The lasting memory of Dexter Fowler in 2016 has to be his historic leadoff homer in Game 7 of the World Series:
Of course, his Cubs would go on to win the game and now he's a hero in Chicago for the rest of his life.
His timing in hitting free agency (again) couldn't be any better, as Fowler is coming off a career year. He set career highs in OPS+ (126) and WAR (4.2), the latter thanks in part to better defensive positioning. Fowler is a prototypical leadoff man who hit .276/.393/.447 with 25 doubles, seven triples, 13 homers, 13 steals and 84 runs in 125 games this past season. Team this with him hitting .272/.389/.463 in the second half of 2015 and Fowler has had a career season and a half with the Cubs.
Better yet for Fowler, the free-agent crop of center fielders past him consists of guys who ruined their value (Carlos Gomez), are arguably playing out of position (Ian Desmond) or have no business playing in center (Colby Rasmus, Angel Pagan or even Yoenis Cespedes).
The trade market doesn't appear flush with any prototypical leadoff-man-CF either.
Basically, if a team is looking for a leadoff man who plays center, there is one good option this offseason and it's Fowler. Since Fowler will be 31 next year, most informed estimates have Fowler getting somewhere in the four-year, $60 million range. Many teams can afford that. There are a lot of mutually beneficial partnerships possible.
Let's run down the teams that could use Fowler.
Without Fowler, the Cubs don't have an obvious leadoff man (Ben Zobrist? A back-to-form Jason Heyward?) and center field would be either the unproven Albert Almora or right fielder Heyward. I've already argued that the Cubs could benefit from bringing Fowler back and trading both Jorge Soler and Almora as part of an effort to grab a cost-controlled starting pitcher and late-inning bullpen help. Most of what we've seen thus far in terms of hot stove reporting suggests the Cubs are more set to move on, but that's a familiar refrain, no?
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cubs took Jason Heyward and John Lackey from the Cardinals last offseason, so one good turn (or two) deserves another, right? The Cardinals really need to get away from hitting Matt Carpenter leadoff while center field was an issue last season. Probably the biggest discussion point around St. Louis regarding the 2017 Cardinals right now is who plays center field. So they need a center fielder and leadoff man. There's one guy who solves both problems and he's readily available. Do the math. Perfect fit here.
New York Mets
Signing Fowler wouldn't happen until the Mets lose out on Cespedes (and they might). They would also probably want to deal Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce or Michael Conforto first, too, since they operate like a mid-market team despite playing in the Big Apple.
If those things happened, Fowler would be a very good fit, playing center between, say, Granderson and Conforto. He would then be a good table-setter for the rest of the lineup.
San Francisco Giants
Denard Span hit .266 with a .331 OBP last season while showing as a subpar defender in some metrics. Perhaps he benefits from a move to left field and down in the order. As things stand, the Giants have a hole in left field. Fowler slotting in front of the likes of Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence looks rather dangerous while helping to solve the left field issue by moving Span over.
Los Angeles Dodgers
This one would require a position change because Joc Pederson is definitely a better defensive player. It seems the Dodgers have a bit of a logjam in the outfield right now with Andrew Toles, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig and Trayce Thompson being corner options, but this front office isn't scared to shake things up. Unless Toles' .314/.365/.505 line in 115 plate appearances in a season in which he started in Class A-Advanced was real, the Dodgers need a leadoff man, too. A trade of Puig and signing of Fowler isn't a major long shot.
Leonys Martin hit .247 with a .306 on-base percentage last season. If he keeps playing everyday, he needs to be in the bottom part of the order. Also, there's room to move him to a corner spot with Ben Gamel currently looking like the right fielder.
How nice would Fowler look hitting leadoff in front of a Seth Smith/Danny Valencia platoon and then the powerful Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager trio? Assuming no injuries, that's easily a 100-plus run season for Fowler.
Desmond hits free agency, so there's a hole in center and the Rangers never really settled on a leadoff man last season (Shin-Soo Choo did it the most at 40 times). There isn't really much more to be said. This is a playoff team with money where Fowler is an absolutely perfect fit.
It would be surprising to see the A's spend on Fowler this offseason, but they came from out of seemingly nowhere to ink Yoenis Cespedes a few years ago. Fowler's a fit here, too. The A's don't have a good leadoff option on the roster while center field is right now likely to be ticketed for someone like Brett Eibner.
(I still think it makes more sense for both teams if Almora is manning center field for the A's next year while Fowler is in Wrigley playing behind Sonny Gray once every five games -- but my last name isn't Beane or Epstein).
Toronto Blue Jays
Another fit that involves a position change for Fowler, as Kevin Pillar is clearly the superior defender in center. Still, the Jays don't really have a good option to hit leadoff in front of their middle-order power and their corner outfielders are currently Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera. If both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are out the door, the Jays need to upgrade the offense somehow.
George Springer was good as a leadoff man last season, but moving him down a spot isn't out of the question. It would put high-upside youngster Alex Bregman eighth or even ninth and, man, that sounds like a stacked lineup. Fowler-Springer-Jose Altuve-Carlos Correa as a top four could be ridiculous.