We talk about the Chicago Cubs possibly picking up a regular center fielder should the right opportunity emerge, but there haven’t actually been a ton of specific rumors to that end. Instead, it just kind of has made sense:
(1) The Cubs don’t have an obvious top-of-the-order bat, and those types frequently take the form of a nice, rangy center fielder;
(2) The Cubs could still stand to add a quality bat in the outfield, and although Arismendy Alcantara has great upside, he’s also an unproven 23-year-old who is still learning center field (giving him a buffer for a year might not hurt);
(3) Adding a sure-fire center fielder would create quite a bit roster flexibility by shifting Alcantara into a utility role, where he could probably play just about anywhere in a pinch; and
(4) Adding a sure-fire center fielder would give the Cubs a ton of cover to not have to rely on so many youngsters right out of the gate (maybe Alcantara goes back to AAA for a stretch if necessary, or maybe Javier Baez goes down and Alcantara plays second base, or maybe Jorge Soler needs extra rest here and there for his hamstrings and the Cubs are better able to shuffle in the outfield).
So, against that backdrop, I’m not surprised by this Buster Olney tweet, but I sure am intrigued:
Cubs among the teams still looking for help: They are hoping to add outfielder with an ability to play center.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) January 12, 2015
Note that Olney does not say the Cubs are looking to add a starting center fielder. Instead, it could be that the Cubs are looking to add only someone else who can help provide support in center (fearing, perhaps, that if Alcantara can’t do it, then guys Chris Denorfia and Ryan Sweeney are not ideal starters there). Given the existence of Alcantara, Denorfia, and Sweeney, however, I can’t help but wonder if the preference – if the Cubs are going to add externally – isn’t to add a starting-caliber center fielder.
So, setting aside the possibility that the Cubs desire only to add a part-time center fielder …
Names of center field types we’ve heard mentioned in trade at times this offseason include Ben Revere (who, to me, adds nice depth, but is not a sure-fire upgrade, especially at the top of the order), Denard Span (who seems very unlikely to be traded after the Nats moved Steven Souza and Jayson Werth had surgery), and Dexter Fowler (whom we still don’t know if the Astros would deal).
Ben Zobrist isn’t a center fielder per se, but he provides support everywhere, and effectively could have fallen into this kind of category, in terms of the upgrade he would have provided for the Cubs. Ultimately, he was dealt to the A’s, though the Cubs were involved.
There are also the surplus outfielders on the Red Sox and Dodgers, though I’m not sure many are strong center fielders. The Padres have a couple good defensive center fielders they could move – Cameron Maybin and Will Venable – but I’m not sure either offers the bat the Cubs might want.
On the free agent side, Colby Rasmus is still out there (and, although he’s not a top-of-the-order bat, he does offer offensive upside on a cheap, one-year deal).
What seems most likely is that the Cubs are looking to pick up a center fielder in a deal involving Welington Castillo, whom they are known to be very open to moving, as well as possibly a back-end starter like Travis Wood. That could mean a surplus outfield bat from the Diamondbacks or Rangers, but I’m not sure the right value-for-value fit will emerge.
That is all to say, I’m not sure where this goes, if the Cubs prefer, specifically, to add a starting center fielder (as opposed to merely adding another complementary outfielder who can play some center). I would agree with that desire, but it’ll take some creativity to get the right guy on the right deal. Otherwise, I remain very supportive of rolling the dice on Rasmus, even if it’s not a perfect fit.
(Aside: If the Cubs are specifically looking for a center fielder, as opposed to any quality outfield bat, by the way, you could also interpret this as a sign that Kris Bryant’s future could be in left field. That’s not necessarily true, but adding a sure-fire corner outfield bat would indicate the opposite. So, preferring to add a center fielder, rather than any outfield bat you can find, may be at least a hint.)