What a shocking turn of events! The Cubs re-signed center fielder Dexter Fowler to a one-year deal after trading outfielder Chris Coghlan to the Oakland Athletics. Fowler surprised his teammates with the news by walking onto the field in street clothes as the team performed drills. “With the social media these days, it’s hard to keep something quiet,” Fowler said afterward. “I owed it to the boys to tell them first.” Fowler drove down from Las Vegas late Wednesday to take his physical. The one-year deal is for $8 million and includes a $9 million mutual option for 2017, which the Cubs can buy out for $5 million.
“This is where my heart is,” Fowler said. The signing came two days after Fowler had been linked to a deal with the Baltimore Orioles. Media reports had said Fowler and the Orioles had agreed to a three-year deal pending a physical. Fowler said he had been negotiating with Baltimore, but didn’t give them a verbal agreement. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Fowler’s insistence on a buyout clause was the main reason the talks with the outfielder resulted in no deal. “We made a very competitive offer,” Duquette said. “There was not an agreement to terms because they kept insisting on an opt-out. I don’t see [and] club ownership doesn’t see the value in that type of arrangement to the Orioles. If we are going to guarantee a contract, it should be a contract.” Fowler’s agent, Casey Close had some words for the Orioles and said they intentionally ignored free agency rules. “In my 25 years in this business, never before have I witnessed such irresponsible behavior on so many fronts,” he said in a statement posted online. “Both the Orioles front office and members of the media were so busy recklessly spreading rumors that they forgot or simply chose not to concern themselves with the truth.” Cubs president Theo Epstein and Close stayed in touch throughout the off-season after Fowler turned down the Cubs’ one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer. Fowler said another deal to his liking never came with another team. Epstein and Close came up with the idea to surprise the team mid-workout. “I was happy for Dex,” Epstein said. “He deserves a great moment. We hatched a little plan and were able to pull it off.” To make the surprise work, Fowler had to ignore congratulatory texts from teammates like Anthony Rizzo, who also thought Fowler had signed with the Orioles. Rizzo was very surprised about Fowler’s decision to re-sign and said teammates were thrilled to welcome him back.
“Ran into Theo yesterday and he said, ‘Hey, I got a surprise for you guys.’ But when someone says they have a surprise, you think elephant, giraffe; you don’t know. That was the last thing on my mind,” Rizzo said. Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel was just as surprised. “I had no idea,” he said. “Joe said we were going to have a moment and I thought for sure he was bringing in some circus animal or some type of weird magician doing something.”
The Fowler signing means Jason Heyward can move back to right field, while Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber will share time in left. But Heyward will likely see some time in center as well. “We feel great about our outfield mix,” Epstein said. “It takes more than three guys to get through a championship season. It gives us a lot of impact depth.”
Cubs sign four-time Gold Glove outfielder Shane Victorino to a minor-league deal. Victorino earns $1 million if he makes the big-league club plus another $1 million in bonuses. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity to come in and be a part of something hopefully that’s special,” said Victorino, who might be best known at Wrigley for the beer that was thrown on him as he was catching a fly ball during an August game in 2009.
“I’ve been blessed in my career to be part of a couple special championships in special cities. I always tell myself, being a fan of the game, when there’s a 100-plus-year drought for a championship, you always want to be the first to be a part of it. At the end of the day it’s not about playing time, it’s not about where things are. It’s about winning.” Victorino will switch-hit again as he attempts to make the team as a fifth outfielder. He gave up switch-hitting two years ago while dealing with back issues. Victorino has a career .730 OPS as a lefty versus right-handed pitchers and a .859 OPS as a righty against left-handers. “Two years removed from back surgery I’m very excited to be back switch-hitting, trying to be the dynamic player I once was,” he said. Victorino is a big believer in the advantages of hitting from both sides and he also believes it helps him as an athlete.
Left handed pitcher Zac Rosscup was placed on the 60-day disabled list because of left shoulder inflammation, effective April 3rd. Rosscup, who had a 4.39 ERA in 33 appearances with the team in 2015, was placed on the 15-day disabled list on June 17th with the same ailment and didn’t rejoin the Cubs until September. “It’s been around a while,” Rosscup said. “I dealt with it since last year. It was lingering. They want to make sure I have enough time to get rid of it so I’m 100 percent.”
Infielder Christian Villanueva broke his right fibula during infield practice Sunday and the expectation is he’ll need surgery. He was hurt when he landed wrong after leaping for the ball. “It’s just crazy,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s going to be out for an extended period of time. It’s just really unfortunate. This kid came in ready to go. He made a great impression on us at the end of last season – a very good infielder and he was starting to hit.” Villanueva opened the season at AA Tennessee because Kris Bryant opened in Iowa, but he moved up when Bryant was promoted. He hit .257 with 20 home runs combined. He was acquired with pitcher Kyle Hendricks at the 2012 trade deadline from the Texas Rangers for Ryan Dempster.