Cubs

Why Dexter Fowler turned down more money to re-sign with Cubs

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Why Dexter Fowler turned down more money to re-sign with Cubs

MESA, Ariz. - Dexter Fowler is home.

Or, at least that's how he feels.

Fowler was an integral part of the Cubs' surprise run to the National League Championship Series last year, leading off and setting the table for a lineup that looked unstoppable before running into the New York Mets pitching staff.

But at season's end, Fowler became a free agent and rejected the Cubs' qualifying offer of $15.8 million, preferring to test the market.

When the week started, Fowler had not yet been signed even though every MLB team had already started camp.

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

When the baseball world woke up Thursday morning, the prevailing thought was Fowler was on his way to the Baltimore Orioles facility, since all reports indicated he had signed a three-year deal worth roughly $35 million guaranteed.

That's when the Cubs pulled off a series of moves, dealing Chris Coghlan to the Oakland A's and bringing Fowler back for the surprise of the spring.

Fowler confirmed he turned down a three-year guaranteed offer, leaving all that money on the table to ink a one-year pact with the Cubs for $13 million guaranteed ($8 million base salary in 2016 plus a $5 million buyout for a $9 million mutual 2017 option).

But why?

"My heart's here," Fowler said. "The Cubs, they treat me with the utmost respect. With the offseason moves they've made, you've gotta go with what's comfortable.

"My family loves it here. It was good to get back."

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

Fowler said he did not give the Orioles - or any other team - a verbal agreement and assured all the rumors did not come from his camp.

He admitted he was in a difficult situation, but "you come back to what you know."

"He decided to go for the fit over the money," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "We're extremely appreciative of that. It means a lot.

"I think it says a lot about his teammates, says a lot about Dexter, says a lot about the manager, the coaching staff, the whole ownership here, the culture that he'd want to come back." 

Theo Epstein and the Cubs gave Fowler a nice moment, letting him walk back onto the field when the entire team was gathered in a pre-workout scrum to the surprise of all his teammates.

Even 20 minutes later, Fowler still couldn't stop smiling.

"It's surreal," Fowler said. "It's like you're walking back to the house and you haven't been home in what feels like 10 years.

"It's definitely a blessing to be here. God works in mysterious ways."

Fowler drove down from his home in Las Vegas for a physical late Wednesday night and the Cubs pulled off the Coghlan deal as the physical results came back Thursday morning.

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

Epstein and Fowler's agent - Casey Close - stayed in contact all winter, but a deal didn't come together until this late in the game. That obviously caused a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for Fowler's camp.

How did he keep his sanity through the offseason?

"Faith," Fowler said. "You've done all you can do on the field. There's nothing else you can do. It's just a matter of waiting and seeing what's out there.

"God works in mysterious ways. Came back to where your heart is."

Fowler also feels like there's some unfinished business with the Cubs.

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

"We took those [NLCS] losses hard," he said. "Looking back, you see the Royals win the World Series and you think, 'That should have been us.'

"We definitely have a chance to do that. Hopefully we can do that this year."

Fowler knows Jason Heyward from their days growing up in the Atlanta area and played with Ben Zobrist in Japan. 

With the big-time acquistions in tow and now all the key pieces returning from last season, the Cubs feel like they're ready to roll.

"I do live in Vegas, so you see up there all the time - Cubs at 4:1 [odds]," Fowler said. "It's an exciting time to be a Cub."

Cubs feel Yu Darvish is 'on a mission' to return and provide boost in pennant race

Cubs feel Yu Darvish is 'on a mission' to return and provide boost in pennant race

Yu Darvish cursed and snapped his head in frustration.

He had just spiked a fastball in the dirt to Cubs backup catcher Victor Caratini as Tuesday morning's sim game was winding down.

A couple moments later, Darvish fluttered one of his patented eephus pitches way up and out to Caratini and again let an expletive slip out.

Darvish threw about 55 pitches in three "innings" worth of a simulated game (meaning he sat down and rested for a few moments in between each "inning") while facing Caratini and David Bote with a host of onlookers including a gaggle of Chicago media, Joe Maddon and his maroon Levi's and Van's kicks, Theo Epstein and a group of Cubs coaches.

"It was good," Epstein said minutes after Darvish wrapped it up. "He was competing well out there, spinning the ball really well. Maybe his best spin of the year. That was good to see.

"We'll see how he feels tomorrow, but seems like he's just about ready for the next step, which should be rehab games."

Nobody knows how many rehab outings Darvish may need at this point and there's still no timetable for when the Cubs will get him back in the rotation. 

