Spring training shocker: How Cubs pulled off Dexter Fowler move


Spring training shocker: How Cubs pulled off Dexter Fowler move

MESA, Ariz. - Dexter Fowler came into the media room at the Cubs complex in Mesa, sat down, flashed a big-time grin and said, "Catfish!"

Theo Epstein followed a few minutes later, saying, "Surprise!"

That pretty much summed up what went down at Cubs camp Thursday morning.

The Cubs pulled off the shock of the spring, bringing back Fowler and parading him around in front of fans, media and the entire roster before Thursday's workout. 

Nobody saw the move coming, especially because the news around the baseball world was Fowler had signed a three-year pact with the Baltimore Orioles. 

Social media exploded only after reporters and fans realized what was happening on the practice field.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Cubs fans!] 

"It was really to give Dex his moments with his teammates," Epstein said. "His teammates and the desire to be part of this team, those are the driving reasons why he's back here.

"So what better way to introduce our newest player than to let him be embraced by his teammates?"

About an hour earlier, the Cubs had pulled off a trade with the Oakland A's, sending out Chris Coghlan - who played a prominent role in 2015 and figured to be a utility guy in 2016.

The Cubs appeared ready to start the season with Coghlan as their fourth outfielder, free agent prize Jason Heyward in center and Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber flanking him in the corner spots.

Even Epstein admitted the Cubs were "essentially done" with moves before Thursday.

[MORE: Why Dexter Fowler turned down more money to re-sign with Cubs]

It looked like the Cubs used up all their budget to sign Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey over the winter.

But the Coghlan deal cleared $4.8 million in salary and Fowler is in line for an $8 million base salary in 2016 and then a $9 million mutual option for 2017 or an opt-out of $5 million.

And with the market on Fowler moving so slowly, Epstein's front office pounced, even as it was reported Fowler signed a $33-35 million deal with the Orioles.

The Cubs stayed in touch with Fowler's agent, Casey Close, throughout the winter and were able to hammer out a deal this week after confirming the Orioles rumors were not accurate.

Epstein credited Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and the business side with coming through on more resources to allocate to the payroll as the organization looks to end the 108-year championship drought.

"There's a lot of excitement about the team and our business side guys have done a great job capitalizing on that," Epstein said. "Tom and the whole Ricketts family understand the moment and where we're at. 

"And what better time than now?"

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

Epstein also said the Cubs' budget for in-season moves remains unchanged.

The Cubs didn't have a true centerfielder (Heyward is a natural right fielder) before Fowler and now the addition of the veteran leadoff hitter gives the team plenty of options should injury or ineffectiveness strike.

Plus, Schwarber will see some time at catcher and both Fowler and Soler are not known for their durability (Fowler averaged 128 games a season from 2009-14; Soler missed 61 games last season).

"No matter how talented you are, it takes a tremendous amount of depth to get through the season," Epstein said. "I feel like that depth always comes in handy. 

"If you don't jump on an opportunity in February, you might really regret it come May, when attrition starts throughout the course of the season."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Marlon Byrd on PED suspensions: 'You can make a mistake on purpose or on accident'

NBC Sports Chicago

Marlon Byrd on PED suspensions: 'You can make a mistake on purpose or on accident'

Six players on Major League Baseball rosters have been suspended twice for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Marlon Byrd, one of the players in that infamous group, has to live with that for the rest of his career. The 40-year-old talked about that on Baseball Night in Chicago on NBC Sports Chicago.

“Anybody that goes through this, it’s a part of their career,” Byrd said. “That’s it. This is a part of my career. Not testing positive once, but testing positive twice. I will always have to answer the question because it is a part of my 15-year major league career and always will. The easiest way to answer it is to tell the truth that way you can do it over and over and over again. Once you start telling fibs or telling lies you start holding onto something that’s not the truth.”

Byrd signed a 3-year deal with the Cubs ahead of the 2010 season. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox in April of 2012. Byrd’s first suspension came on June 25, 2012. He was suspended for 50 games. In 2016, he received his second suspension on June 1 and retired after the suspension.

Byrd was asked about his view on the recent Robinson Cano suspension, which will cost the Mariners’ second baseman 80 games. He spoke from personal experience when explaining what can happen with PED use.

“You can make a mistake on purpose or on accident,” Byrd said. “Some guys make it on accident. Some guys make it on purpose. There’s nobody up here that can talk about this better than I can because I’ve done it twice. One time on purpose, one time on accident. To speak for another man and what he went through is tough. Did Robinson do it or not? Only he knows. Nobody else is going to know, but what you have to do is take your suspension.”