With Yoenis Cespedes taking himself out of play over the weekend, Dexter Fowler stands tall as the best free agent hitter left available. That's pretty remarkable for a guy who has a 104 career OPS+ and potential defensive limitations, and who has become something of a vagabond over the last couple seasons, spending a year each with the Astros and the Cubs.
Fowler sacrificed a great deal of batting average and on base percentage last year as he ramped up his power game. That didn't impact his overall offensive value, as his wRC+ of 110 and wOBA of .333 fell roughly in line with his career marks. In particular, he struggled against right handed pitchers compared to his career marks (.726 OPS in 2015, versus .761 for his career), while absolutely destroying lefties (.865 OPS in 2015).
The real problem with Fowler is that he is a poor defensive center fielder, suffering from a severe lack of range. He could have a seriously positive impact on whichever team he joins as a plus corner outfielder who has aged out of center. Especially if he's willing to move out of center, he has a few choice landing spots that would net him a pretty hefty payday. There are a lot of potential fits, but with the money he's going to command, whoever signs him is going to want him to play every day. These guys fit that bill:
The Sox are definitely the most likely landing spot for Fowler. The Sox have invested heavily in free agents and trades over the last two offseasons, and have made moves to be competitive in 2016 by trading for Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie to augment a club that lost 86 games last year. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system projects them to be around .500 in 2016.
They haven't done enough, though, to bounce back in a thoroughly mediocre AL Central. For one thing, they have a gaping hole in right field. Plugging that would go a long way to helping them compete for the division and the wild cards.
Avisail Garcia currently holding down right field and is projected to be roughly replacement level. Fowler, on the other hand, is projected as a 1.5 win player as a center fielder, but a shift to the corner may make him a two and a half or even a three win player. Adding him would push the Sox up to an 84 or 85 win club, which could be enough.
The Indians were burned a couple years back by signing Michael Bourn, a similarly defensively challenged center fielder who was going to be 30. They may be tempted to sit this one out. Still, with Michael Brantley sidelined until God knows when, and with an Opening Day outfield consisting of Rajai Davis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Abraham Almonte, Cleveland could use the boost, especially if Fowler's willing to take a shorter term deal. The Indians are projected to be around 86 wins, and Fowler would probably make them division favorites at this point.
It's surprising to see the Cubs still lurking out here, but they may still be circling the waters and waiting for Fowler to return to them. He wouldn't cost them a draft pick, and he would allow Jason Heyward to slide back over to right field, where he is more comfortable. In this scenario, Jorge Soler gets dealt, perhaps to the Indians. He might be overkill though, as the Cubs are probably the best team in baseball as currently constructed, and given that Fowler will command a multi-year deal and will have to move out of center eventually, the Cubs may not want to commit to him.
Fowler isn't the kind of free agent that Angels owner Arte Moreno generally mandates his GM pursue. And he's publicly stated that he won't go over the luxury tax. But, I mean, the Angels are projected to win 80-82 games with a big black hole in left field, and waste another year of Mike Trout's amazingness. It's criminal.
All of this is complicated by the fact that the Rockies are shopping their trio of outfielders in the wake of the Gerardo Parra signing. One of the clubs above is probably going to wind up with either Carlos Gonzalez or Charlie Blackmon, but there are still plenty of landing spots available for Fowler, and he should be in high demand.