Chicago Cubs’ struggles in center nothing new


The Chicago Cubs are searching for a center fielder… which is nothing new to this organization.

Name a great Cubs center fielder. Go ahead.

Throw out another position and the challenge isn’t so tough. Asked to name a great Cubs right fielder and the likes of Sammy Sosa or Andre Dawson come to mind. Ask for a third baseman and you could come back with Ron Santo or Aramis Ramirez. First base? You got Ernie Banks (who may also have been the Cubs greatest shortstop), Mark Grace and Derrek Lee.

But center field?

The reality is that the Cubs are rarely settled in center field. It’s been a long, long time since we’ve seen a great Cubs center fielder. In the meantime, we’ve seen a curious cast fielding the alleys at Wrigley Field.

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Anybody remember Felix Pie? How about Emilio Bonifacio? Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes?

Damon Buford, remember him? Buford came to the Cubs with high hopes of locking down the position and was the Opening Day center fielder in 2000 and 2001. He never again played in the majors following his release by the Cubs in May of 2001 after posting a -.4 WAR.

Corey Patterson took over for Buford and remained the Cubs center fielder for the better part of four seasons. Patterson was let go after hitting .215 in 2005. But Patterson had the longest tenure at the position in a quite a while.

Alfonso Soriano–a guy known as a defensive liability in left field–was signed to play center for the Cubs and started the season there in 2007.  That experiment lasted 12 games.

How unsettled has the position been? From 1976 through 1984 the Cubs had a different center fielder on Opening Day of each year. They currently have started a different center fielder each Opening Day since 2012. It can be argued they haven’t had a consistent center fielder since Rick Monday in the early 70’s. They haven’t had a consistent All-Star caliber center fielder since Andy Pafko patrolled between the alleys back in the 40’s and 50’s.

Any guesses as to who the greatest Cubs center fielder is? Most people would probably argue it was Hack Wilson, who had a short but intense tenure in Cubbie blue from 1926-31.  He posted some monster seasons given the era–and played perhaps one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time back in 1930,  posting  1.177 OPS and a record 191 RBI. Unfortunately, Cubs ownership found Wilson’s personality offensive as well. He finished the following season under suspension. And was traded in the off season.

Next: Cubs' reserves will be key in 2016

This year we find the Cubs with questions about who will play center field once again. At time of writing, the Cubs don’t have a true center fielder on their roster–they just have a number of players who specialize at other positions who could play center. Jason Heyward could play some center. Matt Szczur and Kris Bryant spent a little time in center last season. Javier Baez is working out in center in Winter League play.

And there’s the possibility the Cubs could yet sign a free agent center fielder. Incumbent Dexter Fowler is still available, but will likely need to discount his asking price to return to the Cubs. Other possibilities are free agents Denard Span and Gerardo Parra.

What seems unlikely, however, is that we will be looking at the next great Cubs center fielder next season. But perhaps hope for the future looms in the minor leagues in the persons of Albert Almora or Ian Happ.