What now? It's the only logical question after the bombshell news that Dexter Fowler had never, in fact, been close to signing with the Orioles, and was instead returning to the Cubs. What's next for him, for both of those clubs, and for us as we approach the end of the offseason? What can we learn and where do we stand?
What now for the Cubs?
The Cubs get the center fielder they've been needing since Fowler entered the free agent market. Jason Heyward will get to slide back to right field, where he'll be much more effective defensively. Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler are most effected by the re-signing. They are still developing somewhat as hitters (though Schwarber is already excellent), and are challenging defenders who won't help the Cubs in the field. But they're both good enough that keeping limiting their playing time may not be an optimal use of resources, and certainly could hurt their long-term development. So, naturally, there's a lot of speculation that Fowler's signing means that one of them will be traded.
While that may still happen down the road, it doesn't necessarily need to. Fowler has started more than 120 games just once in his career, and that was last year. Keeping both of them provides some insurance. Plus, Schwarber would be handy to keep around to spell Anthony Rizzo once in a while without the Cubs' lineup taking a huge hit. Given that Schwarber bats lefty and Soler is a righty, they could form a fantastic platoon combination until one of them is needed elsewhere. Javier Baez is probably the more likely trade bait to bring in mid-season reinforcements.
What now for Dexter Fowler?
Well, at the moment, he'll start in center for the Cubs on Opening Day and for most of the rest of 2016. He'll be worth around two wins, provided he can stay healthy, but he'll also make Heyward much more valuable. After that? Either Fowler or the Cubs are probably going to reject their half of the mutual option that would keep Fowler on hand for 2017 as well. He'll reenter a depleted free agent market behind Yoenis Cespedes as probably the second best outfielder available.
What now for the Orioles?
It's hard not to feel a smug sense of schadenfreude at the Orioles' misfortune here. After they have backed out on and renegotiated a bunch of deals over the last few years due to medical concerns, Fowler spurning them is a kind of poetic justice. Still, I can't see them going into the season with L.J. Hoes as their starting right fielder.
Thankfully, they're not totally out of options. Austin Jackson just spurned a one year offer from the Angels, and might be willing to come east. If his batting average bounces back a little bit, he could be worth two wins. Jay Bruce is also still on the market after the deal to send him to Toronto fell through. Or maybe the O's prefer Michael Saunders, and can get the three way trade discussions ramped back up with the Reds and Jays. It's a shame they don't have a young star pitcher to spare to send to the Cubs. I hear they have a bunch of extra outfielders right now.
What now for us?
I don't mean for fans so much as for the assembled baseball rumorati who got the Dexter Fowler story so wrong. Guys like our own Chris Cotillo, or deans of American reporting like Ken Rosenthal, make their livings off of rumors, and they are good at it. We love them and follow them for it. Sometimes, things go sideways, however. Nobody apparently ever talked to Fowler or his agent before going forward with the news. Nobody checked after the news broke either. We all took the reports at face value because they made so much damn sense. But being first isn't as important as being right, and hopefully we can all take a moment to get confirmation before half-cocked rumors start flying around the Internet and make everyone look stupid the next day. Twitter can wait for us to get it right.