Joe Maddon on Dexter Fowler: 'He's stronger right now'

Joe Maddon says Dexter Fowler could have "little extra motivation" this season after no big deals came his way this winter. Mike Stobe/Getty Images

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon thinks Dexter Fowler is in line for a big year after being spurned during free agency this past winter. A second half on-base percentage of .389 didn’t translate to a big payday for the center fielder, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t leave a hugely positive impression on his teammates and manager in Chicago.

“I don’t know we knew how important that piece was until it actually came back to us,” Maddon said Monday.

Fowler eventually signed with the Cubs after initially turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the team in November. After finding the market unsatisfactory, he returned for $13 million and to the manager who tells the leadoff man before every game, "You go, we go."

“We got lucky throughout the process,” Maddon admitted. “At first glance he’s stronger. He did a lot of good work in the offseason. He’s stronger right now. Beyond that, you can see he has a joy for being here. I recognize that. He might have a little extra motivation right now for how this all came down this past winter.”

Fowler worked long and hard this offseason in Las Vegas hitting with teammates Kris Bryant and Shane Victorino. He hit a career-high 17 home runs last year -- he hit his third this spring on Sunday before leaving the game with a minor injury -- after struggling in the first half of 2015. And after tearing up the league after the All-Star break, he figured his career .363 on-base percentage and affable personality would have suitors lined up. It never materialized, and the Cubs became the beneficiaries.

“Everything felt good, but all of a sudden everything felt right,” Maddon said of Fowler’s return. “Because that last piece just fit in there. There was a place for him, and he fit right into it perfectly.”

Fowler surprised everyone by showing up to camp unexpectedly after signing with the team. A favorite among teammates, Maddon thinks Fowler will be even better in 2016 -- another free-agent walk year for the veteran.

“He had a really good year last year,” Maddon said. “I think he’s going to surpass that this year.”