Surprise! The Cubs announced a series of roster moves Thursday before the players took live batting practice for the first time.
The Cubs traded OF/INF Chris Coghlan to the Oakland A’s for RHP Aaron Brooks. And the team re-signed OF Dexter Fowler to a one-year, $13 million contract that includes a mutual option for the 2017 season. To make room on the 40-man roster for Fowler, the Cubs placed LHP Zac Rosscup on the 60-day DL with left shoulder inflammation.
With Thursday’s moves, the 40-man roster stands at 40 players and there are 61 players on the Cubs’ Spring Training roster (40-man roster, plus 21 non-roster invitees).
Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Joe Maddon surprised everyone at the Cubs facility, including the players, Thursday. Shortly after pitchers and position players finished their drills, Maddon gathered his entire team on Field 6 around the mound. The Cubs were scheduled to take live BP for the first time, but Maddon said he had to talk to his players first.
Dexter Fowler, who was supposed to be in Florida taking his physical with the Orioles and finalizing the reported three-year contract, appeared in the right field corner with Theo Epstein. Fowler walked to the middle of the infield where the Cubs waited for what they thought Maddon had in store for them.
Dexter Fowler announced he was back, there was a thunderous ovation from the field and the players went wild as the assembled media tried to figure out what was going on. But as a Cubs chant started, it was obvious that Fowler was officially returning to the team that he made go in the second half of last season.
It was an unforgettable moment watching the players celebrate and rejoice Fowler’s return.
Theo Epstein said it made sense for the Cubs to re-sign Fowler. “If you don’t jump on an opportunity in February, you might regret it in May when attrition starts through the course of the season.”
Epstein explained that by acquiring Dexter Fowler and Aaron Brooks the Cubs “made some headway in addressing two of our potential vulnerabilities.”
Theo Epstein said the Cubs would not being trading any outfielders. The front office likes the mix that is currently on the roster.
Dexter Fowler re-signed with the Cubs on a one-year, $13 million guaranteed contract that includes a mutual option for the 2017 season. Fowler received an $8 million salary for this season (2016) and the $9 million mutual option includes a $5 million buyout ($13 million guaranteed). No word yet if the Cubs will be able to make Fowler a qualifying offer after the season if he declines the option.
Fowler is expected to see a bulk of the playing time in center field.
The Cubs stayed in constant contact with Fowler’s agent throughout the off-season.
“My heart’s here. I feel like the Cubs, they treated me with the utmost respect,” Fowler said Thursday. “With the off-season moves they made, you’ve got to go with what’s comfortable.”
Fowler wanted to tell his teammates that he was back with the team. Fowler said, “I think I owed it to the boys to tell them first.” Fowler was very happy in the world of social media that his return was kept quiet and was not leaked. Fowler drove in from Las Vegas on Wednesday night and took a physical.
Like John Lackey, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Trevor Cahill, Fowler took less money to return to the Cubs. Theo Epstein said that Fowler “went for the fit over the money.”
Anthony Rizzo told him good luck via text Wednesday night, Fowler did not say anything at the time but wanted to. Maddon almost texted Fowler congratulations about signing with the Orioles but was told to wait. When the players saw Fowler they thought he showed up to wish them luck and say good-bye.
Dexter Fowler reportedly left a three-year contract on the table with the Orioles. Fowler said he never agreed to terms with Baltimore. But he talked to Adam Jones and was expected to be in Florida on Thursday to finalize the deal. Multiple reports stated Fowler asked for an opt-out after one year late in the process and at that point the Orioles backed out. GM Dan Duquette said he did not know until Thursday that Fowler was not going to sign with the Orioles.
Chris Coghlan turned his career around with the Cubs over the last two seasons. Coghlan signed a minor league contract with a non-roster invite prior to the 2014 season. Coghlan is a solid player that did not fit with the current roster. And with more cost-effective options, trading Coghlan seemed inevitable before the end of Spring Training.
Chris Coghlan avoided arbitration in January with a one-year, $4.8 million contract for the upcoming season. Coghlan is a free agent at the end of the year.
The Cubs acquired RHP Aaron Brooks from the A’s for Chris Coghlan. Brooks has one minor league option left and is expected to begin the year with Triple-A Iowa.
The Cubs are going to use Brooks in a starting role in the minors.
The 24-year old Brooks is 3-5 in 15 appearances, 10 starts, in the big leagues over the last two seasons with the Royals and A’s. Brooks has allowed 54 runs on 85 hits with 17 walks and 40 strikeouts in 58 innings (8.38 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, 5.19 FIP).
Last season at the Triple-A level, Brooks was 7-5 in 20 games, 19 starts, with a 3.56 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. Brooks allowed 49 runs, 47 earned, on 127 hits with 21 walks and 103 strikeouts in 118 2/3 innings.
The A’s acquired Aaron Brooks, along with LHP Sean Manaea, from the Royals for Ben Zobrist last July.
Joe Maddon said Thursday that Dexter Fowler will hit leadoff on the days he plays, which will move Jason Heyward down to the five- or six-hole. Fowler and Ben Zobrist at the top of the lineup, on most days, gives Maddon two switch hitters and will put a dent in the opposing pitcher’s pitch count.
There was tons of speculation on the lineup Maddon could use on a regular basis, here is one possible Cubs lineup from Buster Olney: Dexter Fowler CF, Ben Zobrist 2B, Anthony Rizzo 1B, Kris Bryant 3B, Kyle Schwarber LF, Jason Heyward RF, Miguel Montero C, (pitcher’s spot), Addison Russell SS
And three spots on the Cubs’ bench: Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and David Ross
Keep in mind, Maddon gets to use a DH for the first two games of the regular season. The Cubs open on the road against the Angels.
The Cubs said Thursday there is plenty of playing time in the outfield to go around. Dexter Fowler is expected to be the regular centerfielder. Jason Heyward moves to right, and will still see time in center. But as Theo Epstein pointed out, not as much as he would have before the Cubs re-signed Fowler.
Jorge Soler will get playing time in left and in right and could be in a semi-platoon in left with Kyle Schwarber. The Cubs have plans to use Schwarber behind the plate. When Schwarber is catching, the Cubs starting outfield could be Soler (LF), Fowler (CF) and Heyward (RF).
Javier Baez is now Anthony Rizzo’s primary backup at first base. Maddon broke the news after Thursday’s practice. Kris Bryant is third on the team’s depth chart at first base.
Baez will still get playing time in center this spring.
Javier Baez is the Cubs backup at shortstop, second base, third base and first base.
The Cubs were able to structure Fowler’s contract to keep the payroll flexibility necessary for in-season moves. By inking Fowler to an $8 million contract and trading Chris Coghlan and his $4.8 million contract, the Cubs committed an additional $3.2 million, plus Aaron Brooks’ salary, to upgrade the outfield defense with Dexter Fowler.
According to the Sun-Times, the Cubs payroll for the season is roughly $150 million.
Theo Epstein said, “The way we were able to structure the contract, we’re still able to preserve our in-season flexibility.”
With Fowler re-signing, the Cubs first pick in June’s Draft will be in the third round. The Cubs forfeited their first and second round picks when the team signed RHP John Lackey and OF Jason Heyward.