Look for the Cubs to Add a Center Fielder This Offseason

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Look for the Cubs to Add a Center Fielder This Offseason

Chicago Cubs

I just appreciate Jed Hoyer being transparent about the obvious: the Chicago Cubs need to add a center fielder this offseason from outside the organization.

“I think it was always most likely that we go outside (for a center fielder), and certainly (Alexander) Canario’s injury, Brennen (Davis’) setback, I think made that that much more obvious. So, I think we can expect that,” Hoyer said, per Marquee. “We have guys internally that will certainly play out there. But I think the lion’s share might come from external.”

So there you go. The Cubs are in the market for a starting center fielder.

We’ve talked a bit about the biggest fish and how they may or may not be realistic for the Cubs. Aaron Judge, if he’s a “center fielder” feels like he’s going to get a deal that goes far beyond the Cubs’ comfort range, in terms of length, with a 31-year-old player. Brandon Nimmo could be a fit, if you can get over the injury concerns and the nine-figure price tag. I’d call that one unlikely, but not impossible.

The problem is that the rest of the market, in free agency at least, is rough. From our previous center field discussion:

If the Cubs want to go shorter-term and defense-heavy, Kevin Kiermaier could be an option if the Rays decline his option, as expected. The rub with Kiermaier, 32, is that his season ended with fairly major hip surgery, so can you count on him being back to his elite defensive self? There’s also the bat, which is likely to be below-average overall, even with some platoon protection. Interesting option for the Cubs, though, IF they make significant offensive additions elsewhere.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is out there again, but you know the story. The glove is incredible. The bat the last two years has been UNPLAYABLE. An option to compete in Spring Training on a minor league deal? Yeah, sure. Brought in to be THE guy in center field out of the gate? Or even a part-time guy in a platoon? Again, you’d have to massively improve the offense elsewhere to even think about it.

Old friend Jake Marisnick is back out there. So is Albert Almora. Tyler Naquin. Shrug. It’s just a lot of complementary/bench options, really. Not a great year for free agency in center field. You could just retain Rafael Ortega for a platoon bat at that point.

So the Cubs might have to get creative if they want to fill the spot with an impactful player. Maybe that means a surprising trade (Michael A. Taylor from the Royals could be a sneaky good add, given the quality of his defense and the near-average-ness of his bat). Maybe that means pursuing a non-tender like Cody Bellinger.

With Bellinger, I find it particularly interesting that the Cubs could let him play in center field OR first base, both spots where the Cubs might have a youngster emerge as a regular (so Bellinger then just plays the other spot). Of course, the problem with Bellinger is that the Dodgers might not non-tender him, hoping that they can finally get his bat back to something above average, where he hasn’t been in a few years. And, you know, none of the underlying metrics suggest Bellinger’s last two seasons (.193/.256/.355/69 wRC+) were merely bad luck. The quality of his contact has completely gone to crap. You’d have to believe you can “fix” something there that the Dodgers haven’t been able to fix. The glove is still really good, though, and he’s only 27.

If you were pinning me down as of this moment, I’d say either Kiermaier (if the hip is OK now) or Bellinger (if he’s non-tendered next week) would be my preferred realistic options for the Cubs, but neither is going to get you all that excited. The Cubs will have to add an impact bat or two in some other spot.

Unless the Cubs can pull off a create trade, that is. As others have mentioned, the Diamondbacks have an overload of center-field-capable lefty outfield bats at Triple-A and MLB. I’d love for the Cubs to be looking at a swap there.

I’m sure the Cubs are also looking at options we haven’t even considered yet, or weren’t aware were available. I think as long as the Cubs add offense elsewhere, they could afford to go with a plus-glove guy in center field (which may be more realistically acquirable in any case).

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.