As concerns persisted over Yovani Gallardo’s physical on Tuesday, the Orioles wasted no more time coming to an agreement with free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler.
The sides agreed to a three-year deal worth about $35 million, according to MASN and ESPN. Of course, the agreement is pending a physical, a caveat carrying extra importance in light of the holdup with Gallardo’s three-year contract.
Because Fowler rejected a $15.8 million qualifying offer at the start of the offseason, the Orioles would need to forfeit their highest remaining draft pick, which would be the 28th overall selection of the June draft if Gallardo’s deal doesn’t fall through. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was prepared to relinquish the 14th pick to sign Gallardo to a three-year, $35 million contract before the physical hit a snag and prevented an announcement on Tuesday.
Fowler’s arrival quells concerns about a corner outfield situation that was nothing short of abysmal in 2015 and is already depending on Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim to produce in his first year in the major leagues. The switch-hitting Fowler is expected to serve as the leadoff hitter, which will allow manager Buck Showalter to move All-Star third baseman Manny Machado to more of a run-producing spot in the starting lineup.
In 156 games for the Chicago Cubs last season, Fowler hit .250 with 17 home runs, 46 RBIs, and a .757 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Baltimore has finished 10th or worse in the AL in on-base percentage over the last four seasons, and Fowler’s .363 career mark will be ideal setting the table for Machado, Adam Jones, and Chris Davis. Even his career-low .346 OBP last year would have ranked third behind only Machado and Davis on the 2015 Orioles.
Though his fielding metrics suggest he’s been a below-average defensive player for much of his career, Fowler has played exclusively in center field and would presumably make the transition to either left or right field at a satisfactory level. Fowler turns 30 next month and has stolen 11 or more bases in each of the last seven seasons.
Fowler isn’t a superstar, but his unique skill set gives a powerful lineup more balance and a chance to be one of the best in the AL in 2016.