With free-agent prize a star in corner outfield, club could complement with true center fielder
By Cash Kruth
It's only mid-December, but the Cubs appear to have addressed most of their offseason needs.
They solidified their rotation by adding right-hander John Lackey. They added stability and a veteran presence in second baseman Ben Zobrist. And they acquired rotation depth by trading Starlin Castro to the Yankees for right-hander Adam Warren.
And -- at least at first glance -- the Cubs seem to have found a solution in center field by signing Jason Heyward to an eight-year contract, which was officially announced Tuesday.
Heyward was the prize among the position-player free agents, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner and two-time All-Star who, at 26, presumably has his best years ahead. One potential issue, however, is that much of Heyward's value is based on his defensive play in right field, a position where he has proven to be among the game's elite.
Scouts and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein think Heyward can make a smooth transition to Wrigley Field's center field. Heyward, Epstein said Tuesday, is "someone we feel can play a solid-to-excellent center field."
If the 2016 season began Wednesday, Heyward would be flanked on most days by Kyle Schwarber in left and Jorge Soler in right. Schwarber held his own during his rookie campaign, but he committed several misplays while learning a new position at the big league level, while Soler took the wrong route on multiple occasions. That leaves Heyward, with 32 career appearances in center, with plenty of ground to cover.
So if not Heyward in center, then who?
Former Cub Dexter Fowler is unlikely. Denard Span, limited to 61 games in 2015 due to injuries, could be a nice option for a one-year rebound contract. But if enough teams agree, the Cubs could have difficulty fitting him in their budget.
Gerardo Parra offers the versatility manager Joe Maddon loves. Austin Jackson -- who appeared in 29 games with the Cubs last season -- could be an option, as well as Will Venable. But none are viewed as everyday center fielders.
Infielder Javier Baez and Soler are among the most talked about trade pieces, yet they are usually linked in rumors regarding the Cubs receiving a young starting pitcher under team control for several years. So those two wouldn't seem likely to be involved in a trade for an outfielder, unless the Cubs package Soler with several prospects for a player such as Atlanta's Ender Inciarte -- whom FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal has reported the Cubs at least called about.
Unless the Cubs pull off a trade for Inciarte or a similar player, if they do make a signing, expect for it to be someone who would be deemed underwhelming compared to the moves the Cubs have made thus far.
"I guess that's going to come down to what we see out of ourselves when the group is at Spring Training," Heyward said of playing center. "From my experience, you can say you have certain guys playing somewhere or hitting somewhere in the lineup. When it comes down to it, it's just going to take time for it to play out."
Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.