Chicago Cubs have in-house, outfielder options if Dexter Fowler walks


The Chicago Cubs have a number of options that they can use to replace Dexter Fowler if the 29-year-old, center fielder decides to reject the qualifying offer that he received from the Cubs. Fowler is a free agent and can officially begin signing with other teams on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 12:01 AM eastern time.

According to ESPN-Chicago writer Jesse Rogers, the Chicago Cubs plan to offer Fowler a one-year qualifying offer valued at $15.8 million. After an outstanding second half of the season, the Cubs fully expect him to reject their offer and seek a bigger contract elsewhere. If the Cubs extend a qualifying offer to Fowler, they will receive an extra draft pick next season if he ultimately decides to leave. No impending free agent has ever accepted a qualifying offer from an MLB team.

Dexter Fowler was an instrumental part of the Chicago Cubs success in 2015. His surge during the second half of the season puts him in position to receive a large contract on the open market. According to baseball reference, during the second half of the season Fowler slashed .272/.389/.463 with a .340 batting average on balls in play (league average BABIP is .300 according to FanGraphs).

Although the Cubs would like Fowler to accept their qualifying offer, this probably won’t happen. Fortunately, they have other in-house options to replace him at center field if he ultimately decides to sign elsewhere.

If the Cubs want a cheap center fielder, Austin Jackson is their guy. The Chicago Cubs acquired Jackson at the end of August in a trade with the Seattle Mariners. In 29 games with the Cubs last season, he slashed .236/.304/.375. However, he was held without a hit in nine plate appearances in the postseason. Although these numbers aren’t overly impressive, he is a career .273/.333/.399 hitter.

Jackson isn’t a great defender (0.1 dWAR, 7.5 UZR, -1 Rtot in 2015). However, all three of these advanced fielding statistics are superior to outfield counterparts Kyle Schwarber(-0.2 dWAR, -0.3 UZR, -5 Rtot) and Jorge Soler (-1.4 dWAR, -7.5 UZR, -2 Rtot).

*dWAR: defensive wins above replacement, UZR: Ultimate Zone Rating, Rtot: Total Zone fielding runs above average.

Jackson’s true value comes from his speed. His ability to steal bases (17 stolen bases in 2015, career high 27 in 2010) could become an X-factor late in the season when runs become harder to come by. He also has solid on-base skills. According to fangraphs,  his career BABIP checks in at .352 which is well above the league average of .300.

Oct 1, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs right fielder

Austin Jackson

(left) is congratulated by teammates after hitting a hit a three-run home run against the Cincinnati Reds in the third inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

After making $7.7 million in 2015, Jackson will become a free agent now that the baseball season is over. His market price is hard to predict, although it will undoubtedly hover lower than other free agent center fielders on the market.

Chris Denorfia is another guy that becomes a free agent this offseason. The 35-year-old veteran isn’t a guy you want to sign to a pricey long-term contract, but he still remains valuable as he flies under the radar with his production. In 2015, he slashed .269/.319/.373 with three home runs and 18 RBIs.

October 20, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder

Chris Denorfia

(15) reacts after striking out in the eighth inning against the New York Mets in game three of the NLCS at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

While right and left field are his primary outfield position, Denorfia has played center field in 169 games during his career. He provides valuable leadership and a veteran clubhouse presence to this young Chicago Cubs team.

Denorfia becomes a free agent this offseason. Like Jackson, he hasn’t attracted much media attention despite his impending free agency. He is one of those players that the Cubs would likely be able to re-sign on a cheap contract. The Cubs have exclusive negotiating rights with both Jackson and Denorfia until they officially become free agents on Saturday at 12 A.M.

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  • Chris Coghlan remains under team control through 2016. The 30-year-old veteran has been solid in his two seasons in Chicago. With the Cubs, he slashed .265/.346/.447. He has played center field in 95 games during his career. Coghlan is the type of veteran player that can fill in a position effectively while the Cubs continue their search for a long-term option.

    The Chicago Cubs have to make some decisions on how they are going to allocate their monetary resources this offseason. While they could realistically pursue a big name free agent if Fowler decides to leave, this would compromise their ability to improve their starting rotation. Free agent outfielders such as Denard Span, Jason Heyward and Alex Gordon have all been linked to the Chicago Cubs at one point or another. However, the Cubs don’t need to sign one of these guys to a huge contract when pitching is obviously their number one priority.

    In addition, whomever ultimately takes over the center field duties for the Chicago Cubs next season may serve as a stop-gap because prospect Albert Almora could present a long-term option at this position. It isn’t logical to sign a free agent to a long-term contract when a prospect with tremendous upside that plays the same position waits in the minor leagues.

    Mar 18, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs outfielder

    Albert Almora

    against the Los Angeles Dodgers during a spring training game at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    The 21-year-old prospect from Florida played for the Chicago Cubs Double-A affiliate Tennessee Smokies in 2015. He slashed .272/.327/.400 in 106 games.

    The numbers aren’t overly impressive, but the Chicago Cubs still believe they have a good player in Almora. Scouts cite maturity beyond his years as a major reason for his impending success. He is an outstanding center fielder, and, while not the fastest guy, his innate ability to take effective routes to the ball makes him potent at this position. In the minors thus far, he recorded a low strikeout rate (7.1 percent in 2015). He doesn’t have the power potential of many of the Cubs prospects that came before him, but he does project as a solid bottom-of-the-order hitter. His defensive upside entirely makes up for any lack of hitting.

    Assuming that Dexter Fowler walks (highly likely), the Chicago Cubs should invest in a stop-gap, in-house outfielder instead of signing a free agent to a long-term contract which hurts their ability to sign starting pitching. Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia could likely be re-signed in free agency for relatively cheap prices, while Chris Coghlan presents another option while remaining under team control through 2016.

    Ultimately, whomever plays center field for the Chicago Cubs in 2016 serves as a temporary solution. Ideally, Albert Almora would become the long-term option at center field. If this plan doesn’t pan out, the Cubs can worry about investing in a center fielder in a future offseason. Right now, adding starting pitching is their most pressing priority and the Cubs can’t sacrifice unnecessary money elsewhere this offseason.