The Cubs know Dexter Fowler will get paid this offseason, when they will probably be forced to choose between investing in their rotation or center field.
That shouldn’t be a hard decision when the organization has so many young hitters and not nearly enough pitching. Look at it as getting someone else to join Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in a 1-2-3 playoff combination for this competitive window at Wrigley Field.
Giving Fowler the qualifying offer is an obvious move, according to a source familiar with the team’s thinking, who said it still would have been the smart play even if he hadn’t become red-hot after an uneven first half.
The Cubs would have been fine with a temporary one-year solution that would have bought time while waiting for Albert Almora to develop at Triple-A Iowa or another young player to step forward or the right trade opportunity to present itself.
Last year’s qualifying offer had been set at $15.3 million. Fowler is playing his way out of that price range, getting on base 44 percent of the time since the All-Star break and already setting career highs in home runs (15) and runs scored (85).
Fowler has been an offensive catalyst for a contending team, but he will be in position to cash in before his 30th birthday. The Cubs can take the draft pick as compensation and find a better defender in center.
But what president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday while explaining the Austin Jackson deal – “Dexter Fowler is one guy we didn’t have great insurance for, per se, on the roster” – still rings true for 2016.
For now, the Cubs are looking at Jackson as another right-handed hitter to face left-handed pitching while Jorge Soler is sidelined with an oblique injury. At the time of the Aug. 31 stretch-run trade, Jackson had been batting .272 with eight homers, 38 RBI and a .699 OPS with the Seattle Mariners.
The Cubs appreciate the athleticism (104 career stolen bases) and the natural ability to play center or move to the corner spots: Jackson signed a letter of intent to play point guard at Georgia Tech before the New York Yankees picked him in the eighth round of the 2005 draft and bought out that commitment.
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The Cubs also value the playoff experience: Jackson played in 35 postseason games with the Detroit Tigers between 2011 and 2013.
“You look around and you see the veterans that are in the locker room – a few of them have been there,” Jackson said. “It’s really just about nerves, being able to calm your nerves. The first time I went, you’re kind of overwhelmed with everything, just the atmosphere.
“Once you can learn to control your nerves a little bit – and enjoy the moment – it becomes a lot easier.”
Jackson is 28 years old and will also become a free agent after this season, but everyone around the Cubs is trying to focus on winning that night’s game. Jackson just went from one of baseball’s most disappointing teams to one of its best stories.
“It’s awesome,” Jackson said. “Any time you get a chance to come to a contending team, that’s all you really want. The postseason is where you want to be at.”