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Dexter Fowler will be a free agent, but he's not counting out a return to Cubs

CBS Sports

Center fielder Dexter Fowler of the world-champion Cubs has a $9 million mutual option for 2017 in the one-year contract he signed in late February. Since a mutual option requires both sides -- i.e., player and club -- to agree to the terms for the option to be in force, it takes only one side to decline it. While it's not a surprise, that's exactly what's going to happen.

As ESPN reports , Fowler on Thursday says he's going to become a free agent this offseason, which means he's going to decline his half of that mutual option. This is a very rational decision by Fowler. Last offseason, receiving a qualifying offer artificially limited his market, so he wound up returning to the Cubs at rates well below what he would've received on an open market.

"I'm definitely going to be a free agent, but hopefully it happens a little bit quicker than last year," Fowler said, per ESPN. "You can't control what goes on, but I loved my time in Chicago and I'm definitely not counting them out, but we'll see what God has planned for us now."

This season, Fowler was of course a core member of the World Series winners, and along the way he batted .276/.393/.447 with 13 home runs and 13 stolen bases in 125 games. As well, Fowler's deeper positioning in the outfield helped his defensive metrics rebound and once again established him as a plus fielder at an up-the-middle position.

Throw in his reputation as an excellent teammate, and it's clear that Fowler will do a lot better than $9 million on the free agent market, even at age 30 and even with another qualifying offer likely headed his way. It's also entirely possible that he'll wind up back with the Cubs, but for now Fowler's headed to the market and probably the biggest payday of his career.