SARASOTA, FLA. — The Orioles collectively attempted to move on from the Dexter Fowler fiasco on Friday, one day removed from being blind-sided by news that the veteran outfielder was remaining with the Chicago Cubs instead of joining the Orioles.
Now, the club is left with more questions than answers — the most pressing being who will take over in right field and who will bat leadoff, holes the Orioles thought they had filled when it was widely reported that Fowler had agreed to a three-year, $33 million deal.
Fowler signed a one-year, $8 million deal to remain with the Cubs. With a $5 million buyout and $9 million mutual option for 2017, he is guaranteed to make at least $13 million. But that's still $2.8 million less than Fowler turned down when he declined the qualifying offer early this offseason.
Center fielder Adam Jones, who said Wednesday that Fowler told him he was joining the Orioles, sat at his corner locker in the home clubhouse in Sarasota and shrugged, noting that the team has plenty of internal options.
"It's a game of adjustments. You move on," Jones said. "I love the guys that we have here in-house. I think we have a terrific team. So, cool. I think that by him not agreeing to it, it opened up money at the All-Star break or at the deadline. And it gives other guys in here a chance. So, it's not that you're outsourcing. It gives guys that are already in this clubhouse an opportunity."
Plugging in Fowler's .363 career on-base percentage atop the batting order would have upgraded an Orioles club that ranked tied for 12th in the American League in on-base percentage (.307), and would have allowed the team to move third baseman Manny Machado down in the order. It also would have given the Orioles an established outfielder after a season that saw them start 11 different players in right field following the loss of longtime Oriole Nick Markakis.
In an offseason that saw the Orioles commit about $230 million in free-agent salaries — they retained first baseman Chris Davis, setup man Darren O'Day and catcher Matt Wieters while adding South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim and right-hander Yovani Gallardo — the team is still looking for what Fowler would have provided.
"Obviously anytime you can add a player like Dexter and what he brings to the table, especially for this team, I think he would have been a really good fit, just a guy who can get on base and steal bases, kind of take the focus off the hitter and make the pitcher a little more antsy," Davis said. "But I think it was almost like 'a cherry on top' thing for us, because I think the biggest thing was — after signing Darren and Matt and myself and bringing Kim [to join] the guys we have in here — the name we were really looking at was Yovani.
"He's a proven pitcher. He's a guy who throws a lot of innings every year. He's pitched in two more hitter-friendly than pitcher-friendly ballparks and he's won. I think he has the experience that I think we really lack as far as our pitching staff is concerned. I think that was the biggest move for us. Obviously, we would have loved to have Dex, but I think that would have been just kind of like an added bonus."
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said the team will continue to look for options for the empty corner-outfield spot. Meanwhile, the club will experiment with a number of players there.
Mark Trumbo, a first baseman by trade who was acquired from the Seattle Mariners before the Orioles re-signed Davis, could see time in right field. He worked in right during Friday's workout, but Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the plan was for him to work there before the Orioles knew they lost out on Fowler.
"He was going to be seen out there anyway, regardless of what happened [with Fowler]," Showalter said. "There's no question his arm will certainly play out there. He's got an above-average arm. He can really throw. I like that he's engaged in it. Whether it's first base, right field, third base, he's into it. It's not like '[OK], let's get this stuff out of the way, when do I hit?' I like what he brings. He's engaged in the competition."
Veteran Nolan Reimold, as well as Cuban outfielders Dariel Alvarez and Henry Urrutia, and Rule 5 draft pick Joey Rickard will also compete for playing time. Switch-hitting Jimmy Paredes, who was one of the team's top hitters in the first half of the 2015 season, will see time in the outfield this spring after spending winter ball concentrating on improving his glove.
"There were some happy people out there [Friday]," Showalter said of the opportunities presented to players by Fowler not coming.
There aren't many outfield options left on a barren free-agent market. Two more outfielders came off the board when veterans Will Venable and Shane Victorino signed with the Cleveland Indians and Cubs, respectively.
The Orioles have shown interest in free-agent outfielder Austin Jackson, who most recently played with the Cubs, and they also revisited trade talks with the Cincinnati Reds about outfielder Jay Bruce, who has long been linked to the Orioles.
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But otherwise, the remaining external options are unspectacular. The other free-agent outfield options are mostly platoon players, a class that includes David Murphy, Ryan Raburn, Alex Rios, Chris Denorfia, David DeJesus and Grady Sizemore. So there's no certainty any would be an upgrade over players on the Orioles' current roster.
After the Orioles re-signed Davis to play first base, it appeared that Trumbo would receive most of his at-bats as the designated hitter, but he could now get time in right field.
If the Orioles are comfortable with him there, they could still pursue free agent Pedro Alvarez — who would give the Orioles another left-handed power bat — to be the full-time designated hitter. Alvarez, who averaged about 28 homers per year over the past four seasons, was nontendered by the Pittsburgh Pirates during the offseason and is still looking for a job.
Whether the Orioles go with an internal solution or choose to look outside the organization, they are putting the Fowler foul-up behind them.
"I don't think there was any disappointment or anger or anything like that," Davis said. "I just thought everyone thought it was a head-scratcher."