Baez to play center in winter ball

Cubs in market for CF help, will try infielder there

Baez to play center in winter ball

CHICAGO -- What do the Cubs do with their overload of middle infielders? Javier Baez will get some playing time in center field for Santurce in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

Baez played his first game for Santurce on Tuesday, his 23rd birthday, and started at second base. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Friday that Minor League outfield instructor Doug Dascenzo will join Baez in Puerto Rico and practice before starting a game in center.

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"It will add to his versatility and it makes sense to do it at a moment in time when we have a bit of a hole in center field -- it makes sense to see how Javy looks out there," Epstein said. "He's someone who's always enjoyed taking fly balls during batting practice in center field, shagging out there, and has always looked good doing so."

The Cubs are in the market for a center fielder with Dexter Fowler leaving via free agency. Chicago did make a qualifying offer to Fowler, which he rejected. Epstein said there is still dialogue with Fowler's agent, Casey Close.

"We'd be quite open to his return, but obviously we'd have to do it in a way that fits our outlook in 2016 and beyond," Epstein said.

Without an obvious fill-in, the Cubs will look at Baez, who spent most of 2015 at Triple-A Iowa, where he batted .324 in 70 games. He missed the month of April to be with family after the death of his sister, and then was sidelined with a broken finger injured while sliding into second base.

The Cubs have the luxury of three young talented middle infielders in Baez, Addison Russell and Starlin Castro, and that depth was needed in the National League Division Series when Russell injured his hamstring in Game 3. Baez started in Game 4 and hit a three-run homer in the second inning off the Cardinals' John Lackey.

In 28 games with the Cubs last season, Baez batted .289 with one home run, six doubles and four RBIs.

"Maybe [moving Baez to center] it creates another option for [manager Joe Maddon] late in games or as an injury fill in -- who knows what it will lead to?" Epstein said. "It'll be fun to take a look at him out there."

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.