“It makes sense to do it at a moment in time when we have a bit of a hole in center field,” Epstein said Friday afternoon. “It makes sense to see what Javy looks like out there. We’re going to work with him a little more to see what he looks like in games.”
By no means are the Cubs planning to make Baez their starting center fielder in 2016, but they want to increase his versatility just in case he’s needed there. Outfield coach Doug Dascenzo will spend time with Baez in Puerto Rico.
“Maybe it creates another option for Joe (Maddon) in games or an injury fill-in or who knows what it could lead to down the road,” Epstein said.
The move doesn’t come as a surprise considering Baez is athletic, willing to play there and Maddon wants versatility from as many as possible.
“When I was growing up, I learned how to read the ball off the bat and I got really good at it and kept working on it,” Baez said in September. “I learned in the outfield, center field.”
Maddon’s only resistance last season was due to Baez’ prowess in the infield.
“There’s no doubt he could do it, but he’s so good in the infield,” Maddon said. “It’s rare to find someone that fields the baseball as well as he does. ... Game in progress, I think he can do it. You really want to start him on the dirt if you get the chance though.”
That was said before the Cubs decided to give Baez time this winter in center. They’ll undoubtedly continue the work in spring training but dabbling in center field and changing positions completely are two different things. The Cubs aren’t there yet, but they’re preparing just in case. After all, we don’t know who the Opening Day center fielder will be.
“We’re working on it,” Epstein said. “There’s a lot of different ways we could go. It might be a combination of moves. We might add to the outfield mix who complement each other well and attack it that way. It depends on what happens with the rest of the team.”
That’s an indication the Cubs would be willing to platoon -- perhaps with Baez as the option against lefties or perhaps the Cubs bring in two new outfielders. Epstein also didn't close the door on bringing back free-agent Dexter Fowler but professed little progress with him.
“It’s status quo," Epstein said. "We would be quite open to his return, but we would have to do it in a way that fits our outlook in 2016 and beyond.”
No matter what the implications are of a Baez move to center, it simply gives the Cubs more flexibility and another position to play for the former first-round pick.
“It adds to his versatility,” Epstein said.