Cubs

With Dexter Fowler in St. Louis, Cubs see Kyle Schwarber as a potential leadoff answer

With Dexter Fowler in St. Louis, Cubs see Kyle Schwarber as a potential leadoff answer

Dexter Fowler buttoned up a white No. 25 Cardinals jersey and put on a red St. Louis hat, posing for the cameras during Friday morning’s press conference at Busch Stadium.

Fowler stood in between Mike Matheny, the St. Louis manager who now has a new leadoff guy at the top of his lineup card, and John Mozeliak, the general manager who helped structure a five-year, $82.5 million contract that goes against The Cardinal Way.

That visual might be disorienting for Cubs fans who just watched what will probably be the best two seasons of Fowler’s career. But Theo Epstein’s front office understandably wanted to get younger, upgrade defensively and preserve some financial flexibility for the future, planning to go with Albert Almora Jr. and ex-Cardinal Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare.

“I’ll be forever grateful that I was a Cub,” Fowler said. “We made history, won a World Series. But I guess that door is closed, and, you know, I’m a Cardinal now. And we’re trying to make history over here as well.”

Let’s not get carried away with all the talk about Fowler being such a great leader and magnetic clubhouse personality. There were enough questions about him that the draft-pick compensation dragged down his market to the point where he accepted a $13 million guarantee in spring training. But he is a switch-hitter who sees pitches and works at-bats (.366 career on-base percentage) and can ignite an offense when healthy.

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Cubs manager Joe Maddon might not go with a traditional leadoff hitter in 2017. But this lineup should still score 800-plus runs again, factoring in a full season of Kyle Schwarber, projected growth from MVP Kris Bryant and All Stars Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell and an anticipated bounce-back year from Jason Heyward after the $184 million outfielder had been one of the least productive hitters in the majors.

 “Schwarber is not a bad name, Kyle is not a bad name at all,” Maddon said when asked about his leadoff hitter during this week’s winter meetings at National Harbor in Maryland. “(Ben) Zobrist isn’t a bad name. There are different guys to consider right there.

“Actually, a couple years ago, (when) Kyle came up and Dexter was still there, I considered leading Kyle off and putting Dexter second. But I had all the dudes do all the work — all our nerds did all the work — and they really liked Fowler 1 and they liked Schwarber 2, just based on our data.

“So I went with that, and it worked out really, really well. So now all of a sudden, Dexter is not there anymore. It’s not impossible to consider Kyle in that spot, Zobrist in that spot.

“I don’t know if we’re going to do anything differently during the course of this offseason that might cause me to think differently, but there’s not a whole lot of other candidates.”

Fowler bet on himself after the Baltimore Orioles dragged out negotiations over a reported three-year deal in the $30 million range, shocking the baseball world when he showed up in Arizona in late February. It paid off with a staggering contract that will add another level of intrigue to a rivalry that has already seen Heyward and pitcher John Lackey switch sides.

Fowler will be in Cardinal red on Opening Night 2017 when the Cubs begin their World Series title defense at Busch Stadium.

“It’s bittersweet,” Fowler said. “Now they’re the rival. But you still got some boys over there. We’ll always be boys. We won a championship together. But when you get on the field, it’s ‘go time.’ Now we’re playing against each other.”

Looking back on Rick Monday's flag-saving incident in 1976

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USA TODAY

Looking back on Rick Monday's flag-saving incident in 1976

"I would rather be remembered as someone who stood up and did something about something I felt strongly about, than as someone who just stood there and watched the parade go by."

When you least expect it, life can come at you pretty quickly. The way Rick Monday reacted 43 years ago in a Cubs uniform is still worth remembering.

The Cubs were playing at Dodger Stadium on April 25, 1976. Monday was in his fifth season with the Cubs and playing in center field. Steve Stone was the starting pitcher and in the bottom of the fourth inning, Monday heard something going on around him. Two fans ran onto the field and then past Cubs left fielder Jose Cardinal.

"Is it because they have a bet with somebody?" Monday said. "Is it because they've had too much to drink? Is it because they don't like you?”

The fans turned out to be protesters and one of them was carrying the American flag under his arm. As they laid down the flag and doused it with a can of lighter fluid, Rick Monday darted at them from center field.

"It angered me for a lot of reasons," he said. "First of all, you're interrupting the game. Secondly, now you're bringing out a flag and I was only about three or four years removed from being in the Marine Reserves."

Monday considered bowling them over if he got there on time, but the first match blew out as they tried to ignite the flag. Monday improvised. He scooped up the soaking wet flag and kept running with it. By the time he'd handed it to a teammate near the dugout, Tommy Lasorda let the protesters have a few choice words. At the time, Lasorda was the third baseman for the Dodgers.

"He [Lasorda] came running past me yelling about every expletive that a longshoreman would utter on a bad, bad day!" Monday said.

The fans were arrested, and when Monday came to the plate for his at-bat in the top of the fifth inning, the scoreboard in center field paid tribute with - "Rick Monday...you made a great play" and the California crowd gave the Cubs outfielder a standing ovation. One year later, they'd be cheering for him again. The Cubs traded Rick Monday in a five-player deal that brought Bill Buckner and Ivan DeJesus to the North side. Rick Monday went on to play a total of 19 seasons in the Majors. He was part of the Dodgers World Series championship team in 1981.

43 years after the flag incident, Rick Monday works in the Dodgers radio broadcast booth and that American flag is still a part of his life. He and his wife take the flag around the country while raising money for military charities. Monday says he reacted quickly that day because that's the way he was raised. Six years in the United States Marine Corps Forces Reserves only reinforced those instincts.

"It's a good thing I did get it, because I did not want any of my former drill instructors from the Marine Corps to come and say, 'Hey Marine! Why did you stand there and watch when they ignited the American flag?" Monday said.

An All-American play by a two-time All-Star outfielder

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Addison Russell goes 1-for-4 in rehab assignment with the Iowa Cubs

Addison Russell goes 1-for-4 in rehab assignment with the Iowa Cubs

Addison Russell is nearing the end of his 40-game suspension for violating the MLB's domestic abuse policy. He made his first rehab start with the Iowa Cubs on Wednesday night, performing quite well in the stint.

He was 1-for-4 with an RBI, one walk and a stolen base to boot in Iowa’s 6-4 win over the Nashville Sounds. Unless there any changes in the expected gameplan, Russell will be able to rejoin the big league club on May 3 at the earliest, when they begin a series against the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals.

Russell was a key piece of the 2016 World Series team but it will be interesting to see how he fits into the mix with Javier Báez in the midst of an excellent season at shortstop.

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