MESA, Ariz. — Outfielder Dexter Fowler agreed to stay with the Cubs, spurning a $33 million, three-year offer from the Baltimore Orioles to accept a $13 million, one-year deal with Chicago on Thursday that includes a mutual option for 2017.
"This is where my heart is," said Fowler, who surprised his teammates by showing up at workouts alongside Cubs executive Theo Epstein after manager Joe Maddon called the team together.
Fowler rejected a $15.8 million, one-year qualifying offer from the Cubs in November to test the free-agent market. Under the agreement announced Thursday, he gets $8 million this year, and the sides have a $9 million option for 2017 with a $5 million buyout.
Orioles executive vice-president for baseball operations Dan Duquette said Fowler insisted on being able to terminate his agreement after 2016 and become a free agent again.
"We made a very competitive offer. The issue was the opt out," Duquette said. "The Orioles have made it clear that that type of deal wouldn’t really work for us. Based on that, it sounds to me like he wanted to return to Chicago."
Fowler’s agent, Casey Close, ripped Baltimore and said the Orioles intentionally ignored free agency rules.
"In my 25 years in this business, never before have I witnessed such irresponsible behaviour on so many fronts," he said in a statement posted online. "Both the Orioles front office and members of the media were so busy recklessly spreading rumours that they forgot or simply chose not to concern themselves with the truth."
Close and Duquette agreed on one thing: The two sides never reached a deal.
"There was not an agreement to terms because they kept insisting on an opt out," Duquette said. "I don’t see, club ownership doesn’t see, the value in that type of arrangement to the Orioles. If we are going to guarantee a contract, it should be a contract."
The 29-year-old Fowler hit .250 in 156 games last year and set career highs in many offensive categories as the Cubs reached the NL Championship Series. He had 102 runs, 17 homers, 149 hits and 84 walks. The speedy, switch-hitter has a .267 average in eight major league seasons, spending his first six years in the big leagues with Colorado and 2014 with Houston.
Cubs teammates mobbed Fowler with hugs and handshakes. When told many believed he was in Baltimore on Thursday, Fowler paused, smiled, and said: "Catfished."
"I feel like the Cubs treated me with the utmost respect, and with the off-season moves they made, you’ve got to go with what’s comfortable," he said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
To help make the deal work within the team’s payroll limits, the Cubs traded outfielder Chris Coghlan to the Oakland Athletics for pitcher Aaron Brooks, 25. They also placed left-hander Zac Rosscup on the 60-day disabled list due to left shoulder inflammation.
Epstein said the Cubs’ off-season activity was over.
"That’s it. We’re not trading anyone else," he said. "That’s the move. And we feel great about our outfield mix."
Epstein said right fielder Jorge Soler will get some time in left field, with newly acquired Jason Heyward moving between right field and centre field. The Cubs will also have financial flexibility to pull off a midseason trade if necessary.
"The way we were able to structure the (Fowler) contract, we’re still able to preserve our in-season flexibility," Epstein said, according to the Chicago Tribune.