Cubs looking at CF options with Dexter Fowler declining qualifying offer


Cubs looking at CF options with Dexter Fowler declining qualifying offer

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.”

[MORE: Will Theo Epstein build 2016 ‘super-team’ or try to keep window open longer for Cubs?]

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. 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. 

Willson Contreras progressing, but still no timeline for return to Cubs

Willson Contreras progressing, but still no timeline for return to Cubs

Before the Cubs hosted the San Francisco Giants on Day 2 of American Legion Week, Willson Contreras was out in left field running and working out his injured right hamstring.

The All-Star catcher hit the injured list earlier this month after hitting a line drive to the gap against the Milwaukee Brewers. 

That was two-and-a-half weeks ago and the Cubs initially tabbed the Grade-2 hamstring strain as a roughly four-week timeline. But team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday Contreras is not nearing a rehab stint.

"He's in what our trainers are calling the aggressive strengthening phase of his rehab, which is building up the hamstring strength now that he's gotten through the initial injury," Epstein said. "Always what comes with that is the strength deficit that you have to really be mindful of building back up so that you don't risk reinjuring it when you get back to full baseball activities. 

"You're gonna see him on the field a lot more over the next few days and hopefully soon he'll be progressing to baseball activities. He's not on the cusp of starting a rehab assignment or anything like that. He hasn't really progressed to baseball activities yet, so that will be the next step."

The minor-league season wraps up in the first couple days of September, so Contreras won't have much of an opportunity to get game at-bats and innings at catcher if he isn't able to head on a rehab stint soon.

But the Cubs won't rush it with one of their most important players. Contreras was hitting .275 with 19 homers, 57 RBI and an .890 OPS in 87 games before the injury.

In his absence, the Cubs have been pretty well covered with Victor Caratini and Jonathan Lucroy splitting duties behind the dish.

Lucroy - acquired Aug. 8 after being released by the Los Angeles Angels - is hitting .333 with a .798 OPS in 7 games and has impressed with his work as a game-caller and veteran presence. Caratini continues to put up quality at-bats while building on his breakout campaign.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: The Cubs' triumphant return home

USA Today

Sports Talk Live Podcast: The Cubs' triumphant return home

Luke Stuckmeyer and Fred Mitchell join Kap on the panel.

0:00- Doug Glanville joins the guys to discuss the Cubs' triumphant return home, Nicholas Castellanos and the importance of the starting rotation over the rest of the season.

11:00- Scott Podsednik drops by to talk about another dominant performance by Lucas Giolito. Could the Sox contend next season after taking a series from another division leader?

17:30- Tony Andracki joins Kap from Wrigley Field with the latest on Ben Zobrist's return and if Brandon Morrow's shutdown will have any impact on the Cubs' bullpen.

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Sports Talk Live Podcast