Cubs will pay their respects to Dexter Fowler at Wrigley Field

Cubs will pay their respects to Dexter Fowler at Wrigley Field

ST. LOUIS – Dexter Fowler is in such a unique situation that he might get standing ovations at Busch Stadium and Wrigley Field this season.

The Opening Night sellout crowd of 47,566 stood up for Fowler before his first at-bat on Sunday, hoping he can have the same impact on the St. Louis Cardinals as he did with the you-go, we-go Cubs. The Cardinals wanted more energy, athleticism and presence at the top of their lineup and made Fowler an offer he couldn't refuse at five years and $82.5 million. The first snapshot became a 4-3 walk-off win over the defending World Series champs.

Fowler will be busy when the Cubs get their World Series rings on April 12, but he has stayed in contact with club president Theo Epstein and his old teammates. Look for the Cubs to do some sort of public acknowledgement (video board tribute?) and give Fowler his championship bling when the Cardinals visit Wrigley Field in early June.

"I've been talking to Theo about it," Fowler said. "We'll see. I think it's probably my first trip back there."

There are no hard feelings, because Fowler finished his mission in Chicago and earned the security of a long-term deal, while the Cubs wanted to groom Albert Almora Jr. as a center fielder and preserve some financial flexibility for their young hitting stars and pitching reinforcements.

"Dexter is the type of guy that looks good no matter what he wears," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "I tried to bash on him. I was like: 'Man, you kind of look good.' He's obviously a good friend. He's always going to be a good friend. But when we're between the lines, we got to keep it professional."

Just like his old teammates, Fowler has gotten the same kind of thank-yous from total strangers.

"Coming over here, you still have Cubs fans that tend to like me," Fowler said. "They understand the nature of the game, besides the 12-year-olds that are cussing me out."

On Twitter?

"Yeah, on Twitter, Instagram, the whole nine, they're cussing me out, but that's fine," Fowler said.   

Fowler says these things with a smile on his face and an attitude that got a lot of attention from the Cardinal brass and in the St. Louis media. Fowler being a spring-training DJ during the team stretch and batting practice disrupted The Cardinal Way.

"They've welcomed me with open arms," Fowler said. "I felt like we had to turn up a little bit. I just wanted to come out here and be myself. You guys all know how I am. It was too quiet."

Fowler sparked the Cardinals in the third inning with an infield single off Jon Lester. Fowler raced to third base when Javier Baez couldn't pick up a probable double-play ball he lost in a white rotating ad behind home plate. Fowler scored his new team's first run of 2017 on Matt Carpenter's sacrifice fly to right field, looking like something out of The Cubs Way.

Manager Joe Maddon won't reveal the updated version of the "you go, we go" message that he used to send to Fowler, saying it's too X-rated with new leadoff guy Kyle Schwarber. But Fowler will always be part of The Team that will live forever in the hearts and minds of Cubs fans.

"What he did the last couple years for us, this is his opportunity to make it good for his family for the rest of his life," Maddon said. "Good for him, man. We'd love to have him. I'd love to be saying (that to him). But I'm really happy for him and his family."

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

SAN DIEGO — While the rest of the baseball world is occupying their time on free agent signings and trades, the Cubs have been waiting for their number to be called.

They've been trying to nail down extensions with key players that are only a couple years away from free agency, though nothing appears imminent on that front. 

Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season, leaving the Cubs two years to work out a deal or trade the player before losing them for nothing but a compensation pick. Willson Contreras is a free agent after 2022. Theo Epstein's front office reached a four-year, $55.5 million deal with Kyle Hendricks in spring training, extending his team control through the 2023 season.

The Cubs won't comment specifically on the current extension talks, but they'd ideally hope to wrap anything before spring training this year, so the players can focus solely on baseball by then.

"We always take the position of not commenting on extensions, but are we having those discussions? Yes," Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "People focus so much on trades and free agent signings at these meetings, but all the agents are under the same roofs, also, and allows us to have those kinds of discussions. I'm not gonna specify who or what, but yeah certainly those conversations are ongoing."

Bryant has long been thought of as the toughest of the group to lock up long-term given that his agent, Scott Boras, typically advises clients to hit the open market and maximize their value. Boras reiterated Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings he and Bryant are still open to extension talks with the Cubs.

Baez and Rizzo loom as the two most likely to extend their Wrigley Field stays, with the two emerging as the faces of the franchise in their own ways.

As the Cubs try to navigate an offseason where they're "serving two masters" (trying to compete in 2020-21 while also enhancing the long-term future of the franchise), a potential extension would check both boxes in a major way. If Hoyer and Theo Epstein knew Baez would be locking down shortstop and the middle of the lineup for the next six seasons, they could breathe a bit easier thinking about the big picture and long-term health of the franchise. 

At the same time, they can't operate as if anything is a certainty. Bryant could decide he likes the Cubs' offer and make Chicago his forever baseball home. Baez could conclude the opposite. 

It's what makes this particular offseason so tricky for the Cubs.

"We have to be able to have parallel tracks in our mind," Hoyer said. "We have to be able to do multiple things at once. It doesn't make it more difficult. We have a lot of really good players. We've had them for a long time. When we talk to these players about contracts, there's no player that we talk to that we haven't had a conversation with at some point before about a contract. 

"We've talked about these players for five years in some way, shape or form. When we sit down with these players, we're not covering a ton of new ground. We've already been over a lot of it. I think we're able to have parallel tracks."

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two reported transactions Tuesday may not have drawn much attention from Cubs fans, but both directly impact the North Siders.

First, The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya reported the Angels are trading third baseman Zack Cozart to the Giants for cash and a player to be named later. Soon thereafter, free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius agreed to a one-year deal with the Phillies, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported.

From a Cubs perspective, the Angels' and Phillies' moves impact a potential Kris Bryant trade market. According to Ardaya, the Giants are picking up the remaining $12.67 million on Cozart’s deal. This clears payroll space for Los Angeles to make a run at a superstar free agent, like third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

The Phillies inquired with the Cubs regarding a potential Bryant trade, according to multiple reports. However, Bryant’s unresolved grievance case is a holdup in any trade talks, should the Cubs entertain offers. If he wins, he'll become a free agent next winter. If he loses, he'll remain under team control through 2021.

Gregorius will slot into shortstop for Philadelphia, while incumbent Jean Segura will move to second base, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. The Phillies are less likely to pursue Bryant — should the Cubs shop him — than they were entering Tuesday. Things can change, but they have less of an infield need as they did on Monday.

On the other hand, the Angels and new manager Joe Maddon suddenly could be a candidate to pursue Bryant. Acquiring him would bring less certainty than Rendon or Donaldson, as Bryant is only under contract for two seasons more, max. Furthermore, acquiring Bryant will cost the Angels prospect capital, while adding Rendon and Donaldson will 'only' entail paying them handsomely as free agents.

In short, Philadelphia is less likely to pursue Bryant than they were entering Tuesday; the possibility of the Angels doing so is stronger than it was entering the day. The Angels haven't been directly connected to Bryant at this point, but that now could change.