Cubs

Cubs looking at CF options with Dexter Fowler declining qualifying offer

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Cubs looking at CF options with Dexter Fowler declining qualifying offer

As expected, Dexter Fowler formally declined the qualifying offer by Friday’s deadline, knowing he will be able to command far more than a one-year, $15.8 million deal after such a strong finish with the Cubs.

Fowler will get paid for his on-base skills (.363 career percentage), relative youth (30 next season) and passable defense at a premium position (center field), meaning the Cubs will likely have to replace the leadoff guy for a team that rolled into the National League Championship Series. 

The Cubs met with Casey Close – the agent who also represents pitcher Zack Greinke and outfielder Alex Gordon – during this week’s general manager meetings at the Boca Raton Resort and Club.

“We’ve maintained dialogue with Casey Close about Dexter, but it’s really early in this process,” team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday in South Florida. “We’ve brainstormed a number of trade possibilities in center field, as well as other free agents and had some dialogue, but nothing that’s really moved down the field yet.”

[MORE: Will Theo Epstein build 2016 ‘super-team’ or try to keep window open longer for Cubs?]

The Cubs can see if Scott Boras is willing to do a “pillow contract” for Denard Span, who played only 61 games during an injury-plagued season and still put up a .796 OPS. But it’s also telling that the Washington Nationals didn’t make Span a qualifying offer.

Gerardo Parra is another player the Cubs have on their radar. Parra can play all three outfield positions and is coming off a season where he hit .291 with 14 homers and 51 RBI for the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles. Parra’s versatility, left-handed bat and age – he will be 29 next year – are appealing.  

The Cubs appreciate Ben Zobrist’s overall game, but they don’t see Joe Maddon’s super-utility guy as an every-day option to play center field.  

WEEI.com identified the Cubs and Kansas City Royals as possible fits for Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., an outstanding defender who could be moved with new president Dave Dombrowski now running baseball operations at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox used a first-round pick on Bradley in 2011, Epstein’s final year as their general manager, and the Cubs have repeatedly picked up players and staffers who used to work in Boston. Dombrowski is also known as an aggressive executive who won’t have the same emotional attachment to homegrown Red Sox.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

But any hopes the Cubs once had for Bradley being a buy-low candidate might have disappeared when he got hot in August and September (nine homers, 40 RBI), raising his overall OPS to .832 this year. Plus, the Red Sox appear to be set with middle infielders and in the market for pitching, and the Cubs don’t really have that currency to trade right now.  

Ultimately, with so many of their young hitters already graduated to the big leagues and only so much financial flexibility, the Cubs don’t need a big name in center field, just someone who can play good defense and balance out what can be an all-or-nothing lineup.

The Cubs have varying degrees of interest in pitchers who turned down qualifying offers – including Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lackey and Jeff Samardzija – and the calculus of giving up a draft pick has changed for a franchise in win-now mode. 

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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USA TODAY

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: