MESA, Ariz. - When Dexter Fowler surprised the Cubs roster and re-signed with the team, Joe Maddon said it opened up even more lineup options for 2016.
But in reality, Fowler's arrival actually sort of solidified the lineup.
When Fowler plays, Maddon already admitted the centerfielder will be leading off. It also means Addison Russell may be ticketed for the No. 9 spot again.
The Cubs' 2-8 spots in the lineup are up in the air, but Maddon likes Russell's skillset at the bottom of the order, acting as a sort of second leadoff hitter.
Last week, Maddon allowed himself to write down the Cubs lineup on a sheet of paper, just to get a visual at it.
"My god, hitting [Russell] ninth actually sounds pretty good, just leading into the rest of the group coming back around," Maddon said. "Last year, I was trying to protect him. That was a primary reason to do that.
"If I were to do it this year, it would not be so much as protection, as just the function from the whole group."
When Russell made his big-league debut in April last season, he was just a 21-year-old and, as Maddon said, the Cubs decided to hit him in the spot in the order with the lowest pressure.
This year, Russell is more comfortable in his "major-league skin" and doesn't need to be shielded as much in the order.
However, with the additions of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, the Cubs have plenty of solid on-base percentage options to hit at the top of the order.
Maddon said he likes the idea of Fowler, Heyward and Zobrist hitting in the first three spots in the lineup, setting the table for big boppers Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.
All that seems like writing on the wall for Russell to serve as the No. 9 hitter, something he's ready for.
"Joe seems like he's one of those guys that has a puzzle and we're all pieces," Russell said. "The nine-hole was an adjustment last year, but I was looking at footage and trying to get better at the nine-hole this year.
"I'm excited to be in the nine-hole. I'd be excited to be [anywhere] in the lineup. I think anyone would be."
Long-term, who knows where Russell will end up. He joked that hitting leadoff would be nice, too, and he did post a career .377 OBP in the minor leagues. However, he sported just a .307 OBP in the majors last season, drawing only 42 walks in 142 games in his rookie campaign.
In terms of Russell's development, will the Cubs want to keep him in a spot that sees the fewest plate appearances of anybody in the lineup? The leadoff guy in the Cubs order last year netted 756 plate appearances, but the No. 9 spot totaled just 618 plate appearances.
Before Fowler signed, Maddon said he needed to get with the Cubs' "geeks" and crunch the numbers about hitting the pitcher eighth and Russell ninth.
"I think there's times where it makes a lot of sense," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "If you have the right nine hitter, a guy that gets on base and can almost act as a second leadoff hitter in front of the big guys, I think that makes a lot of sense.
"I'll be honest with you - I went back and forth on it during the course of last year. There were times where you have a big second inning and you're like, 'Ugh, we're already at the pitcher's spot.'
"It feels like it kills you, but there's plenty of times where that nine-hitter gets on and it creates momentum going into your best hitters."
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Of course, this is Maddon and he's anything but conventional.
The Cubs' first two games of the 2016 season come in an American League park meaning the lineup will have a designated hitter, throwing another loop in the projected Opening Day lineup.
Maddon said he wasn't trying to pretend to be a fantasy owner with his lineup.
"Theory and reality," Maddon said. "Theoretically, this is what it looks like. The reality is - some guys are gonna struggle, somebody may get hurt.
"... It's not gonna be perfect. You draw your plans and you know it's not going to work that way. All these other contingency concepts and ideas are gonna be very important."