s most atypical success stories.
Other Interesting Items
– The pitching’s recent swoon is cause for a bit of concern. Jon Lester got ambushed by a Tigers team playing with house money – a team who happens to have the best hitter in the world (Miguel Cabrera), the hottest hitter in the game (Ian Kinsler) and one of the best power hitters in the league (J.D. Martinez). Lester has been solid so until further notice that start is just a blip.
– The concern should be geared more towards the prolonged slumps of Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks. Hammel has been hit extremely hard as of late, while Hendricks’ signature control couldn’t be found on the south side last weekend. Hopefully both pull out of it, but one is an absolute necessity. The Cubs are all but dead in the water if their down-the-stretch rotation amounts to Lester-Arrieta-question mark.
– On that note, Wrigley Field is starting to play like the Wrigley of old thanks to changing wind conditions. For whatever reason, this summer has featured an obscene amount of games with the wind blowing in. So as summer moves out, watch the wind as it could affect the Cubs’ arms big time.
Tim has watched nearly every inning of the Cubs this year, with a lot of that time spent on his couch. Where most beat writers are in and out of press boxes feeding the 24-hour news cycle, Tim sits on a couch and gives his thoughts every few weeks instead.
Check out past Cubs from the Couch pieces here.