Cubs unsure of Dexter Fowler's status after hamstring injury

Cubs unsure of Dexter Fowler's status after hamstring injury

The Cubs are in wait and see mode with Dexter Fowler and his hamstring injury.

Fowler suffered the injury in the first inning of Saturday's Cubs win over the Pittsburgh Pirates and was deemed unavailable for Sunday's series finale at Wrigley Field.

Right now, the Cubs don't know if they're going to have to put their leadoff guy — and the top All-Star vote-getter among National League outfielders — on the disabled list.

"He's sore," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Sunday's game. "We're still trying to evaluatle length regarding whether he's gotta be DL-able or not."

Maddon said he would speak more with Cubs front office members Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and the training staff about what the plan for Fowler should be moving forward.

"I don't have a final answer yet," Maddon said. "I really don't know the overall plan yet. I hope to finalize that. Because of course, if he has to be DL'd, we want to get somebody else in here. 

"But as of right now, we have not jumped to any conclusions."

In Fowler's absence Sunday, Jason Heyward moved over to center field, with Kris Bryant manning right field and Chris Coghlan in left and leading off.

The Cubs kick off a three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field beginning Monday night on Comcast SportsNet. 

If Fowler were to miss any more time, Heyward could continue to play center, but it could also open up the door for rookie Albert Almora Jr. to see more playing time.

Coghlan and Matt Szczur provide other outfield depth and Bryant's versatility is a boost in situations such as this. 

But losing Fowler would be a big blow to the Cubs. He is boasting a .398 on-base percentage and .881 OPS and is tied for 12th in the NL in runs scored (41). 

Maddon always points to Fowler as the spark of the Cubs offense.

"This first part of the season really took on the tone that it did because of him," Maddon said. "When I say, 'You go, we go,' it's pretty much true. When he's making things happen at the top, the rest of the group seems to fall in order."

Fowler got off to a slow start in his Cubs tenure, hitting just .232 with a .308 on-base percentage in the first half last season. But he turned it on after the All-Star Break, posting a .272/.389/.463 slash line.

Since the break last year, Fowler has scored 89 runs in 135 games with the Cubs, helping the Cubs to a 96-45 regular season record in that span.

"It would not be good if we had to miss him for a bit," Maddon said. "I think we could cover, but he's been all of that. Kinda like the second half of last year, I thought after the All-Star break, he really came on strongly.

"I think this first half has just been a continuation of that. So you hate losing a guy like that, but if you do, then you just move it along and somebody else will show up."

The Cubs already have two players on the disabled list with hamstring injuries — Tommy La Stella and Jorge Soler.

Soler hit the disabled list June 7 and La Stella June 9. 

Both players were out on the field testing their hamstrings by taking ground balls before Sunday's game, but Maddon said La Stella is further along than Soler in the recovery process. 

The Cubs would send La Stella on a rehab assignment before he returns to the big-league club.

Soler still has no timetable to return. 

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?


Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.


Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below: