BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Dexter Fowler rejected the Cubs' qualifying offer of one-year, $15.8 million on Friday, which leaves the team with a large gap to fill in center field, the lineup and the clubhouse.
By making the offer, the Cubs guaranteed themselves a compensation Draft pick should Fowler sign elsewhere this offseason. No player had accepted a qualifying offer until this year, when the Astros' Colby Rasmus became the first to do so. On Friday, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters and Dodgers pitcher Brett Anderson also accepted qualifying offers. The value for the qualifying offer was determined by averaging the top 125 player salaries from the previous season.
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Cubs officials did talk to Fowler's agent, Casey Close, during the General Managers Meetings this week. Close also represents Rasmus and free agents Jason Heyward and Alex Gordon, so he's well aware of the market for outfielders.
"We had a great year with Dexter and we really enjoyed getting to know him," general manager Jed Hoyer said prior to the GM Meetings. "He was a catalyst for our offense all year, and was good in the clubhouse."
Fowler, one of the key veterans on the team, will be hard to replace at the top of the lineup. If the Cubs don't find a true leadoff man, they could try an unconventional mix there. Hoyer pointed out that the Red Sox used Kevin Youkilis in that role.
Fowler made $9.5 million in his first season with the Cubs, when he set career highs in runs (102), hits (149), home runs (17), walks (84) and games played (156).
As for center field, the in-house candidates may include Javier Baez, who will get some playing time in the outfield this spring.
In explaining why he batted the pitcher eighth and not ninth, manager Joe Maddon called the No. 9 batter a "leadoff man in training." Rookie Addison Russell filled that role this season with the Cubs, but he may not be ready to move to the top spot of the lineup in his sophomore season.
What will the Cubs do? President of baseball operations Theo Epstein said they have brainstormed about some trade options. There were reports Thursday that the Cubs were talking to the Red Sox about possibly dealing for Jackie Bradley Jr., a defensive whiz who batted .249 in 74 games. Epstein was the Red Sox's general manager when the club drafted Bradley in the first round in 2011.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.