NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. — Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette indicated Tuesday that it's unlikely that the club reconnects with free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler this offseason.
As the Orioles appear to beginning to distance themselves from their attempts to retain slugger Mark Trumbo, the club must find an everyday right fielder.
"Our outfield defense needs to improve," Duquette told MLB Network on Tuesday morning. "We need speedier outfielders to cover the ground. That will improve our pitching staff. We've got to replace the offense we've lost from Mark Trumbo. … He's not on our club now, so we're going to have to do something. He hit a lot of home runs for us."
Fowler could be one of the next outfield free-agent dominoes to fall at this week's winter meetings, and he fills not only the Orioles' need for outfield help but also the ability to bat leadoff. He is reportedly seeking a four-year deal worth $18 million annually and received offers from the St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays in recent days, according to Fox Sports.
The Orioles courted Fowler last offseason and believed to have a three-year deal in place with him, but he instead he re-signed with the Chicago Cubs for one year. He was a key component of the Cubs' historic World Series team.
Ultimately, Fowler's decision to remain in Chicago not only netted him a championship but also allowed him to enter the free-agent market one year later with more earning potential. That could take Fowler out of the Orioles' price range, even if the team completely turns the page on Trumbo.
Duquette was asked on MLB Network whether the Orioles could pursue Fowler again after last year's fiasco, which included Fowler's agent, Casey Close, publicly criticizing the Orioles and the media for their handling of the situation.
"I don't know if that's an option for us this year," Duquette said. "We tried to sign Dexter last year and to his credit, he made a good decision and it worked out for him. We were able to have a good ballclub, too. That's all in the past. You know, Dexter was betting on himself that he would be out there on the market that doesn't have many outfielders this year, and it looks like he made the right call."
Fowler is also tied to draft-pick compensation, so the Orioles would forfeit their first-round pick in order to sign him, making him more unlikely to be in play for them.
Also, if the Orioles aren't in pursuit of Fowler, who seems to be the best fit for their needs, it would seems less likely they can pursue other hitters who declined qualifying offers, like Edwin Encarnacion. The Orioles have been linked to outfielder Ian Desmond, another free agent tied to draft-pick compensation.
Still, it seems to all come back to their true desire to keep Trumbo. The Orioles made a four-year offer to Trumbo several weeks ago, but he turned it down.