Dexter Fowler was presented with the qualifying offer, but the former Chicago Cubs center fielder is more than likely to decline it and seek a multi-year deal in free agency. If that happens, who will play center field for the Cubbies in 2016?
There aren't many attractive center field options on the open market, especially after Colby Rasmus accepted the Houston Astros' qualifying offer. Rumors have linked the Cubs to various outfielders in recent weeks, but is it possible they sink all their dollars into the starting rotation and work on moving Javier Baez to the position?
"Austin Jackson could return as a stop-gap and then there is Baez," writes Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com. "The Cubs think he can do it, but aren't necessarily married to the idea of putting him out there on a full-time basis. There are no perfect options inside the organization. The Cubs have already smartly stated that Kris Bryant isn't the everyday answer either."
"A more interesting name to consider is Javier Baez," adds Joshua Sadlock of Baseball Essential. "The middle infielder could be converted to center-field with a little practice. He's open to the idea, and is on record saying so. Baez is athletic enough to learn the outfield. It may not be the prettiest thing in the world the first few months, but it can't be any worse than Alfonso Soriano. Wrigley Field is not huge, and a converted infielder with enough athletic ability should acquit himself well tracking down flies."
Manager Joe Maddon loves versatility and Baez's athleticism could certainly translate to the center field position. However, the 22-year-old has never logged a game in the outfield in his professional career, and that could be a bit of an issue due to the position's importance. Perhaps he could get significant reps during winter ball and spring training to expedite this hypothetical process.
Baez said he'd be open to playing the outfield in August. It could be a good fit considering the duo of Addison Russell and Starlin Castro in the middle infield worked extremely well when Maddon made the switch. Baez is a middle infielder, but if the Cubs can't trade Castro, who is owed almost $40 million over the next four seasons, then there's no room for Baez in the infield.
Chicago faces a tough decision because they already have two below-average defenders - Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler - in the corner outfield spots. They might want to go out there and find themselves an elite defender, which has already been suggested in trade rumors. Earlier this week it was reported the Cubs have interest in Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who is regarded as one of the best defensive outfielders in the MLB.
Bradley's best value would be in center field, and Mookie Betts figures to man the position in Boston for years to come, which has spurred the trade rumors. The only disadvantage here is that the Red Sox are said to be looking to sell high on Bradley's 2015 performance during which he batted .249/.335/.498 with 43 runs scored, 10 home runs and 43 RBI in 74 games. In his previous 164 games in 2013 and 2014, the 25-year-old had a .196 batting average.
Then again, the Cubs have outfield prospects Albert Almora and Billy McKinney - both of whom should be ready in the next year or two. The team could look to give one-year offers to Jackson, Rajai Davis or Denard Span to simply provide a cheap stopgap.
It all depends on how Chicago's offseason plans shake out, but don't be surprised if you see some Baez in center field next season.