Chicago Cubs: Is Austin Jackson a feasible replacement in center?


The Chicago Cubs acquired center fielder Austin Jackson Aug. 31 from the Seattle Mariners and was added depth in the outfield and at the plate for Chicago down the stretch.

Of course, he was behind Dexter Fowler on the depth chart. Could Jackson be the No. 1 center fielder for the 2016 Cubs?

Jackson’s career started out as a talented prospect in the New York Yankees’ organization but was traded before really ever getting a shot in the Big Apple. Curtis Granderson came to New York via the Detroit Tigers, and Jackson began emerging into the player he was expected to be manning the Tigers’ outfield.

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He played well in 2010, his first MLB season, playing 151 games, hitting .293 and putting up 41 RBIs. He only hit four home runs but started displaying power in subsequent seasons with 10 in 2011 and as many as 16 in 2012.

In 29 games for the Cubs, Jackson hit .236 with one home run and 10 RBIs. Not bad considering he only started a handful of games, accumulating only 72 regular season plate appearances on the North Side. He made one playoff start for the Cubs.

Jackson does have postseason experience, only hitting .220 in 40 games. So, could this be the starting center fielder? Yes.

While it’s expected the Cubs will pursue a starting center fielder in free agency, possibly re-signing Fowler, Jackson makes sense for a couple of reasons.

For one, he could be signed for a short-term basis and taking care of center field duties while Chicago awaits the likes of prospects Billy McKinney and Albert Almora.

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Perhaps instead of signing Fowler or someone like Jayson Heyward to a multi-year contract, Chicago might rather give Jackson center, or utilizing a platoon with another minimum salary. Might Matt Szczur‘s role increase?

Austin Jackson has always been considered a good defensive center fielder, holding a career 7.5 defensive WAR. Fowler is a -4.2, and though he played well in center for the Cubs last season, is going to be significantly more expensive this offseason than Jackson. Edge to Jackson.

Both are similar at the plate, with Fowler holding a superior edge in on-base percentage — .363 vs .333. Offensively, Jackson possesses a 16.8 offensive WAR versus Fowler’s 19.7. Slight edge to Fowler.

The Cubs have a plethora of options at their disposal. There’s also the talk of Javier Báez in the outfield — if he’s not traded.

By not sinking major dollars into a center fielder, the Cubs can distribute that money among the starting rotation. If Austin Jackson did get that chance, he would be more than serviceable.