The Cubs have another player on their radar for center field: Javier Baez.
It’s a huge leap to think playing center for Santurce in winter ball translates into being an everyday outfielder on the North Side, but the Cubs are intrigued by the possibilities with Baez.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein said the Cubs are sending Doug Dascenzo – the organization’s outfield/baserunning coordinator – to Puerto Rico to work with Baez on a potential transition. That’s an interesting piece of information as the Cubs prepare for the winter meetings that begin Monday in Nashville, Tennessee.
Manager Joe Maddon has described Baez as one of the best young middle infielders he’s ever seen, valuing his strong arm and baseball IQ and not wanting to give up on those defensive skills.
But the Cubs have anointed Addison Russell as their franchise shortstop, second baseman/former All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro is guaranteed $38 million across the next four seasons and leadoff guy Dexter Fowler is testing the free-agent market.
Maybe Baez could become a super-utility guy for a manager who loves moving pieces around, a trade chip for a front office that needs pitching or a creative short-term solution in center field.
“We’ll get him a look out there, just to add to his versatility,” Epstein said. “It makes sense to do it at a moment in time when we have a bit of a hole in center field. It makes sense to see what Javy looks like out there.
“He’s someone who’s always enjoyed taking flyballs during batting practice out in center field (and) has always looked really good doing so. We’re going to work with him a little bit more and see what it looks like in games, whether it maybe creates another option for Joe late in games or as an injury fill-in.
“Who knows what it could lead to down the road? But it will be fun to take a look at him out there.”
Baez – the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft – just turned 23 years old. He made some adjustments during a difficult year from a personal and professional standpoint, spending most of the season at Triple-A Iowa before making an impact as a September call-up and playoff performer.
There will be times where Baez appears to be out of control, but he didn’t look like the rookie who struck out 95 times in 52 games in 2014. With a powerful lineup anchored by Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs don’t need an offensive superstar and can focus on a defensive upgrade in center field.
For all of his offensive contributions, Fowler (102 runs scored) didn’t excel as a defender and the Cubs have looked at free agents Denard Span and Gerardo Parra and wondered if the Boston Red Sox would make Jackie Bradley Jr. available in a trade.
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Epstein said the Cubs continue to have a dialogue with Casey Close, Fowler’s high-powered agent. But it hasn’t sounded like the Cubs are making Fowler a top priority or that he’s interested in coming back to Chicago at a discount.
“It’s status quo,” Epstein said. “We really enjoyed the experience we had with Dexter in 2015. I thought he made tremendous contributions, both on the field and off the field, and we’d be quite open to his return. But, obviously, we have to do it in a way that fits our outlook in 2016 and beyond.”
As part of the qualifying-offer calculus, if Fowler signs with another team, the Cubs would recoup a draft pick after giving up their first-round selection to get veteran pitcher John Lackey on a two-year, $32 million deal.
“We’ll see where it goes,” Epstein said. “But (Dexter’s) going to end up in a great spot and help a team win, whether it’s here or somewhere else.”