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Levine: Cubs Thrilled To Bring Dexter Fowler Back, Are Done Making Moves

By Bruce Levine--

MESA, Ariz. (CBS) -- In a stunning turn of events, the Cubs on Thursday re-signed center fielder Dexter Fowler to a deal that guarantees him $13 million and allows him to hit the open market again after the 2016 season. The Cubs and Fowler, who turns 30 in March, agreed to a one-year deal worth $8 million in 2016, with a mutual option for $9 million in 2017. The contract also carries a $5 million buyout should the sides not agree upon a return for 2017.

A three-year contract between the Orioles and Fowler -- one reported by multiple outlets as a done deal two days ago, pending a physical -- fell apart when he asked for an opt-out after after the first season of the deal, according to sources. Although the Cubs saw the reports earlier this week that Fowler had signed with the Orioles, they were informed behind the scenes that the deal hadn't been completed. Upon hearing that Fowler was still on the market, Chicago pounced on the opportunity and inked Fowler to a new contract.

"I never gave the Orioles a verbal commitment at all," Fowler said. "I don't know where that came from, but it did not come from our camp. It put me in a bad spot, but the Cubs made a good offer, and now you come back to what you know."

The move gives Cubs manager Joe Maddon really nice options in the lineup and on defense. The addition of the switch-hitting Fowler allows Maddon to pick and choose daily between four outfielders who are starting-caliber players, as Jason Heyward, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber are also in the mix. The Fowler signing also allows three-time Gold Glove winner Heyward to play his regular right field position on a more regular basis.

"It's funny, me and Jason go way back," Fowler said, referencing their shared Georgia roots. "He was a freshman when I was a senior. They called him my twin. It's awesome to get a chance to play with him."

Bringing back Fowler puts into question the playing time for second-year pros Soler and Schwarber in left field. They will give Maddon the luxury of a left-handed/right-handed power bat combo to mix and match in his outfield rotation, though their at-bats figure to be cut down some. Knowing the way Maddon loves to make double- and triple-switches as the game progresses, the Cubs' school of thought is that the more good players he has to move around, the better for all.

The Orioles' offer was believed to be for three years and a little more than $30 million. Earlier Thursday, the Cubs traded infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan to the Athletics for a Triple-A pitcher to clear space for Fowler, in the lineup and financially.

"We needed to move Chris' salary before we could sign Dexter," president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said before making clear the team's offseason moves are complete.

"We are not trading anyone else. That is the move, and we feel great about our outfield mix. It takes more than three guys to get through a championship season. All these guys are great players, and it gives Joe a lot of flexibility. With Schwarber's ability to catch and the other guys' ability to move around, I think all four of those guys will have big seasons."

Fowler hit .250 with a .346 on-base percentage last season out of the leadoff spot for the Cubs, playing in a career-high 156 games and scoring 104 runs. He also had a career-high 17 homers, 46 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.

Playing Heyward in right field will strengthen the Cubs' defense, as he's one of the elite corner outfielders in the game. After playing right field for the Cubs last year, Soler will now see more time in left.

"We talked about playing left field with Jorge yesterday," Epstein said. "We told him he will get time in both corners. You will see now as opposed to 24 hours ago, you'll see a lot more of Jason Heyward in right field."

Fowler initially could've taken a $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Cubs last November, but he eschewed that for free-agent status. Fowler's name kept coming up in rumors with the Cubs and White Sox all winter, and in the end, he was happy to stay in Chicago on the north side.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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