Dexter Fowler latest veteran to take less money to play for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler isn’t the first player to take less money to sign with the Cubs. In fact, he’s one of several over the past few years, as the organization has turned Chicago into a destination.

As reports leak about offers before and after signings, the Cubs have come in with lower bids for players including John Lackey, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, David Ross and Fowler. Jon Lester might be part of that group as well, though reports aren’t clear about if he had more on the table. In any case, there were moments when all these players seemed destined to take more lucrative deals before the Cubs swooped in.

Years ago, manager Joe Maddon wrote a paper about the concept of taking less money.

“You create the right culture. You would get guys wanting to stay with you longer, irrespective of money,” Maddon said Tuesday at Cubs camp.

Fowler is the latest example. His surprise appearance at camp last week came after he turned down “similar” offers from various teams, according to a source familiar with the situation. All those offers were for multiple years and more money. In fact, Fowler turned down more money from the Cubs back in November, before he finally returned on a one-year deal worth $13 million. He preferred the Cubs over a deal he didn’t like.

Now, had he been offered $70-80 million, he wouldn’t be here. But that never happened.

“We knew it would take time to sort through the market,” general manager Jed Hoyer said of Fowler's situation.

The team and Fowler’s camp stayed in touch throughout the offseason, and when reports surfaced that he was signing with the Baltimore Orioles for about $35 million, once again the Cubs were able to grab the player for less money. The definitive nature of the Baltimore reports allowed the Cubs to surprise the baseball world -- and Fowler’s teammates -- when he walked onto the mound to announce his return.

“I think that element of surprise will be really hard to replicate because those reports were so firm, and they weren’t refuted by anyone,” Hoyer said. “So even after [Chris] Coghlan was traded, no one connected Dexter.”

Incidentally, reports after the 2014 season had Ross signing with San Diego before he inked a deal with the Cubs. It was assumed Heyward would take one of the $200 million deals on the table before he finalized with Chicago. News outlets in New York practically had Zobrist wearing Mets colors until he said he wanted to join the Cubs all along.

The stories go on and on. One player who accepts less money to stay with his old team might not be that uncommon, but for multiple players, old and new alike, to sign for less? That’s a unique situation.

“We have it here,” Maddon said. “That’s pretty cool.”