CHICAGO -- For the second straight year, the Cubs made a qualifying offer to Dexter Fowler, and for the second time, the outfielder has rejected it.
Last year, Fowler declined a $15.8 million qualifying offer, but he ended up returning to the Cubs in late February, signing a one-year, $13 million deal with an option for 2017. He sparked the top of the lineup, batting .276 and leading the team with a .393 on-base percentage.
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This year, the qualifying offer was $17.2 million, but Fowler once again rejected it and will test the free-agent market. Players had until 4 p.m. CT on Monday to accept the qualifying offer.
The Blue Jays, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers, Phillies, Mariners, Rangers and Athletics are reportedly among the teams that may pursue Fowler.
If Fowler doesn't surprise the Cubs by returning, the team will have to fill two large gaps -- leadoff man and center field. Last year, they projected Jason Heyward in center, Jorge Soler in right and Kyle Schwarber in left, and that could be the alignment in 2017 with the addition of Ben Zobrist if manager Joe Maddon decides to keep Javier Baez at second base.
Heyward, who won his fourth Rawlings Gold Glove Award this year, has said he was willing to make the move to center if needed. After batting .293 with 13 homers and 60 RBIs in 2015 with the Cardinals, Heyward hit .230 with seven home runs and 49 RBIs in his first season with the Cubs.
Albert Almora Jr. is another in-house option, but during the General Managers Meetings last week, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said they may look elsewhere for an outfielder.
"I wouldn't rule out the job being [Almora's], but I think it would be more likely that we would acquire someone to compliment him and allow him to grow into the job more gradually," Epstein said.
The Cubs did not make qualifying offers to their other free agents, including pitchers Travis Wood, Joe Smith and Trevor Cahill; outfielder Chris Coghlan; and infielder Munenori Kawasaki.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. 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.