Epstein acknowledged that at this point in the season — with less than seven weeks left until playoffs begin — the Cubs have just one shot to make this work with Darvish. Any setback now is essentially the dagger in any hopes of a comeback.

You can get giddy about the spin rate all you want, but the real telling sign to the Cubs was Darvish's attitude. Instead of worrying about his arm or any lingering pain out there, he was getting pissed at himself for missing spots as he started to tire in the sim game.

It was a sign to both Epstein and Maddon that Darvish is getting back in the right head space to return to a big-league field in the middle of a tight pennant race.

"I think he wants it," Epstein said. "The guys that are around him every day feel like he's really eager to get out there and compete. Even in the sim game today, when Vic had a good swing on the fastball, he came back on the next one a little bit harder and was mixing all his pitches.

"He's going about his business like someone who's on a mission to come back and help this team."

Maddon concurred.

"Totally engaged, looked really good, was not holding back," the Cubs skipper said. "...We were all very impressed."

All that being said, the Cubs still aren't in a place where they feel confident enough to just plug Darvish back into the rotation for the final few weeks of September and into October (assuming they make it there). 

Darvish has said himself he feels like he turned a corner a couple weeks ago and is back in a good place physically.

Still, his journey back has already experienced several hiccups and there's no telling everything will be perfect from here.

At the end of the day, Maddon and his staff have no choice but to try to win ballgames with the guys who are on their active roster and can't worry about what "might be" with Darvish, Kris Bryant, Brandon Morrow or even Drew Smyly.

Of course, getting those guys back healthy would be a heck of a boon to this Cubs team, but it's not something they can count on.

"I don't think you ever get to that point," Epstein said. "... Anytime a player's injured, there's a certain probability that he returns and on a certain timetable and there's a spectrum of outcomes when he comes back. From being significantly better than he was before he went down to performing the same to not being effective.

"None of us can predict exactly what the outcome is gonna be, so you have to be prepared for all the possible outcomes. You never want the performance of any one player to be the linchpin of the success of the club. Because if you are, you're being irresponsible and setting yourself up to fail.

"At the same time, you're never gonna be as good as you might be if one of your most talented players returns and returns in really good form. We're hopeful and we're trying to do everything we can to put him in a position to succeed and right now, there've been a lot of good signs, which is certainly better than where we were six weeks ago."

Brewers' faltering bullpen not doing them favors in NL Central race

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USA TODAY

Brewers' faltering bullpen not doing them favors in NL Central race

At a time when the Cubs are missing their closer and continuing to hold their lead on the division anyway, the Brewers are in a very different place. 

Coming in to a short but weighty series at Wrigley Field, Milwaukee has dropped two games via bullpen meltdown in their last four. Corey Knebel, who saved 39 games for the Brewers in 2017 with a 1.93 ERA, has seen much more limited time in the closer's role this year. But getting him right will probably make the difference for Milwaukee down the stretch.

"It’s important that we get him going," Brewers manager Craig Counsell told reporters before Tuesday's game. "Getting Corey on track is probably the bigger equation in this that kind of normalizes the bullpen."

Last Thursday, Knebel loaded the bases in the 9th when Milwaukee was leading, 4-2, and eventually left for Joakim Soria after allowing a run on a single. This set the stage for Hunter Renfroe's grand slam that cost the Brewers the game. In his next appearance, Knebel pitched in the 5th inning against the Braves and gave up a run in Milwaukee's eventual 8-7 loss.

Without a reliable Knebel, the Brewers have had to play mix and match with their bullpen, a recipe that doesn't usually work. It's been successful so far for the Cubs in the absence of Morrow, but that hasn't been the case for Milwaukee lately. 

The Brewers acquired Joakim Soria from the White Sox on July 26 in hopes of shoring up their bullpen, but after giving up the grand slam to Renfroe last week, Soria hit the DL with a right quadriceps strain. Counsell said that it isn't likely for Soria to return very soon, however.

"We’re not going to be at 10 days, I’ll tell you that," Counsell said, adding that Soria is still only doing stationary bike work at this point.

But help might be on the way. Taylor Williams, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list on August 3, is eligible to return. For now, the Brewers opted to keep outfielder Keon Broxton on the roster, but Williams could prove to be a boon for the Milwaukee reliever corps. Before being shelved, he was averaging more than a strikeout per inning. 

Otherwise, the Brewers have Matt Albers rehabbing in Biloxi, Mississippi, where they plan to let him appear in at least a couple games before activating him.

Milwaukee has a chance to cut the division lead to a single game these next two days, but without a reliable bullpen, that could prove especially difficult.