MESA, Ariz. -- Dexter Fowler returned to the Cubs in style Thursday, surprising his teammates on the field during practice with the news that he had signed a one-year contract to return.
"My heart's here," said Fowler, who rejected long-term deals elsewhere, including a three-year offer from the Orioles, to sign a one-year, $8 million contract that includes a $5 million buyout and a $9 million mutual option for 2017. "I feel like the Cubs, they treated me with the utmost respect. With the offseason moves they made, you've got to go with what's comfortable."
One of the moves the Cubs made was to acquire Jason Heyward, who was projected to play center and possibly lead off. But now Fowler returns to that role with Heyward sliding to right. Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber will likely share left field.
Manager Joe Maddon called all of the players together on Field 6 on Thursday, saying there was a special announcement. Once everyone was gathered, Fowler appeared, wearing a white T-shirt and black jeans, and was greeted by hugs and cheers.
"I think I owed it to the boys to tell them first," Fowler said.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein escorted Fowler onto the field.
"When it started to look like this would happen, [Fowler's agent Casey Close] mentioned that after all [Fowler] had been through this offseason, he deserved a great moment, and I completely agreed," Epstein said. "We hatched a little plan to make it happen."
Some of the Cubs players did send Fowler congratulatory text messages when reports appeared that he had signed with the Orioles.
"[Anthony Rizzo] told me, 'Good luck, I'm going to miss you, my man,'" said Fowler, who knew at that time he was going to return to the Cubs. "It's like, you're sitting there, and you're like, 'I can't wait to surprise you.'"
Fowler, who turns 30 next month, lives in Las Vegas, and drove to Arizona on Wednesday to undergo a physical. Earlier Thursday, the Cubs dealt outfielder Chris Coghlan to the Athletics for pitcher Aaron Brooks to open room on the payroll and the roster for Fowler.
The Cubs did make a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Fowler last November, which he rejected.
"It was tough, but it was a learning experience," Fowler said. "The whole qualifying offer thing, I think it's flawed. Guys like myself, we've been here, we're veterans. We've been here for a while. You wait for free agency, and they're talking about a Draft pick, a guy who you don't even know what's going to happen to him and you're reaping the consequences. It needs to change. It's a blessing in disguise. You get to see both sides of things."
Epstein had no comment on the qualifying offer system. If Fowler had signed with another team, the Cubs would've received a late second-round Draft pick.
Fowler felt there was some unfinished business after last year's postseason run which ended in the National League Championship Series.
"[Fowler] decided to go for the fit over the money," Epstein said. "We're extremely appreciative of that. It says a lot about his teammates, it says a lot about Dexter, it says a lot about the manager, the coaching staff, the ownership here that he would want to come back."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Coming off a '15 season in which he posted the highest homer total (17) and the second best steals tally (20) of his eight-year career, Fowler should be a strong multi-category contributor while serving as the spark plug atop the Cubs' talented lineup. Projected to hit in front of a group that includes Heyward, Rizzo and Kris Bryant, Fowler could score 100 runs for a second straight year if he can stay off the disabled list.
Fowler's return to Chicago will likely end the '16 sleeper status for Soler, who is unlikely to hold a regular role behind a starting outfield trio of Fowler, Heyward and Schwarber. The crowded situation may also have a slightly negative impact on Schwarber, who could be precluded from logging a heavy workload by Soler's presence.