Dexter Fowler Re-Signs With the Chicago Cubs: How Does Their Outfield Work Now?

Dexter Fowler is a Chicago Cub again, after some kind of pro wrestling story arc played out over the course of perhaps 45 minutes on Thursday afternoon. Which, wow. There’s a lot of emotion here. That’s what makes this story so fascinating, and we’ll have a lot more coming on the site here in the next few hours and days.

As it is, Fowler is back with the Cubs, for at least one season (we’ll have a piece on that move, by itself, soon), and Coghlan is out, and so the Cubs have improved their outfield depth to a dizzying level, unmatched anywhere else in baseball (save perhaps in St. Louis, funnily enough). Now the question is: who plays? And the follow-up: where? And, oh yeah: when? That’s what this piece will focus on.

Most of the Time, Against Right-Handers

At this point, traditional ways of sketching out lineups and defensive arrangements don’t describe what the Cubs will be able to do with any accuracy. All we can do is talk about what will often happen, and then what will happen somewhat less often, and then what will happen even less often than that. In general, against right-handed pitchers and assuming other factors to be neutral, Kyle Schwarber should remain the primary left fielder. The difference will be that Fowler steps into center field on most such days, with Jason Heyward sliding to right field. Other articles on this very site will soon explore who bats where, but Fowler figures to be the primary leadoff man, crowding Ben Zobrist out of the top-of-the-order picture (and, maybe, making my suggestion that Zobrist bat ninth a bit easier to implement). This is the best defensive alignment the team can field, and with Fowler’s OBP subbed in for Soler’s, it also makes it really hard for a righty to find outs in the lineup.

Against Right-Handers, Danks Theory Days

There will, of course, always be Wachas. (Michael Wacha was Joe Maddon’s favorite target for what the Internet long ago dubbed “Danks Theory” lineups last season. The Danks Theory holds that it makes sense to start same-handed batters against certain pitchers, who have demonstrated reverse platoon splits and also have the arsenal (usually, a very good changeup is involved) to support that concept.) On those days, look for Soler to play instead of Fowler (the weakest of the three starters against right-handed hurlers). On those days, it will go Schwarber, Heyward, Soler, just as the plan appeared to be until this morning.

Other Days, Against Right-Handers

At other times, Maddon might look at the opposing team’s bullpen and see a number of available, effective lefties, and decide that he doesn’t want to be so loaded with lefties in his starting lineup that he has to burn his bench when a reliever comes on to neutralize them. On those days, look for Soler to start in left field, with Schwarber sliding behind the plate to give Miguel Montero a day off. (We should revisit, soon, the notion that using David Ross as a pairing with Jon Lester, rather than in a strict platoon/backup role, is damaging to a team that has almost boundless offensive potential.) One assumes that almost every time Fowler and Heyward are both on the field, Fowler will be in center field, and Heyward will be in right. This situation should be no exception.

Most Days, Against Left-Handers

Ahh, here, it gets juicy. Who sits for Soler when a lefty starts for the opposing team: Schwarber, whose opposite-field power promises success against southpaws, but who struggled against them in 2015? Or Heyward, whose longer track record only proves he has a larger-than-normal platoon split skill? Defensive value more than breaks the tie; Schwarber should sit in those spots, or slide to catcher in place of Montero, if Ross is unable to start that day. Again, the outfield should shake out Soler, Fowler, Heyward.

Danks Theory Days, Against Lefties

Here, it’s straightforward enough. Soler stays on the bench, and waits to come in if the other team should bring on a tough lefty late, when any of Schwarber, Heyward, or Montero are due up. In the meantime, Schwarber, Fowler, and Heyward start.

Other Days, Against Left-Handers

Finally, certain lefty starters demand to have the lineup stacked against them, one righty after another. This is the only time, barring injury, that any of the auxiliary outfield options should see much of the field. In order to get lefties out of the picture entirely, Maddon can shift Kris Bryant out to left field, start Javier Baez at third base, and have Fowler and Soler in center and right, respectively.


The really wild thing is that there remain, beyond these, unexplored permutations of the lineup. A lot of things can happen. As mind-blowing a sequence as it was when everything came down, and as many different ways as things could go from here, one thing shines through extraordinarily clearly: the Cubs just got a lot better.And they have many, many more options.

Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports.

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12 comments on “Dexter Fowler Re-Signs With the Chicago Cubs: How Does Their Outfield Work Now?”

I used the same exact analogy to describe this signing. Really incredible.


What bothers me about sitting Schwarber against lefties is he has to have opportunities in order to improve as a hitter. He has too much potential to be a platoon player, which he could turn into if he doesn’t get a steady diet of left handed pitching to hit against.

Regarding Soler, his trade value couldn’t be higher right now after his playoff performance. He’d be a nice trade piece for anyone willing to take a chance on his upside, unlike Baez who’s versatility is more of an asset on the Cubs roster and would stay put. Interesting times.


I just can’t see Maddon taking Schwarber’s bat out of the lineup so he can be slightly better defensively.

To me, there’s little doubt that Soler is the odd man out 8 days out of 10.


Well this has been a crazy morning. Beyond improving the team and flexibility for this year, I’m curious if this move may also serve to improve Soler’s potential trade value by giving Maddon and the analytics team greater opportunity to pick and choose spots to best maximize Soler’s success.


Is it good having Soler play part-time? Fowler alleviates some concern should Soler turn into a bust, but Maddon has his work cut out for him trying to maximize team wins while fully developing the young players.


I’m not sure it is for his development, but I would concur with your previous comment that playing time for Schwarber is more important. He can’t just sit against lefties…that won’t fly in the postseason.

The balance between go for it now and development is really a tough one…


It blows my mind that we’re speaking of bench depth of the quality of Soler and Baez now. Even last year, we had Mike Baxter for part of the season!


I simply cannot believe we traded Soler for Fowler. If that’s tge case, count me out of all the euphoria.

If we traded 4th OF Cogs for 4th OF Fowler, count me in.

Schwarbs, Soler, Baez too–all need REPS–and will all be far more productive than a 30 yr old above-avg player.


I’m with you on that Guz. Soler should be in the lineup as much as possible and the same for Schwarber. Fowler as a 4th OF is fine, especially for defense in LF late in games or as a PH. Fowler should only start when an injury pops up or someone needs a bench day.


The thing you get with Fowler is insurance against Soler being a bust. I am not suggesting Soler will be, but if you really want to get crazy and get PECOTA involved, his 90 pct is higher than Fowler’s but is 10 pct is lower. In other words, you’re trading a potentially higher ceiling by ensuring a higher floor.

The thing you have to also take into consideration is Bryant, Russell and Schwarber. This is still a very young team so the variability in performance can possibly swing through a wide range. Fowler and Heyward will narrow the range of variability, but the trick Maddon has to pull off is maximizing the upside of Soler, Schwarber, Russell, Bryant and Baez. That’s a lot to consider, so the more constants you have (and I mean good contstants) the more likely you are minimizing downside risk.

The game for 2016 is winning the division. This team, as constructed and with high expectations, needs to guard against getting stuck in the one game WC again.

Don’t trade Soler. We have Fowler this year, but he may opt out next year. Soler is young and has unlimited potential. Be patient Cubs. Depth is a great asset to have at any position.

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