Cubs make first move with DeJesus deal

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Cubs make first move with DeJesus deal

Updated 6:00 p.m.

This isnt a megadeal. But its exactly the kind of incremental, sensible move Theo Epstein seemed to signal when he took over this rebuilding franchise.

The Cubs signed outfielder David DeJesus on Wednesday to a two-year deal with a club option for 2014 while everyone tries to figure out whether they will really go hard after Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder.

Were a major-market team and were going to be involved across the spectrum, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Responding to whether were on or off a certain player, it doesnt really serve our best interests.

This isnt buying at the absolute top of the bubble. DeJesus, who turns 32 next month, will earn 4.25 million in each of the next two seasons, with a 1.5 million buyout built into a 6.5 million option, netting him 10 million guaranteed.

DeJesus has spent his entire major-league career in Kansas City and Oakland. The Cubs view him as an everyday right fielder, an upgrade in several areas the team has been lacking. Hes a left-handed bat, a patient hitter, an athletic defender and a smooth runner on the bases.

DeJesus has a home in Wheaton and will meet the Chicago media on Thursday at Wrigley Field. Epstein has joked about leading the league in press conferences, but this marks the first player signing for the new president of baseball operations.

There are many dominos left to fall. The Cubs dont expect Carlos Pena to accept their arbitration offer, though Hoyer wouldnt say whether the first baseman might fit into their plans as an alternative to Pujols or Fielder.

(Pena) continues to do the same things year after year, which is really impressive, Hoyer said. Hes a very good defender. He gets on base. He has great power. I think hes very confident and he should be that theres a multi-year deal waiting for him.

That could be somewhere else. Ultimately, pitching will become the focus this winter. Hoyer continues to speak with Pat Rooney, the agent for Kerry Wood, and all indications are the new Mr. Cub will return in 2012.

The Cubs are expecting a bounce-back year out of DeJesus, who hit .240 (or 44 points below his career average) with 10 homers and 46 RBI last season in Oakland. They see a .356 lifetime on-base percentage for someone whos struck out only 575 times in more than 4,300 plate appearances.

DeJesus generated 25 homers and 144 RBI combined for Kansas City in 2008 and 2009. He emerged as a sought-after player on the trade market before a thumb injury derailed his 2010 season.

This move turns up the pressure on Tyler Colvin, a first-round pick during the previous administration. Colvin managed to hit 20 homers in only 358 at-bats as a rookie in 2010, but looked lost last season and will have to earn a job in camp.

We signed DeJesus (to) round out our lineup, Hoyer said. Tyler given the year he had needs to bounce back and that comes in spring training. But to say hes out of our plans would be wrong.

Against this backdrop, the Cubs are still absorbing the ramifications of a new collective bargaining agreement.

Labor peace came at a cost to the Cubs, who now wont be able to spend without restraint in the draft and international market. That was supposed to be a centerpiece to their long-term plan, which at first glance didnt seem to have room for a megadeal this winter.

Major League Baseball and the union made these changes for the greater good, Hoyer said. Its our job to figure out how it impacts our strategy. It certainly will. I dont think were at the place right now to be able to say exactly what were going to do because were still meeting on this.

But it is (significant). The teams that adjust quickest theres an advantage (in that) and we need to be among those teams that move quickly.

With Dexter Fowler in St. Louis, Cubs see Kyle Schwarber as a potential leadoff answer

With Dexter Fowler in St. Louis, Cubs see Kyle Schwarber as a potential leadoff answer

Dexter Fowler buttoned up a white No. 25 Cardinals jersey and put on a red St. Louis hat, posing for the cameras during Friday morning’s press conference at Busch Stadium.

Fowler stood in between Mike Matheny, the St. Louis manager who now has a new leadoff guy at the top of his lineup card, and John Mozeliak, the general manager who helped structure a five-year, $82.5 million contract that goes against The Cardinal Way.

That visual might be disorienting for Cubs fans who just watched what will probably be the best two seasons of Fowler’s career. But Theo Epstein’s front office understandably wanted to get younger, upgrade defensively and preserve some financial flexibility for the future, planning to go with Albert Almora Jr. and ex-Cardinal Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare.

