Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson and open space for 2016 Cubs in center field


Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson and open space for 2016 Cubs in center field

The Cubs know Dexter Fowler will get paid this offseason, when they will probably be forced to choose between investing in their rotation or center field.

That shouldn’t be a hard decision when the organization has so many young hitters and not nearly enough pitching. Look at it as getting someone else to join Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in a 1-2-3 playoff combination for this competitive window at Wrigley Field.

Giving Fowler the qualifying offer is an obvious move, according to a source familiar with the team’s thinking, who said it still would have been the smart play even if he hadn’t become red-hot after an uneven first half.

The Cubs would have been fine with a temporary one-year solution that would have bought time while waiting for Albert Almora to develop at Triple-A Iowa or another young player to step forward or the right trade opportunity to present itself.

Last year’s qualifying offer had been set at $15.3 million. Fowler is playing his way out of that price range, getting on base 44 percent of the time since the All-Star break and already setting career highs in home runs (15) and runs scored (85).

[MORE: Russell, Soriano caught up in 'numbers game' with Cubs]

Fowler has been an offensive catalyst for a contending team, but he will be in position to cash in before his 30th birthday. The Cubs can take the draft pick as compensation and find a better defender in center.

But what president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday while explaining the Austin Jackson deal – “Dexter Fowler is one guy we didn’t have great insurance for, per se, on the roster” – still rings true for 2016.

For now, the Cubs are looking at Jackson as another right-handed hitter to face left-handed pitching while Jorge Soler is sidelined with an oblique injury. At the time of the Aug. 31 stretch-run trade, Jackson had been batting .272 with eight homers, 38 RBI and a .699 OPS with the Seattle Mariners.

The Cubs appreciate the athleticism (104 career stolen bases) and the natural ability to play center or move to the corner spots: Jackson signed a letter of intent to play point guard at Georgia Tech before the New York Yankees picked him in the eighth round of the 2005 draft and bought out that commitment.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs also value the playoff experience: Jackson played in 35 postseason games with the Detroit Tigers between 2011 and 2013.

“You look around and you see the veterans that are in the locker room – a few of them have been there,” Jackson said. “It’s really just about nerves, being able to calm your nerves. The first time I went, you’re kind of overwhelmed with everything, just the atmosphere.

“Once you can learn to control your nerves a little bit – and enjoy the moment – it becomes a lot easier.”

Jackson is 28 years old and will also become a free agent after this season, but everyone around the Cubs is trying to focus on winning that night’s game. Jackson just went from one of baseball’s most disappointing teams to one of its best stories.

“It’s awesome,” Jackson said. “Any time you get a chance to come to a contending team, that’s all you really want. The postseason is where you want to be at.”

Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of


Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of

The Cubs have been a different team the last six weeks, looking a lot more like the resilient bunch from 2016 than the sluggish 2017 squad that lacked energy. After some wacky circumstances Monday and a tough loss in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Cubs came out and showed what they’re made of in the last two games of the series against the Dodgers, a team that knocked them out of postseason play last fall.

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki sum up the longest short homestand (or shortest long homestand?), updating the status of Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, the Cubs pitching staff and how the team is rounding into form as the season’s halfway mark approaches.

Check out the entire podcast here:

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Remember that one time Sammy Sosa threw out his back while sneezing? Well, Brandon Morrow may have topped that on the Cubs all-time list of wacky injuries.

The 33-year-old closer was placed on the 10-day disabled list prior to Wednesday's game after hurting his back while taking his pants off upon returning from the team's road trip to St. Louis. It's being labeled as "lower back tightness."

"It's frustrating any time you can't get out there, and especially when you can't go because of something stupid like taking your pants off," Morrow told reporters on Tuesday.

And that's put the Cubs pitching staff in a tough spot for the rest of the week, given Wednesday's series finale against the Dodgers is the third game in a little more than 24 hours for the Cubs.

"I don't want to downplay anything," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "Obviously he had back spams, he had the same thing in spring training. We'll start treating it the same way we did in spring training; I think he was out about a week to 10 days. If things go as we hope, I think it'd be the kind of thing where he'd probably be able to be throwing before the 10 days is up.

"But we felt like it wasn't going to be something where he was ready this weekend and if he's not going to be ready all weekend, we can already backdate it three days so it made sense to put him on the DL."

Morrow is tied for fifth in the National League with 16 saves and owns a 1.59 ERA is 26 relief appearances this season. Justin Hancock, who served as the 26th man during Tuesday's doubleheader, stayed with the team as a result.