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Javy glove, will travel: Cubs’ Baez to try CF in winter ball

The Cubs’ search for ways to fill their center field void this winter has gone full circle – from free agent and trade possibilities, back to their young infield core.

Just ahead of next week’s winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., team president Theo Epstein said on Friday that middle infielder Javy Baez will start playing the position this month during winter league games in Puerto Rico.

The club has no immediate plans to try to turn him into Dexter Fowler’s replacement as the everyday starter in center. But the concept of the athletic Baez in center has been discussed internally for close to a year.

“Just to add to his versatility,” Epstein said. “And at a moment in time when we have a bit of a hole in center field, it makes sense to see what Javy looks like out there.

“He’s always enjoyed taking fly balls during batting practice out in center field shagging. He’s always looking really good. We’re going to work with him a little bit more and see what he looks like in games.”

Outfield instructor Doug Dascenzo is heading to Puerto Rico to oversee the process.

“Maybe it creates another option for Joe late in games or as an injury fill-in or who knows where it could lead down the road,” Epstein said. “But it’ll be fun to take a look at him out there.”

Baez, 23, already was considered the Cubs’ top overall defensive infielder, versatile enough to play every spot left of first base during his 28-game finish in the big leagues this season.

Beyond giving the Cubs potential options in 2016, his ability to handle center also presumably raises his value in possible trade talks this winter for the right-handed slugger.

The Cubs are still talking to Fowler about returning as a free agent after he declined their qualifying offer. But he’s expected to get strong enough offers to push him beyond the Cubs’ comfort zone.

Regardless of Baez’ progress and the club’s intentions with him for 2016, the Cubs still plan to add from the outside to upgrade a defensively lacking outfield.

“There’s a lot of different ways we can go, and it’ll probably get more in focus as we get to the meetings,” Epstein said. “It’s something that could happen late, something that could happen tomorrow. It’s hard to say. It might be a combination of moves, too. It’s not certain we’re going to go for one obvious solution. We might add to our outfield mix with a couple of players that complement each other well and attack it that way. It depends on what happens with the rest of the team.”