Inbox: Will Fowler re-sign with Cubs?

Beat writer Carrie Muskat answers questions from Chicago fans

Inbox: Will Fowler re-sign with Cubs?

What are the chances Dexter Fowler re-signs with the Cubs? He was such a key member in 2016, it would be sad to see him go.
-- Max C., Anthem, Ariz.

The Cubs are staying in touch with Fowler's agent about possibly returning, but this is a great time to be a free-agent center fielder. The Cardinals, Rangers, Nationals, Giants and Yankees are all reportedly in the market for an outfielder. Fowler is an attractive option coming off a season in which he compiled a slash line of .276/.393/.447, while also being named to the All-Star team for the first time. With the Cubs' signing of Jon Jay, and with Jason Heyward, Jorge Soler, Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber already around, Fowler most likely won't surprise Cubs players and show up in Mesa, Ariz., for Spring Training in February. But general manger Jed Hoyer wouldn't rule it out.

Have you heard anything from Theo Epstein, Hoyer and company about their confidence in the offensive capability of Albert Almora Jr.? With Fowler seemingly moving on, do they look at Almora as their future everyday center fielder?
-- Curtis K., Crystal Lake, Ill.

During the General Managers Meetings, Epstein was asked about Almora taking over in center, and the Cubs' president of baseball operations said they would prefer to ease the 22-year-old into the role. Said Epstein: "I wouldn't rule out the job being his, but I think it would be more likely that we would acquire someone to complement him and allow him to grow into the job more gradually." On Tuesday, the Cubs did just that, signing the veteran Jay to a one-year deal.

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Jay signs deal with Cubs

What do you see as the biggest need for the Cubs this offseason? Do you see Carl Edwards Jr. as the closer of the future or will they look outside the organization to fill that role?
-- D.J. N., Cabot, Ark.

Manager Joe Maddon says his main concern during the season is the bullpen. Aroldis Chapman has left via free agency, and Edwards, 25, is an option, but the Cubs will have to decide if he can handle the workload. Last year, Edwards totaled 61 1/3 innings between Triple-A Iowa and the Cubs, but Maddon was careful not to use the right-hander on consecutive days. Edwards pitched in back-to-back games once (June 28-29). Hector Rondon will have the offseason to get healthy and could return to the closing role, but the Cubs need the right-hander to pitch as he did in the first half (1.72 ERA) and not the second half (6.41 ERA).

Edwards Jr. strikes out Napoli

Do the Cubs have any starting pitching prospects who could be ready by Opening Day 2018 to replace either Jake Arrieta or John Lackey if the team opts not to resign them?
-- Richard K., Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Keep an eye on Duane Underwood, 22, who made 18 starts last season across four Minor League levels and is ranked as the Cubs' No. 6 prospect by MLBPipeline.com. Underwood is on the Cubs' 40-man roster, and he impressed Maddon during a Spring Training outing last year. Ryan Williams, the club's No. 18 prospect, battled shoulder soreness last season but did compile a 3.27 ERA in nine starts at Triple-A Iowa. Another future starter is Trevor Clifton, the Cubs' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2016 and ranked as the team's No. 8 prospect. Clifton went 7-7 with a 2.72 ERA in 23 starts for Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. Jen-Ho Tseng could be a back-of-the-rotation option in 2018. This season, he had a 4.29 ERA in 22 starts at Double-A Tennessee.

The next wave of young pitchers -- Dylan Cease, 20; Jake Stinnett, 24; and Justin Steele, 21 -- may not be ready until 2019.

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.