SARASOTA, FLA. — Tuesday began with the Orioles prepared to finalize their deal with right-hander Yovani Gallardo. It ended with their agreement with Gallardo on hold, but their offseason of unprecedented spending taking a turn toward another big-money signing.
The Orioles agreed to terms with free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler on a three-year, $35 million deal, according to an industry source. The deal, which is pending Fowler passing his club physical exam, does not include a player opt-out clause nor a club option for additional seasons.
The pending addition of Fowler gives a power-packed Orioles lineup some much-needed on-base capabilities and a de facto leadoff hitter who would allow third baseman Manny Machado to slide down the order. Fowler also would likely become the team's starting right fielder, a position where 11 different players started for the Orioles last season.
The Orioles agreed with Fowler on Tuesday evening as the club was awaiting the results of additional tests for right-hander Yovani Gallardo's team physical, the only hurdle to finalizing his pending three-year, $35 million deal.
Team doctors wanted additional diagnostic tests on Gallardo's right shoulder after reviewing the MRI from his physical exam performed Monday. Gallardo has no history of shoulder issues.
If both deals go through, the Orioles will have committed nearly $285 million to free agents this offseason, the most of any major league club. Their payroll will also surpass the $150 million mark, far surpassing last year's Opening Day club-record 25-man roster payroll of $119 million.
Both Fowler and Gallardo declined the $15.8 million qualifying offers from with their previous teams, so they are tied to draft-pick compensation, meaning the Orioles would lose their first two draft picks in order to sign them. Those would be their first-round pick, currently the 14th overall selection, and the 29th overall pick, which was compensation for losing left-hander Wei-Yin Chen to the Miami Marlins via free agency.
The market for both players was murky because teams were hesitant to give up draft picks tied to signing them. The Orioles spent the offseason weighing the costs of giving up their picks, but appear to be placing an emphasis on winning now while risking future player development. Despite losing the picks, the Orioles still have four picks in the draft's first 91 selections. And the moves allow the Orioles to add two major free agents to deals that can be considered below market value.
If the deals go through, it would be the second time in the past three years that the Orioles signed two qualifying-offer free agents in the opening days of spring training. In 2014, they signed right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million deal, forfeiting their first-round pick, and then agreed to a one-year, $8 million deal with outfielder Nelson Cruz that cost the team its second-round pick.
Fowler, an eight-year veteran who turns 30 on March 22, comes to the Orioles after one season with the Chicago Cubs, following one with the Houston Astros and six with the Colorado Rockies.
He owns a career .363 on-base percentage, so adding Fowler — as well as South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim — should boost an Orioles batting order that tied for 12th in the American League with a .307 team on-base percentage in 2015.
It also gives the Orioles batting order — which was right-handed heavy before signing Kim and retaining Davis — some additional balance and versatility. The switch-hitting Fowler has batted first in 536 of his 817 career starts with 114 career steals.
He is coming off a solid 2015 season with the Cubs, hitting .250/.346/.411 with career bests of 17 homers and 102 runs scored in 156 games. His 46 RBIs and 20 steals both marked the second-highest totals of his career. His .346 on-base percentage would've been third best on the Orioles a season ago, but it was Fowler's lowest figure since his first season in 2008.
His best season came in 2012, when he batted .300/.389/.474 with 11 triples, 13 homers and a career-high 53 RBIs in 143 games.
Defensively, Fowler has made all 813 of his starts in center field, and thus gives the club an option at the position behind Adam Jones, who battled various injuries last season. Fowler has played just one major league inning in right.
The deal was first reported by MASNsports.com and terms were first reported by ESPN.
Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this story.