“I’ll be forever grateful that I was a Cub,” Fowler said. “We made history, won a World Series. But I guess that door is closed, and, you know, I’m a Cardinal now. And we’re trying to make history over here as well.”

Let’s not get carried away with all the talk about Fowler being such a great leader and magnetic clubhouse personality. There were enough questions about him that the draft-pick compensation dragged down his market to the point where he accepted a $13 million guarantee in spring training. But he is a switch-hitter who sees pitches and works at-bats (.366 career on-base percentage) and can ignite an offense when healthy.

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Cubs manager Joe Maddon might not go with a traditional leadoff hitter in 2017. But this lineup should still score 800-plus runs again, factoring in a full season of Kyle Schwarber, projected growth from MVP Kris Bryant and All Stars Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell and an anticipated bounce-back year from Jason Heyward after the $184 million outfielder had been one of the least productive hitters in the majors.

 “Schwarber is not a bad name, Kyle is not a bad name at all,” Maddon said when asked about his leadoff hitter during this week’s winter meetings at National Harbor in Maryland. “(Ben) Zobrist isn’t a bad name. There are different guys to consider right there.

“Actually, a couple years ago, (when) Kyle came up and Dexter was still there, I considered leading Kyle off and putting Dexter second. But I had all the dudes do all the work — all our nerds did all the work — and they really liked Fowler 1 and they liked Schwarber 2, just based on our data.

“So I went with that, and it worked out really, really well. So now all of the sudden, Dexter is not there anymore. It’s not impossible to consider Kyle in that spot, Zobrist in that spot.

“I don’t know if we’re going to do anything differently during the course of this offseason that might cause me to think differently, but there’s not a whole lot of other candidates.”

Fowler bet on himself after the Baltimore Orioles dragged out negotiations over a reported three-year deal in the $30 million range, shocking the baseball world when he showed up in Arizona in late February. It paid off with a staggering contract that will add another level of intrigue to a rivalry that has already seen Heyward and pitcher John Lackey switch sides.

Fowler will be in Cardinal red on Opening Night 2017 when the Cubs begin their World Series title defense at Busch Stadium.

“It’s bittersweet,” Fowler said. “Now they’re the rival. But you still got some boys over there. We’ll always be boys. We won a championship together. But when you get on the field, it’s ‘go time.’ Now we’re playing against each other.”

Dexter Fowler: Cubs-Cardinals rivalry 'almost even'

Dexter Fowler: Cubs-Cardinals rivalry 'almost even'

The Cubs have the World Series trophy, and that's the ultimate in bragging rights.

But new Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler — who helped the Cubs win that first championship since 1908 — thinks there's not too much separating the Central Division rivals.

Fowler officially switched sides in the rivalry Friday, signing a five-year deal with the Cardinals and getting an introduction in St. Louis.

"Playing over there and playing against the Cardinals, you see them and they weren't that far away," Fowler said at his introductory press conference Friday morning. "Obviously they beat up on us, we beat up on them. It was almost even. It was one day or another. I can't put my finger on one thing or another, but we're definitely close."

Even though the Cubs are on top of the baseball world right now — and the Cardinals missed out on the playoffs last season — the numbers back up Fowler's claim.

Only one game separated the two in their regular-season series in 2016, the Cubs taking 10 games and the Cardinals winning nine. The year prior, both teams won more than 97 games and reached the postseason, with the Cubs eliminating the Cardinals in the NLDS. During the regular season, though, the Cardinals won 11 of the 19 matchups and the Cubs won eight.

The two teams have indirectly swapped All-Star outfielders in each of the last two offseasons. Jason Heyward signed a huge deal with the Cubs prior to the 2016 season. And now Fowler will be in the Cardinals' Opening Day lineup in 2017.

That ought to add even more fuel to the fire in this epic rivalry.

But the rings are the thing, of course, so can the Cardinals challenge the Cubs as the North Siders attempt to make it back-to-back championships in 2017?

"I can't tell what the future has in mind, but I feel like this team has a chance to win a World Series," Fowler said.