Chicago Cubs: Who will emerge as the starting center fielder in 2017?

Nov 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) talks during the World Series victory rally in Grant Park. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) talks during the World Series victory rally in Grant Park. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

It has been an eventful week for the Chicago Cubs organization and their entire fanbase. From celebrating a World Series title to returning to the Windy City for a victory parade. The dust has somewhat settled so it’s time to think ahead.

Outfielder Dexter Fowler declined his 2017 option and will test free agency. What does that mean for the Chicago Cubs? Well, first, knowing how much Fowler loves the city of Chicago should give them the advantage.

Ever since Fowler was traded to the Cubs just a couple of years ago, he quickly became a fan favorite. At least, one of the favorites. Once his first contract with the Cubbies ran out, most assumed he was moving on.

Taking part in a season in which the Chicago Cubs ended the campaign with the third-best record and reaching the LCS was impressive. In the back of our minds, we all knew, including Fowler, he was due to make some serious money.

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Then Theo and Jed went out and made a huge splash. They signed right-fielder Jason Heyward and the projected lineup had him starting in center. A position that was held down by Fowler pretty well in his first year.

When the Cubs least expected it, Fowler strolled towards his teammates after agreeing to a new deal during training camp. Initial reports pointed to Fowler signing a multi-year contract with the Baltimore Orioles.

Leading The Way

Fowler appearing in Mesa, Arizona proved those reports false, resulting in a World Series run with the Cubs. Having Fowler back in the lineup was huge for this club who knew they had unfinished business. And for Fowler, it was all about redemption.

Yet while having a ton of young talented players is a blessing, it might come back to bite the Cubs in 2017. Especially, when it comes to their outfield. World Series hero, Kyle Schwarber, is expected to start out in left when he’s healthy.

As a result, Javier Baez could end up coming off the bench with World Series MVP, Ben Zobrist moving back to his primary position. So while it appears that left and right field is locked, what about the middle part of the outfield?

Free agency hasn’t started yet but it’s expected to be a wild one. Dexter is going to have a ton of offers coming in. so he should.

Ready To Move On?

Since declining his option, Fowler has not announced that he’s going to shut the door on the Chicago Cubs. Again, he and his family love the city of Chicago. However, one individual could stand in the way of a new deal.

That individual is none other than Albert Almora Jr. Almora hasn’t received much playing time in the outfield and when he did play, you could tell he needs more time. No one expects him to come out and take the league by storm like his fellow teammates, Kris Bryant, Schwarber, Baez, and Addison Russell did.

There is no doubt in my mind that Almora has center field in his back pocket. I just don’t believe it’s anytime soon. Since there is no salary cap in baseball, handing Fowler a multi-year deal with some much-deserved money should not be an issue.

A few names such as Aroldis Chapman and Travis Wood, along with Fowler — headline a list of free agents. Yes, the Cubs are going to focus on adding to the bullpen, so making a run for both Chapman and Wood could be at the top of the list.

In Fowler, We Trust

But when you’re looking at a team that won so many games when Fowler got on base in the first inning, it’s hard to ignore. The Chicago Cubs, no, WE as fans need Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to do everything in their power to bring Fowler back home.

Honestly, it felt like Fowler’s appearance at the victory parade was his way of saying goodbye to the city. I hope that’s not the case. This team played great with him in the lineup and could use him as a mentor — like David Ross did to the younger guys.

Just look at what happened in Game 7 of the World Series. When Fowler led off the game with a home run to center field, Anthony Rizzo was seen shouting, “That’s exactly what we needed!” — as Fowler returned to the dugout.

Also, placing him next to Heyward made Chicago’s outfield the best defensive group you could have in all of baseball. Both men are excellent fielders but Fowler was the better hitter between the two.

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You don’t want to lose his bat and force someone else to step up. Like the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” — meaning Fowler should be the starting center fielder for the Chicago Cubs in 2017.

Dexter has become one of the greatest lead-off hitters the Cubs have seen in a very long time, so why let him leave? It won’t be an issue to compete with other teams wanting to throw him big money. Now, it’s all up to Theo and Jed.

This club needs Fowler.