Dexter Fowler's return to Cubs a gut punch for Orioles

Nope, he's not an Oriole after all. In a move that stunned baseball on Thursday, Dexter Fowler re-signed with the Cubs. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Dexter Fowler is headed back to the Chicago Cubs. And the Baltimore Orioles are headed back to the drawing board.

Two days after Fowler had reportedly reached an agreement on a multiyear deal with Baltimore, the free-agent outfielder changed course and signed with the Cubs, the team he played for last season. According to reports, the last-minute 180 had to do with an opt-out clause: Fowler wanted one, but the Orioles, who aren't fans of the opt-out in general, didn't.

Regardless of the reason, it's an absolute gut punch for the Orioles, a team that hasn't had a legit leadoff hitter since Brian Roberts in 2009. Last season, Buck Showalter used seven leadoff hitters, not to mention 10 right fielders. Fowler was supposed to be the answer to both problems -- the last piece of the puzzle for an Orioles lineup that, with him, was looking like one of most complete in the American League. Without Fowler, the O's must now figure out how to fill the hole in right field and at the top of the order.

Offseason trade acquisition Mark Trumbo, whose best position is first base, can also play right field. Projected to serve as the primary designated hitter, he's probably the most logical candidate to fill the void in right. If that's the case, the DH slot suddenly becomes vacant. Lefty sluggers Pedro Alvarez and Jay Bruce are two names that have been mentioned during the offseason as potential targets for the Orioles, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the Birds' plan B involved one of them. Alvarez is a free agent and is still unsigned. Bruce would require a trade: He's still under contract with the Cincinnati Reds and was reportedly headed to the Toronto Blue Jays in a trade earlier this week, but the deal fell through.

If the Orioles decide they would rather have Trumbo remain the primary DH, they have several in-house options they could audition in right field, including Nolan Reimold, Dariel Alvarez, Ryan Flaherty and Jimmy Paredes, all of whom spent time at the position last season. Alternatively, they could dig deeper into the free-agent bargain bin and sign an outfielder like Will Venable or David Murphy. At bat, Manny Machado, Hyun Soo Kim and Reimold are all possibilities to hit leadoff.

The good news is, now the Orioles won't have to give up the 28th overall pick, which they would've had to surrender if they had signed Fowler. But that's a small consolation -- microscopic, in fact -- for Orioles fans who thought they had finally found themselves a right fielder.