As expected, Dexter Fowler formally declined the qualifying offer by Friday’s deadline, knowing he will be able to command far more than a one-year, $15.8 million deal after such a strong finish with the Cubs.
Fowler will get paid for his on-base skills (.363 career percentage), relative youth (30 next season) and passable defense at a premium position (center field), meaning the Cubs will likely have to replace the leadoff guy for a team that rolled into the National League Championship Series.
The Cubs met with Casey Close – the agent who also represents pitcher Zack Greinke and outfielder Alex Gordon – during this week’s general manager meetings at the Boca Raton Resort and Club.
“We’ve maintained dialogue with Casey Close about Dexter, but it’s really early in this process,” team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday in South Florida. “We’ve brainstormed a number of trade possibilities in center field, as well as other free agents and had some dialogue, but nothing that’s really moved down the field yet.”
The Cubs can see if Scott Boras is willing to do a “pillow contract” for Denard Span, who played only 61 games during an injury-plagued season and still put up a .796 OPS. But it’s also telling that the Washington Nationals didn’t make Span a qualifying offer.
Gerardo Parra is another player the Cubs have on their radar. Parra can play all three outfield positions and is coming off a season where he hit .291 with 14 homers and 51 RBI for the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles. Parra’s versatility, left-handed bat and age – he will be 29 next year – are appealing.
The Cubs appreciate Ben Zobrist’s overall game, but they don’t see Joe Maddon’s super-utility guy as an every-day option to play center field.
WEEI.com identified the Cubs and Kansas City Royals as possible fits for Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., an outstanding defender who could be moved with new president Dave Dombrowski now running baseball operations at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox used a first-round pick on Bradley in 2011, Epstein’s final year as their general manager, and the Cubs have repeatedly picked up players and staffers who used to work in Boston. Dombrowski is also known as an aggressive executive who won’t have the same emotional attachment to homegrown Red Sox.
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But any hopes the Cubs once had for Bradley being a buy-low candidate might have disappeared when he got hot in August and September (nine homers, 40 RBI), raising his overall OPS to .832 this year. Plus, the Red Sox appear to be set with middle infielders and in the market for pitching, and the Cubs don’t really have that currency to trade right now.
Ultimately, with so many of their young hitters already graduated to the big leagues and only so much financial flexibility, the Cubs don’t need a big name in center field, just someone who can play good defense and balance out what can be an all-or-nothing lineup.
The Cubs have varying degrees of interest in pitchers who turned down qualifying offers – including Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lackey and Jeff Samardzija – and the calculus of giving up a draft pick has changed for a franchise in win-now mode.