However, Fowler's agent, Casey Close of Excel Sports Management, issued a statement after the dust settled Thursday vehemently refuting Fowler made such a pact:
In my 25 years in this business, never before have I witnessed such irresponsible behavior on so many fronts. Both the Orioles front office and members of the media were so busy recklessly spreading rumors that they forgot or simply chose not to concern themselves with the truth. The Orioles' willful disregard of collectively bargained rules governing free agency and the media's eager complicity in helping the Orioles violate those rules are reprehensible. Dexter Fowler never reached agreement with the Orioles and did not come close to signing with the club; any suggestion otherwise is only a continuation of an already disturbing trend.
Before reaching a deal Thursday, Fowler rejected a $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Cubs in November. Carrie Muskat of MLB.com reported Fowler's new contract is worth $8 million for one year, with a $5 million buyout and a $9 million mutual option for 2017.
Fowler said Thursday he never offered the Orioles any confirmation he was signing with them.
"I didn’t give [the Orioles] a verbal agreement,” Fowler said, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. "I don’t know where that came from. It didn’t come from our camp. It kind of put me in a difficult situation."
In fact, Cubs president Theo Epstein said the two parties reached an agreement Tuesday just as reports were surfacing that Fowler would sign with Baltimore, per Gonzales.
Dan Duquette, the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations, said discussions broke down when the center fielder insisted an opt-out clause be included in the three-year deal.
"We made a very competitive offer,” Duquette said, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. “There was not an agreement to terms because they kept insisting on an opt-out. I don't see, club ownership doesn’t see the value in that type of arrangement to the Orioles. If we are going to guarantee a contract, it should be a contract.”
Heyman added it would’ve been uncharacteristic for the Orioles to offer an opt-out:
Orioles have made no opt-outs policy. Don't blame fowler for following heart, but to expect O's to give 1 to him was stretch— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 25, 2016
Fowler remained one of the last blue-chip free agents—even after full-squad workouts began in spring training—largely because teams would've forfeited a draft pick by signing him after he rejected a qualifying offer.
The center fielder offered a stern critique of those types of clauses in the free-agency process, per Gonzales:
It was tough, but it was a learning experience. You go out there with the whole qualifying offer thing. I think it’s flawed. Guys like myself we’re veterans. We've been here for a while and you wait for free agency, and they’re talking about a draft pick.
That's a guy you don’t know what’s going to happen with. And you’re reaping the consequences. So it needs to change. But it’s a blessing in disguise. You get to see both sides of things.
Yet Fowler was clearly happy the process is behind him, as he surprised and embraced teammates Thursday at camp, courtesy of CSN Chicago’s Kelly Crull:
The Cubs outfield remains crowded with Fowler’s return, but that’s a good problem for the World Series hopefuls to have.
Epstein said Fowler will return to his post in center field, while free-agent signee Jason Heyward will split time between right and center, per Gonzales. Right fielder Jorge Soler will also see time in left with hybrid catcher Kyle Schwarber. To make room for Fowler, the Cubs traded outfielder Chris Coghlan to the Oakland Athletics.
The Cubs are already the unanimous World Series favorites with 4-1 odds, per Odds Shark, and the return of Fowler should only bolster the top of their lineup as they set their sights on their first crown in more than a century.