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Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer says Dexter Fowler will always be welcome in Chicago. But that probably means not having to pay for a meal or a drink in this city. Or getting a standing ovation and a tribute on the video board when he returns to Wrigley Field in a different uniform. Or going to the 10-year reunion of the team that won the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908.

The Cubs couldn’t have done it without Fowler, the “you go, we go” leadoff guy for a team that won 200 games and five playoff rounds across the last two seasons combined.

But the Cubs are moving on, signing outfielder Jon Jay to a one-year, $8 million contract while Fowler expects to cash in with the multiyear offers that didn’t really materialize last winter.

“We would never close the door on a reunion with Dexter,” Hoyer said Wednesday on a conference call. “He’s always welcome here. He’s a guy that’s going to live in Cubs’ lore for a long time.

“If the unexpected happens – like it did last offseason – we would love to have him back. But we know how this business works. And that’s not something we necessarily count on.”

The Cubs see Albert Almora Jr. as a defensive upgrade and a future Gold Glover and felt enough confidence to put the rookie on the playoff roster for all three postseason rounds. Jay also grew up in Miami and worked out with Almora last winter. Jay represents a left-handed platoon partner and another veteran voice in the clubhouse after winning a World Series ring with the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.


“We think Albert is definitely ready to play center field in the big leagues,” Hoyer said. “He’s a very instinctive player. He’s a great defensive outfielder. And I think Jon allows him to sort of ease into that role a little bit if Dexter doesn’t return.

“We would never close the door on Dexter. But we are aware that it’s something that may not happen for us.”

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Theo Epstein’s front office tries to adhere to an overall philosophy of never ruling anything out. It paid off when Fowler remained out there as a free agent in spring training, willing to accept a $13 million guarantee with his market dragged down by the qualifying-offer system that’s been a focal point in the ongoing labor negotiations.

Fowler, who will be 31 next season, bet on himself and earned his first All-Star trip, putting up 13 homers and an .840 OPS in 125 games, presumably answering some of the questions other teams may have had about him. With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire on Thursday, the hot-stove season could be about to heat up or shut down.

“There’s a little hesitancy (for) everyone,” Hoyer said. “You don’t know the rules of the game yet. People are moving forward with stuff. But I think that’s always sort of in the back of people’s minds.

“My hope, certainly, is that we know the rules very soon. But, yeah, it’s added a different element to this offseason. Hopefully, that’s behind us in fairly short order.”