Cubs

Cubs players react to Fowler's surprise arrival: 'Theo got us all'

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Cubs players react to Fowler's surprise arrival: 'Theo got us all'

MESA, Ariz. - The Cubs were just about to conclude their pre-workout meeting Thursday when something caught their eyes, causing a ripple of excitement to filter through the entire spring roster.

Dexter Fowler came strolling out onto the field alongside Theo Epstein, but it took a few moments for anybody - media or players - to realize what was happening.

"I gave Dex a hug and told him, 'Man, I'm gonna miss ya,'" David Ross said. "I still was off. I was like, 'Wait a minute...'

"Everybody was looking around kind of dumbfounded. Theo got us all. Theo pulled one over."

The rumors around the baseball world for the previous 48 hours was that Fowler was heading to the Baltimore Orioles on a three-year deal somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 million guaranteed.

Instead, the Cubs dealt Chris Coghlan to the Oakland A's Thursday morning, clearing room for Fowler's dramatic entrance.

[RELATED: Fowler reverses course, signs one-year deal with Cubs]

Several Cubs had even reached out to Fowler about his deal with the O's.

"I actually congratulated him because he didn't file for unemployment," Anthony Rizzo said. "I'm super excited to have him. Obviously he was one of my favorite guys last year on this team. It's a great addition for us.

"I told him maybe a week or two ago, 'Listen, if you sign back with us and you don't tell me and you just show up, I'm not gonna have that.' Obviously, no one knew. It was a pretty cool moment."

Joe Maddon gathered the players in a group huddle on top of the pitcher's mound on one of the practice fields and told them they were gonna have a "moment" before the workout began.

But with Maddon, that could mean anything - zoo animals, a magician, a spaceship, who knows?

"He told us not to look around and knowing me, I had to look around a little bit," Kyle Schwarber said. "I was like, 'Man, that really does look like Dexter walking down here. I thought he was with the Orioles.'

"Then you see him go on the field. That lifted my day by a lot right there. It was great to see him."

Jason Hammel thought it was an animal or a circus.

Ross thought they were pulling a prank on noted funnyman Munenori Kawasaki.

Rizzo had heard an inkling of a possible shocker, but didn't think it was Fowler.

"I ran into Theo [Wednesday]. He said, 'Hey I got a surprise for you guys,'" Rizzo said. "But when someone says a surprise, you think an elephant, a giraffe showing up.

"You don't know. That was the last thing on my mind or anyone's mind. Then Dexter rolls in. It's pretty cool."

[RELATED: Cubs deal Chris Coghlan to make room for Dexter Fowler signing]

The Cubs maintained not one player knew about Fowler's surprise re-signing. No media member had anything close to resembling a scoop. The world of Twitter and social media couldn't blow the lid off this one.

"Nobody knew," Fowler said. "It was crazy because I'm getting text messages. ... It was like breaking up with your girlfriend and they don't text you for a few days because they're mad. They saw that Baltimore stuff.

"Rizzo texted me [Wednesday] and was like, 'Hey man, congrats, you got a job. I'm gonna miss you.' And then you're sitting there and it's like, 'I can't wait to surprise you!'"

Fowler said he joked with Cubs teammates about a month ago that they were going to just show up one day and see a locker for Fowler with his Jordan gear in there.

"I was saying it's crazy how things happen, and then this happens," Fowler said.

Fowler was well-liked within the Cubs clubhouse and his teammates were asked often about their reaction to him still being unsigned with spring training starting around the league.

Cubs players - as well as Cubs Twitter - hoped for a reunion.

But nobody expected anything like this.

"I don't know that one guy didn't have a smile on their face today," Ross said. "Looking around, I saw a lot of happy guys on the team."

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: