Bill Baer

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Dexter Fowler will test free agency again

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Outfielder Dexter Fowler says he will test free agency for the second time in as many seasons, MLB.com’s Andrew Simon reports. On SportsCenter, Fowler said, “I’m definitely going to be a free agency, but hopefully it happens a little bit quicker than last year.”

Fowler, 30, didn’t sign with the Cubs until the end of February this year after backing out of a deal with the Orioles. It turned out to be fortuitous for both sides as the Cubs went on to win the World Series. Fowler’s stock has certainly risen. He had his best season, batting .276/.393/.447 with 13 home runs, 48 RBI, 84 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 551 plate appearances while playing solid defense in center field. He hit .250 in the postseason, including a leadoff home run in Game 7 of the World Series against the Indians.

Fowler earned $8 million in 2016 on a one-year deal with the Cubs. His mutual option was for $9 million with a $5 million buyout. Fowler, entering a much weaker free agent market, will likely have an easier time commanding a multi-year contract.

Hot Stove Preview: Top Free Agent Catchers Available

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 16:  Wilson Ramos #40 of the Washington Nationals watches his RBI single during the during the third inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on August 16, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
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Continuing our position-by-position preview of the free agent market this offseason… let’s talk about catchers. If you missed the previous installment which looked at pitchers, click here.

1. Matt Wieters

Wieters could have become a free agent after last season, but he chose to accept the Orioles’ $15.8 million qualifying offer. Players typically haven’t accepted QO’s, so it was a bit of a surprise when Wieters did. He was, however, coming off of a shortened 2015 campaign due to Tommy John surgery and likely felt he could reestablish his value heading into a weaker free agent market.

Unfortunately for him, he didn’t have the best season. The switch-hitting backstop hit a meager .243/.302/.409 with 17 home runs and 66 RBI in 464 plate appearances. The Orioles certainly don’t want to pin their 2017 hopes on catching prospect Chance Sisco, so there’s a very high probability they make a $17.2 million qualifying offer to Wieters (assuming the new collective bargaining agreement doesn’t change the QO system). Wieters could again accept and again attempt to build up his value. But he’ll be 31 years old in May and might not ever live up to the offensive promise he had when he debuted in 2009. With Wilson Ramos injured, he’s very clearly the best free agent catcher on the market and as such, this is likely his best opportunity to sign a lucrative contract.

Though Wieters is only average with the bat, he still has 20-homer potential and is a good defender. He’s a good fit for a lot of teams out there. It wouldn’t be surprising if he’s able to command a four-year deal, but a three-year deal in the $50 million range is a safe bet.

2. Wilson Ramos

The Ramos story is a sad one. He was in the midst of a career year this year, which would’ve led to big bucks in free agency, but he suffered a freak injury near the end of September. Ryan Zimmerman made a poor throw home in an attempt to nail a runner, so Ramos jumped and landed awkwardly. He immediately pointed at his knee and needed help getting off the field. Ramos was diagnosed with a torn ACL and meniscus and underwent surgery last month. As a result,  he’s expected to miss 6-8 months, which puts him on track for a mid-season return.

Nevertheless, Ramos’ agent Wil Polidor told the Washington Post last week that he is still seeking a four- or five-year contract. The $17.2 million qualifying offer could be a wrench in his plans, however, assuming the Nationals make one. If Ramos rejects it, then the team that signs him would have to forfeit its highest available draft pick. For most, that means a first-round pick. For the 10 teams with the worst records in baseball this past season, it typically means a second-rounder. QO penalties have been a detriment to free agents as teams have been hesitant to part with them. For example, former teammate Ian Desmond didn’t sign until the end of February due to this.

Another wrench is that Ramos might have to move from behind the plate sooner rather than later due to the injury. He would have to learn a new position which would cut into his value, or become a DH, limiting his market to American League teams.

Ramos, 29, hit .307/.354/.496 with 25 doubles, 22 home runs, and 80 RBI in 523 plate appearances. That production might be too good for teams to pass up even knowing that Ramos won’t be ready to contribute until the summer.

3. Jason Castro

Castro, 29, has put up subpar numbers in three straight years for the Astros. He doesn’t hit for average, strikes out a ton, doesn’t walk, and doesn’t hit for enough power to make up for it. His best slugging percentage over the past three years was the .377 mark he put up this year.

Still, in this market, Castro will look pretty good, especially once Wieters and Ramos are off the board. In our new age where every team uses analytics, it’s tough to see teams wanting to commit to him beyond two years and it seems doubtful he’d have enough leverage to negotiate a third.

4. Geovany Soto

Soto is an interesting name. The 33-year-old played in only 26 games for the Angels and had his season end abruptly in August due to a right knee injury. When Soto did play, he hit .269/.321/.487 with five doubles and four homers in 86 plate appearances. Soto will come cheaply and might be a good gamble for smaller-market teams looking to strike lightning in a bottle.

The quality really starts to drop off beyond here. The best free agent catchers after these three are Kurt Suzuki, Nick Hundley, Chris Iannetta, Alex Avila, Carlos Ruiz (if the Dodgers decline his option), A.J. Ellis, and Dioner Navarro. They will all likely serve in back-up roles and as such, the contracts won’t be eye-popping. You’ll thank me for not wasting your time having written about them.

Video: Anthony Rizzo gives World Series Game 7 final out ball to Cubs owner Tom Ricketts

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 04:  Anthony Rizzo #44 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates during the 2016 World Series victory parade on November 4, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years after defeating the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in Game 7. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images
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When first baseman Anthony Rizzo caught the throw from third baseman Kris Bryant to clinch the World Series for the Cubs, he alertly stuffed the ball in his back pocket before celebrating. The ball is reportedly worth millions of dollars.

Rizzo, however, felt a debt of gratitude to Cubs owner Tom Ricketts. So, during Friday’s championship parade as he was addressing the crowd, Rizzo gave the ball to Ricketts. Rizzo said, “It only feels right for me to hand this ball over to Mr. Ricketts ’cause this is part of history forever.”