Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond took their gambles last offseason. They are in position to hit the jackpot this time around.
In 2015, after declining the $15.8 million qualifying offer teams had to extend to free agents to receive Draft pick compensation if the player signed elsewhere, neither Fowler nor Desmond found long-term offers of interest. They both signed one-year commitments -- Fowler making $13 million from the Cubs and Desmond earning $8 million from the Rangers -- which, after strong 2016 efforts, puts them in great position this offseason amid one of the weaker free-agent markets in recent memory.
Seemingly afterthoughts a year ago, Fowler and Desmond -- who furthered enhanced his value by making a seamless move from shortstop to center field -- are among the prime talents on this year's free-agent market. Fowler was a key part to the Cubs' first World Series championship since 1908, filling the leadoff spot in the lineup and reaffirming his claim to being a well-above-average center fielder.
And this offseason? Fowler is listed as the fourth-best free agent on the market by MLB.com based on WARcel projections for 2017, and Desmond is listed sixth. This is not one of those eye-popping free-agent classes. But teams are still looking for ways to beef up their rosters, and free agency appeals to most of them because it only costs money, not top prospects, to add a player.
Justin Turner, who emerged as a force for the Dodgers, joined the organization three years ago on a Minor League contract after being released by the Mets. He is No. 1 on the list of top free agents, just ahead of Yoenis Cespedes, who opted out of the final two years and $47.5 million of his contract with the Mets, and slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who will play at age 34 next season.
In between Fowler and Desmond, at the No. 5 slot, is outfielder Josh Reddick, who signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Astros last week, even though his combined OPS against left-handed pitchers the past four seasons is .570. And in 47 games after the Dodgers acquired him at the non-waiver Trading Deadline, he hit only .258 with two home runs and nine RBIs.
Get the picture?
Fowler and Desmond, both of whom will play next season at age 31, look better every day. They also have the intangibles: Both were positives off the field, never getting into a pity party about their free-agent fiasco of a year ago, and always providing encouragement for teammates.
While Fowler was limited to 125 games last season because of a hamstring problem, he had a career-best 4.1 offensive WAR, was an All-Star for the first time in his career and drew 79 walks, which was tied for eighth in the National League. Given the talent coming up in the Cubs' system, Fowler's days at Wrigley could be over, but there are a dozen teams considered to have interest, including Chicago's longtime rival, the Cardinals.
Desmond, meanwhile, not only had an impact season at the plate, but caught the attention of the baseball world with his ability to play the outfield. A shortstop by trade, he fit into Texas initially as a left fielder, and then moved to center field after Delino DeShields was sent to the Minors.
Desmond wound up an All-Star for the second time in his career while putting to rest concerns about his struggles in 2015, when he hit .233 for the Nationals. He finished the season with a .285 batting average (second best of his career), a .335 on-base percentage (tied for the best) and 86 RBIs (eclipsed only by the 91 he amassed in 2014), to go along with 22 home runs.
More important for Desmond in terms of marketing, however, was the way he played center field. That opens new doors for him, because he could fit different needs for different teams, or he could become an upgraded Ben Zobrist as a utility player, who can play in the infield and outfield.
Free agency is thus a reward for both Desmond and Fowler after the way they handled being in limbo this past season.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.