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.”

Cubs expected to hire Mike Napoli — David Ross' former teammate — as quality assurance coach

Cubs expected to hire Mike Napoli — David Ross' former teammate — as quality assurance coach

David Ross will not only be managing former teammates with the Cubs in 2020, but he'll be coaching alongside one, too.

The Cubs are expected to add former MLB catcher Mike Napoli to Ross' coaching staff, per multiple reports. Napoli will assume the title of quality assurance coach, vacated by Chris Denorfia, who held the position for one season.

Napoli played in parts of 12 big-league seasons from 2006-17 with the Angels, Rangers, Red Sox and Indians. He won the 2013 World Series with Boston — alongside Ross and Cubs starter Jon Lester — and was also a key figure with the 2016 Indians, whom the Cubs defeated in the World Series. He finished his career with a .246/.346/.475 slash line with 267 home runs. 

According to MLB Network's Jon Heyman, the Cubs pursued Napoli last winter, though the 38-year-old wanted to take a short break from baseball before jumping into coaching. He'll join a Cubs coaching staff that is almost finalized, with the exception of one vacant base coach spot. Here's what the group looks like right now:

Manager — David Ross
Bench coach — Andy Green
Pitching coach — Tommy Hottovy
Associate pitching coach, catching and strategy coach — Mike Borzello
Hitting coach — Anthony Iapoce
Assistant hitting coach — Terrmel Sledge
Bullpen coach — Chris Young
Base coach — Will Venable
Base coach — open
Quality assurance coach — Mike Napoli

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday the organization hopes to have the coaching staff finalized by the end of the week. With Napoli on board, the Cubs are one step closer to making that goal a reality.

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Fans apologize to Yu Darvish following Astros cheating allegations

Fans apologize to Yu Darvish following Astros cheating allegations

When the Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish at the 2017 trade deadline, he was expected to be one of the final pieces to their championship puzzle.

After a solid nine-start regular season with Los Angeles, Darvish was stellar early in the postseason. In two starts (one in the NLDS, one in the NLCS), he allowed two runs across 11.1 innings, racking up 14 strikeouts compared to a single walk.

Things went downhill for Darvish in the World Series, where he surrendered nine runs in 3.1 innings across two starts. This includes Game 7, when he threw 47 pitches in 1.2 innings, allowing five runs in a 5-1 series-clinching win for the Astros.

Darvish became a scapegoat for the Dodgers' World Series loss and faced heavy backlash from fans. Consequentially, he had concerns about re-signing with the Dodgers when he became a free agent that offseason, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, due to fears of how the city's anger towards him would affect his family.

Two years later, fans are now apologizing for directing their anger at Darvish for his World Series performance. Why?

Tuesday, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich reported the Astros stole opposing teams' signs electronically during the 2017 season. This conflicts with the notion of Darvish tipping his pitches in the World Series, which an anonymous Astros player told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci was the case.

The notion of Darvish tipping his pitches is now in question altogether:

As has often been the case this offseason, Darvish had a brilliant reaction to the whole situation on Twitter:

Darvish joined the Cubs in 2018 on a six-year deal. After an injury-riddled debut season with the Cubs, he took off post-All-Star break in 2019 and is expected to be the team's Opening Day starter in 2020. Although what happened in 2017 can't be changed, it's nice to see he's moved forward.

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