Cubs

Cubs weighing options in center field beyond Dexter Fowler

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Cubs weighing options in center field beyond Dexter Fowler

Joe Maddon kept telling Dexter Fowler: You go, we go. And the Cubs went all the way to the National League Championship Series. But after a sensational walk year for the leadoff guy, it could be looking more like: He gone.

Fowler will cash in somewhere as a free agent, and if the Cubs have to choose between investing in center field or pitching, that money will probably be transferred into the rotation.

Even during a subpar first half, the Cubs planned to give Fowler the $15.8 million qualifying offer, knowing they would either get a good one-year solution or the draft pick. And then Fowler caught fire after the All-Star break, getting on base almost 39 percent of the time and finishing with 102 runs scored, 17 homers and 20 stolen bases.

“I believe God has a process,” Fowler said. “At the end of the day, if this is where I need to be, this is where I need to be.”

[MORE CUBS: Whether or not David Price is right, Cubs need more pitching]

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn’t rule out a return during Thursday’s state-of-the-team address at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs also know an athletic player with on-base skills will get paid this winter.

“Dexter Fowler had an unbelievable year,” Epstein said. “He fit in tremendously well in this organization. I think really highly of him as a player and as a person.

“He’s a free agent. He’s earned that status. It’s not something I take lightly. Players rarely have the ability to go out and see what their market is and what teams are interested in them.

“We’ll see what the future holds. But certainly there’s an interest in sitting down at the appropriate time with Dexter and his agent, Casey Close, and seeing if there’s a way to keep him as a Chicago Cub.”

If healthy, the Cubs see Denard Span as another possible option for center field in 2016. Injuries limited Span to only 61 games, and the Washington Nationals missed his presence during a massively disappointing year. Span, who hit .301 with a .796 OPS, will be 32 next season and would probably be a defensive upgrade.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs will explore long-term deal for Jake Arrieta]

Maddon’s mix-and-match philosophy means the Cubs could move Kris Bryant from third base to the outfield, but it’s hard to see center being his permanent home.

There are too many injury risks – collisions with the wall and teammates – for a premium power hitter with superstar potential. Bryant hasn’t fully developed all those defensive instincts yet – the sense for speed and angles and positioning – and ideally would prefer to play third base.

After watching Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler misread too many balls hit by the New York Mets during that NLCS sweep, the Cubs see outfield defense as a glaring area for improvement.

After watching Schwarber and Bryant rocket through the farm system, the Cubs also need to remind themselves to be patient and remember how long this process usually takes with prospects.

Albert Almora – a strong defender and the first player drafted by the Epstein administration in 2012 – won’t be ready to play center field on Opening Day 2016.

Almora didn’t have an exceptional wire-to-wire season at Double-A Tennessee, but he’s still only 21 and seemed to hear the wake-up call as other players debuted and made their marks at Wrigley Field. Almora hit .301 with an .834 OPS in the second half for the Smokies, though that surge and first-round pedigree could make him an interesting trade chip this winter.

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Fowler and Epstein said all the right things publicly, but the Cubs are probably looking for a free agent or a trade target to help bridge the next two seasons in center field.

Given the franchise’s wave of young talent, we’ll see how many years the Cubs are willing to go for someone who will be 30 next season. And Fowler will never be in a better position to maximize his earning potential.

“This is a great organization,” Fowler said. “Awesome city. And the fans were awesome. This is Wrigley Field. Not a better place to play.”

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.