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Cubs make Dexter Fowler qualifying offer and look at center-field options

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Cubs make Dexter Fowler qualifying offer and look at center-field options

As expected, the Cubs made Dexter Fowler a qualifying offer by Friday’s deadline, though there’s a strong sense the leadoff guy will get paid somewhere else, with Theo Epstein’s front office taking the draft pick as compensation and exploring other center-field options.

Both sides got exactly what they wanted out of this arranged marriage, which the Cubs set up when they acquired Fowler from the Houston Astros last January. An outstanding platform season for a playoff team means Fowler will do exponentially better than the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer.

The Cubs took off when Fowler found another gear in the second half, getting on base almost 39 percent of the time and finishing with 17 homers and 102 runs scored. The Cubs wouldn’t win 97 games and two playoff rounds without Fowler as an offensive spark.

But signing Fowler would mean buying high on an outfielder who played around 118 games on average during the 2013 and 2014 seasons (though he will only be 30 next year). And the Cubs could probably find a defensive upgrade in center field, where Fowler didn’t grade out exceptionally well in terms of the metrics or the eye test.

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Still, the Cubs plan to speak with Fowler’s high-powered agent, Casey Close of Excel Sports Management. The Cubs will also be in listening mode and open to other ideas when the general manager meetings begin next week in Boca Raton, Florida.

“We had a great year with Dexter,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We really enjoyed getting to know him. He was the catalyst for our offense and played good defense. (He) was good in the clubhouse.

“We’ll definitely sit down with Casey in the near future.”

The Washington Nationals did not give the qualifying offer to Denard Span – a player the Cubs discussed last offseason before making the Fowler deal – and that development should make him an even more attractive buy-low candidate without the attached draft pick.

Span would have to answer questions about his health after a series of injuries limited him to only 61 games with an underachieving Washington team. But he still managed to hit .301 with a .796 OPS this year. He’s a left-handed hitter with a .352 career on-base percentage who stole 31 bases for a 96-win team in 2014 and checks a lot of boxes for the Cubs.

The Cubs viewed Austin Jackson as only a rental player when they acquired him from the Seattle Mariners at the Aug. 31 deadline, which would appear to cross him off the list. 

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Whether it’s following the Fowler blueprint and putting together another trade, or signing a free agent with on-base/contact skills and defensive upside, the Cubs will likely try to buy some time until 2017 or 2018 with a short-term solution.

Maybe everything clicks for someone like Albert Almora or Billy McKinney at Triple-A Iowa next year, or the Cubs get a better feel for where their versatile young players fit defensively.

Kris Bryant has some outfield experience and an unselfish attitude, but the All-Star third baseman would prefer to stay in the infield. The Cubs have kicked around the idea of Bryant in center, but they don’t see that as a realistic option for a 162-game season.

If anything, Javier Baez profiles better than Bryant in center field, but manager Joe Maddon isn’t in a rush to move such a talented middle infielder at this point.

In the end, if the Cubs have to choose between investing in their rotation or center field this winter, that’s really not a difficult decision at all for a franchise loaded with young hitters and lacking in frontline pitchers. 

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).