The Cubs got lucky last year when Fowler surprised virtually everyone by signing with them, and his presence proved crucial when they lost Kyle Schwarber in the third game of the season. His leadoff homer in Game 7 of the World Series put an exclamation point on two highly productive seasons in Chicago.
But Fowler's due to get paid, and Theo Epstein's front office knows how to separate sentimentality from business decisions. The Cubs won't commit four or five years to an outfielder entering his age-31 season when they have Jake Arrieta in his walk year and so many young players moving toward big paychecks.
He's a switch-hitting leadoff man who played well in center field last season and would be a defensive upgrade for almost any team if he slid over to left field. He's an unselfish clubhouse leader whose production has ascended since he joined the Cubs at the same time as manager Joe Maddon and Jon Lester -- in other words, at the exact right time.
Using OPS+ as the barometer, Fowler has been better than the average player six years in a row, and he was at his best (126 OPS+) last season. He keeps himself in great shape and crossed the threshold of age 30 gracefully, delivering an fWAR of 3.3 in 2015 and 4.7 in '16.
In a market where the Astros committed $52 million over four years to Josh Reddick, Fowler's market would seem to start at $60 million over four years. It could grow from there if one of multiple teams looking for outfielders decide he's the guy who will get them to the World Series or back to the postseason.
Here are 10 -- yes, 10! -- teams who could emerge as landing spots for Fowler, ranked according to where he could have the biggest impact:
1. Washington Nationals
The pedal's to the metal in Washington after Max Scherzer's National League Cy Young Award-winning season ended with a third NL Division Series loss in three appearances. Fowler would be an upgrade in center field, allowing Trea Turner to move to left and Jayson Werth (entering his age-38 season and one year from free agency) to become a fourth outfielder. Or -- forgive me for burying the headline -- Fowler gives general manager Mike Rizzo the flexibility to put Turner into a package to land Chris Sale and David Robertson from the White Sox.
2. San Francisco Giants
They've got the rotation to get back to the Series but need another quality outfielder. Fowler's a two-way upgrade who could play center -- turning Denard Span, who hit .217 against lefties last year, into a platoon player -- or left field, replacing departing free agent Angel Pagan. Their leadoff men were 28th in the Majors in OPS last season.
4. St. Louis Cardinals
It's payback time after the Cubs raided the Cardinals' roster last offseason, luring Jason Heyward and John Lackey north. Fowler's presence in center field could be the first step back for a team that finished 17 1/2 games behind the Cubs last year. He allows Randal Grichuk to move to a corner outfield spot and could make it possible to put Stephen Piscotty or Grichuk into a trade for Sale.
5. Texas Rangers
As strong as these guys have been, they haven't had the same primary center fielder three seasons in a row since Oddibe McDowell's run in the 1980s. Fowler fills a need there as well as for a leadoff man, as Texas' leadoff men had a .311 on-base percentage last year, 26th in the Majors. His presence would be great for Nomar Mazara and Jurickson Profar -- although another thought is he makes Mazara more expendable for a Sale trade.
6. Seattle Mariners
General manager Jerry Dipoto is once again in deal-making mode, having already added Jean Segura, Danny Valencia and Carlos Ruiz, among others. Fowler would be a great add for a lineup that currently features former Ranger Leonys Martin in center and Ben Gamel in left. The Fowler-Segura combo would look formidable in front of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. A Rangers-Mariners bidding war might be the best thing that can happen for Fowler.
7. Los Angeles Dodgers
Will they be financially aggressive? That's a question that remains to be answered. But because he's always hit a little better right-handed than left-handed, Fowler would help balance the lineup while upgrading an outfield badly lacking in veteran presence.
8. Cleveland Indians
Did you notice the difference between Cleveland's outfield and Chicago's outfield in the World Series? Pretty sure dealmakers Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff did. There's money to spend with Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis both in free agency. Fowler could allow Tyler Naquin to move to a corner spot, where he seems better suited.
9. New York Mets
There are lots of balls being juggled here, even after the Cespedes deal. Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce are both entering walk years and being shopped in trades. Fowler stops the temptation from using Cespedes in center and adds a consistent presence atop a lineup that may have to manufacture runs.
10. Baltimore Orioles
Wouldn't it be something if Dan Duquette put last year's reversal by Fowler behind him and ponied up to get him? The window to win behind Manny Machado is starting to close, and outfield needs remain. Fowler's a different player than Trumbo but provides an alternative to paying heavily to keep the home run champ. Fowler probably won't be as concerned about a no-trade clause with a bigger contract.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.