Cubs OF Dexter Fowler proving he's worth big money

Dexter Fowler has been red-hot during the second half of the season, igniting the Cubs' offense while driving up his price in free agency this winter. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs leadoff man Dexter Fowler is making his case to stick around as he prepares for free agency after this season. The 29-year-old Fowler has been one of the hottest Cubs since the all-star break, setting the table for an offense which has come alive.

Consider this: Going into Tuesday’s game, the Cubs have taken a major-league high 108 walks in the second half, while Fowler has accounted for 25 percent of them. His 27 free passes are second in baseball to Joey Votto since the all-star break.

He's doing this with not only a pennant race to worry about, but free agency not too far after.

“I love it here,” he said recently. “Of course I would want to stay.”

But the Cubs are going to have to pay handsomely for his services, as his dismal first half is in the rear-view mirror. His second half is a reminder of what he can be: an on-base machine with a little pop. Fowler is getting on 43.8 percent of the time since the all-star break, raising his on-base percentage for the season to .341. That’s still a ways from his career .366 mark, but at least his second half proved his first half was a fluke, not a trend.

Fowler struggled with several tough calls from home plate umpires as he was part of a group of players that met with league official Joe Torre while the team was in New York. The strike zone was one topic on the agenda. The borderline calls might have thrown Fowler off his game a little. But he regrouped and rediscovered what he wanted to swing at.

“I really haven’t changed much,” Fowler said. “Just playing my game.”

His game has helped the Cubs immensely. According to ESPN Stats and Information the team is 7-15 when he fails to reach base, 16-22 when he reaches just once and an impressive 38-15 when he’s on base two or more times. He’s the ignition to the engine, just like all leadoff men. It prompted newcomer Dan Haren to single him out.

“I’ve been really impressed with him,” Haren said, recently citing some long at-bats which ended with Fowler on-base.

The Cubs don’t have a lot in their farm system ready to take over in center field or at the leadoff position. First-round picks Albert Almora and Billy McKinney are in Double-A, with McKinney having the better season, but it’s one thing to be developing nicely and another to be ready to take over the leadoff role on a contending major league team. That person is expected to get on-base. That's what Fowler does.

What will he cost? Plenty. His career on-base mark is higher than Jacoby Ellsbury who cashed in with the New York Yankees to the tune of seven years at $21 million per year after a career season in 2013, when he stole 52 bases while reaching base 35.5 percent of the time. He was about the same age as Fowler is now. Angel Pagan is a good example from the other end of the spectrum. He signed for 4 years and $40 million after 2012, and his career on-base percentage is just .329.

Even with a little hometown discount Fowler deserves close to Ellsbury-type money. His services are worth close to that $20 million plateau more and more players are reaching. Four years at $70-80 million sounds like a good deal doesn’t it?

Fowler is proving he just might deserve it.