Dexter Fowler’s fiasco with the Orioles raises a lot of questions

Dexter Fowler ended up with the Cubs after reports indicated he would join the Orioles.

 

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Anyone who blames the Orioles’ failure to complete a deal with Dexter Fowler on his desire for an opt-out clause misses the point.

If the Orioles would not give Fowler an opt-out, then they had no agreement with him. And if they had no agreement with him, then why the heck did people in their organization tell certain members of the media that they did?

Was it to pressure Fowler’s agent, Casey Close, into accepting the team’s three-year offer? Was it to scare off other interested clubs? Was it simply a matter of miscommunication?

Whatever the reason, the Orioles’ latest messy free-agent episode directly benefited the Cubs, who stunned the baseball world Thursday by agreeing with Fowler to a one-year, $13 million deal with a mutual option.

Dexter Fowler’s return to the Cubs was not without some drama.

The news of Fowler’s supposed deal with the Orioles certainly was not leaked by Close, who issued a scathing statement Thursday night criticizing both the Orioles’ front office and members of the media for “irresponsible behavior” and “recklessly spreading rumors.”

More significantly, Close cited the Orioles for “willful disregard of collectively bargained rules governing free agency,” implying that they attempted to negotiate through the media, which is a violation of the CBA.

I never confirmed the Fowler agreement, never reported it. But I believed it to be true, and referred to the reported deal in subsequent columns. My assumption was that a high-ranking Orioles official had revealed the news to select media members; Close does not confirm deals until after physicals are complete.

To be honest, if I had been one of those select media members, I would have gone with the news, too. Ideally, a reporter wants multiple confirmations. But when a high-ranking team official acknowledges a deal and outlines specific terms, the information is almost always correct.

Yet, Close in his statement said that Fowler “never reached agreement with the Orioles and did not come close to signing with the club.” Orioles GM Dan Duquette confirmed as much to reporters, saying, “There was not an agreement to terms because they kept insisting on an opt-out.”

Seems clear-cut, except that Fowler’s friend, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, seemed to confirm the existence of an agreement the previous day, telling reporters that he had spoken to Fowler and that all was good.

“He’s excited,” Jones said. “He should be on his way.”

Perhaps Fowler said something like, “It would be exciting to join you,” and Jones mistakenly interpreted the comment to mean they were about to be teammates. Or perhaps Fowler indeed believed he was on the verge of joining the Orioles, and something went awry.

The bottom line is this: Fowler took $2.8 million less than he would have received from the Cubs if he had accepted their qualifying offer. And he took at least $20 million less than the Orioles offered him to return to the Cubs, for whom he is not even guaranteed everyday at-bats in an outfield that already includes Jason Heyward, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber.

Fowler, who turns 30 next month, clearly wants to re-enter the market next offseason, when the free-agent class of outfielders will be weaker; hence, his desire for an opt-out from the Orioles and his willingness to accept a one-year deal with the Cubs.

The mutual option is insignificant; it merely allows the Cubs to pay $5 million of his guaranteed $13 million as a buyout after the season is over. Fowler will decline his end of the mutual option, which is valued at $9 million. The Cubs then will make him another qualifying offer, assuming the system remains in place one more offseason with the collective-bargaining agreement expiring Dec. 1.

Who’s really at fault in the Dexter Fowler situation?

If Fowler accepts the QO, his worst-case scenario will be roughly two years, $30 million for 2016 and ’17. His best-case scenario would be the lucrative multi-year deal that eluded him this offseason – a possibility, considering that he will face lesser competition in the open market.

Fowler wanted the opt-out from the Orioles as a way of adding value to a deal that would have been below-market at less than $12 million per year and extended through his age 32 season. Duquette has been adamant the entire offseason about the Orioles’ opposition to opt-outs, but the O’s could have recovered the lost pick by making Fowler a qualifying offer.

It’s not unreasonable for Duquette to want players who are more committed to the organization – “If we are going to guarantee a contract, it should be a contract,” he said. Yet, the Orioles ended up sacrificing the No. 14 pick for just two years of free-agent right-hander Yovani Gallardo. Their original commitment to Gallardo was for three years, but the O’s reduced it due to concerns about his shoulder – concerns that evidently were not significant enough for them to scuttle the deal entirely.

Still with us? The fun is not over yet.

The Orioles likely will add a right fielder to fill the role they intended for Fowler, with the Reds’ Jay Bruce appearing the most logical target.

You know what that means:

More negotiations. More physicals. More variations of twist and shout.

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