Hoyer: Cubs not closing door on Fowler return

GM says don't rule out free-agent center fielder, even after 1-year deal with Jay

Hoyer: Cubs not closing door on Fowler return

Even after sealing a one-year deal with free-agent center fielder Jon Jay, the Cubs are not quite ready to mark the end of the Dexter Fowler era in Chicago.

"Dexter has been such a wonderful member of the Cubs for the last two seasons, and he's always welcome here," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said on Wednesday, a day after signing Jay for $8 million. "Obviously, last offseason we didn't anticipate him returning, and he did. So we would never close the door on a reunion with Dexter.

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"If the unexpected happens like it did last season, we would love to have him back. But we know how this business works, and that's not something we can necessarily count on."

This marks the second straight year that Fowler turned down a qualifying offer from the Cubs to pursue a multiyear contract on the open market. And for the second straight offseason, the Cubs have signed a former Cardinals outfielder in Fowler's wake.

But since last year's agreement with Jason Heyward did not end the Fowler era -- he re-signed on a one-year contract in Spring Training -- Hoyer spoke of the Jay deal in similar terms. For now, Hoyer suggested, the Cubs are well-positioned with left-handed-hitting Jay and right-handed-hitting Albert Almora Jr. available to man center field for manager Joe Maddon.

Almora, 22, who was the Cubs' first Draft pick under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Hoyer, got his first taste of the Major Leagues in 2016. Hoyer said the playing time split between Almora and Jay would be Maddon's call.

Almora Jr. tags up

"We think Albert is definitely ready to play center field in the big leagues," Hoyer said. "We thought what he did both in September and even in the postseason, offensively and defensively, and the terrific baserunning play in [World Series] Game 7 -- we think he is a very instinctive player, a great defensive outfielder. Jon allows him to ease into that role a little bit if Dexter doesn't return.

"Like I said, we would never close the door on Dexter. But we are aware that it's something that may not happen for us."

The Cubs identified Jay at the start of the offseason, said Hoyer, who along with Epstein hosted Jay for dinner at Chicago's Swift & Sons steakhouse on the Friday before Thanksgiving.

Eleven days later, they finalized a deal.

Jay signs deal with Cubs

"From a makeup and leadership standpoint, he's got an off-the-charts reputation," Hoyer said. "We knew that losing David Ross would leave a big void for us, and bringing in a guy like Jon was something that was important to us. ... We didn't feel like there were too many guys who could come in to a team that just won the World Series and be able to fit that seamlessly and be able to help lead this team. I really feel like he can, given his reputation."

Jay, who will turn 32 in March, is a career .287/.352/.384 hitter in seven seasons with the Cardinals and Padres. He can play all three outfield positions and is considered an above-average defensive center fielder, with a .995 fielding percentage overall that matches Jacoby Ellsbury for the best mark among active outfielders.

Adam McCalvy has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.