Chaos. Panic. Disorder. The Orioles aren't getting their leadoff hitter after all and right now nobody knows why. What we do know is that Dexter Fowler, who had apparently been in agreement with the Orioles on a three year contract, has now signed a one year contract with his former team, the Chicago Cubs, with a mutual option for a second year. The agreement was announced by the Cubs early Thursday afternoon.
It's a surprise because you simply don't see it often in baseball, where a deal is reported done, pending physical, with one team, and then they go and sign with a different team without having actually taken the physical. It's not something that happens often. Off the top of my head, I don't even know the last time something has happened quite like this.
For O's fans, there's going to be a somewhat understandable impulse to have a negative knee-jerk reaction. After all, the O's were fairly directly scorned here. In some ways this is not far short of professional wrestling theater, the heel turn move where a guy drops his signature move on his old ally out of nowhere, then rips off his shirt to reveal he's actually joined forces with the other side. The Orioles just got power-bombed through the Spanish announcer's table.
When the dust settles, I think what we'll probably find is that the shorter contract offered by the Cubs is what lured Fowler back to Chicago. If he feels his 2015 was a dip in performance that he can overcome, then it's better for him to have the choice to be a free agent again in a year's time in what everyone agrees will be a weak market. He's probably not wrong about that, and it's his choice to make, but what a weird situation.
UPDATE: MLB Network's Jon Heyman suggests it had to do with Fowler wanting an early opt-out:
word on fowler is he insisted on an opt-out with orioles after 1 year. o's didnt want to do it #cubs— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 25, 2016
It's a perfectly rational stance for Fowler to take and the fact that the O's didn't want to give an opt-out after only one year is also a reasonable position to hold. Neither side's action in this story is weird - the weird part is whoever jumped the gun and leaked to all media that the deal was essentially done if it wasn't.
Did Fowler change his mind after agreeing in principle and insist on the opt-out? Did the Cubs approach Fowler after he'd actually agreed to a deal with the O's and offer the opt-out? A mutual option for a second year is effectively a player opt-out. Did some excited O's official start leaking that the deal was done without knowing the opt-out issue still had to be resolved, or believing the opt-out issue would be resolved?
We may never know. The collective baseball media was certainly surprised by the apparent course reversal. No one seems to have known until Fowler walked onto the field at the Cubs spring training facility in Arizona minutes before the deal was announced on Twitter.
I guess at least the Orioles will keep the #28 draft pick after all.