Cubs

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Cubs

Taking a victory lap in New York, Dexter Fowler did “Saturday Night Live” with Bill Murray, Anthony Rizzo and David Ross. Less than 48 hours later, Fowler was scheduled to be on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon, Rizzo and Ben Zobrist. In between those TV appearances, the Cubs made Fowler a one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer before Monday’s deadline.

The Cubs barely had time to recover from their epic Game 7 win over the Cleveland Indians – and a championship parade into Grant Park that drew 5 million people – before having to make key decisions about the group that will defend the franchise’s first World Series title in 108 years.

Even before the general manager meetings opened in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Cubs allowed Jason Hammel to become a free agent on Sunday, formally declining his $12 million option for next season and electing to him pay a $2 million buyout.

“You sort of accept the nature of that in the sport,” GM Jed Hoyer said. “The last two teams to play really don’t get much of an offseason. You try to do work during the course of the postseason, but it’s really hard, just the anxiety of the games and the travel and everything. It’s harder to get it done. But there are no excuses. It starts now. And we’ve got to prepare to field a really good team next year.”

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This figures to be the “he gone” ending for the “you go, we go” leadoff guy. Of course, no one expected Fowler to return in spring training on a one-year, $13 million guarantee. But the draft-pick compensation dragged down his market and the Baltimore Orioles slow-played negotiations over a reported three-year, $35 million deal. He should get paid this time for his playoff experience, switch-hitting skills, .366 career on-base percentage and .840 walk-year OPS.

The Cubs have been grooming Albert Almora Jr. – the first player Theo Epstein’s regime drafted here in 2012 – to eventually take over in center field and his playoff performance only reinforced that belief in a potential Gold Glove defender.

The Cubs could always add another outfielder if they want to ease in Almora. But that mix already includes so many mix-and-match parts for creative manager Joe Maddon. Gold Glove defender Jason Heyward can move from right to center at times. Zobrist and Kris Bryant can move between the infield and the outfield. Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber – assuming his left knee allows it – could split their time between catching and playing in the outfield.

Matt Szczur is a solid young role player (who might be attractive to a rebuilding team that could give him more of an opportunity to play on a regular basis). Trading Jorge Soler for pitching is easier said than done, given his up-and-down career and what will be sky-high asking prices based off a weak free-agent class. Ready or not, winter is coming.