Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

denard span nationalsWith the infield/leadoff spot shored up by the acquisition of Ben Zobrist, and with the pitching potentially squared away for now, the Cubs can turn their primary focus to the significant hole out in center field. At present, the corner outfield spots figure to be manned by Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler, with Chris Coghlan rotating in, so it’s safe to say that defense in center field should be a primary consideration for the team.

The free agent names coming up in multiple reports over the past 24 hours should not surprise you: Jason Heyward, Denard Span, Gerardo Parra. There are also reports that the Cubs could go after a big-name corner outfielder, but the fit there is a little trickier, what with the Cubs then still needing to add someone who can play center field regularly, and then also the need to figure out how to find time for Schwarber/Soler/Coghlan.

There are theoretical trade options out there – Jackie Bradley, Jr., Jake Marisnick for a couple young, inexpensive, defensively-minded possibilities – but the easiest way to fill the hole right now is simply to sign someone.

We know that the Cubs are deeply interested in Jason Heyward, and, while it’s an interesting discussion what they would need to do to fit him in financially, there seems to be enough smoke there a day after the Castro/Zobrist movement to conclude that, yes, just as it was yesterday, the Cubs are going to try and pursue Heyward.

But, given that he’s the top dog on the market and will have a number of suitors waiting to throw diamond-crusted rubies at him, the Cubs will have to have alternatives in mind. There’s Dexter Fowler, of course, but it doesn’t sound like the sides will be able to pair up on a return that makes sense for both.

Jon Heyman says the Cubs are interested in Denard Span, whom we discussed early in the offseason, and who will play next season at age 32. The story with Span is basically this: if he’s interested in a short-term deal, perhaps to prove he’s healthy after his hip injury, then he makes as much sense for the Cubs as anyone. He can bat at the top of the order (if healthy), play decent center field defense (if healthy), and he can head back out to make even more money in free agency (if healthy) when the Cubs are ready to go with an in-house option in center like Albert Almora. With Span, you’re probably going to pay a decent-sized AAV on a short-term deal, and you’re rolling the dice on his health.

I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see the Cubs turn semi-aggressively toward Span if and when a Heyward pursuit proves no longer practical.

Chris Cotillo reports that the Cubs are also among the teams in on Gerardo Parra, another outfielder we’ve discussed before. The story with Parra, 28, is a little different than Span, because signing Parra to a multi-year deal (at a lower AAV) would be a little more palatable, given his age and defensive versatility. Although I’m sure Span could play all over the outfield, Parra has actually demonstrated that ability in recent years. The questions with Parra, though, are whether you’re OK with a bat that’s probably going to be right around his career average line (.277/.326/.404, 93 wRC+) unless last year’s power spike was sustainable, and whether the glove plays at least average in center field (he’s rated horribly there the last two years). In other words, you might be able to get Parra on a nice three-year contract, but the performance is your roll of the dice.

For what it’s worth, the FanGraphs crowd projected Parra to get a three-year, $24 million deal, and projected Span at three years and $36 million.

Dexter Fowler is projected to get more, and some see that as a risk. But, if the Cubs can’t get Heyward, I see Fowler as looking increasingly attractive. Ditto a trade for a young, defensively-inclined center fielder.

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