In a perfect world, Brett Jackson would be the Cubs’ starting center fielder for 2013 and years to come.
That was certainly the idea when Jackson was brought up from Triple-A Iowa in early August, but the former first-round draft pick fizzled in his major league debut, hitting .175 with 59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats.
So Jackson will have to wait his turn, going back to Iowa to start the season, along with third baseman Josh Vitters. What the Cubs will do in center remains to be seen, since their best available option is David DeJesus, who started 37 games in center and 86 games in right.
DeJesus was one of the better offseason acquisitions by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, ranking third in the NL with a .358 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot.
The question is whether the Cubs need to find a power-hitting right fielder and leave DeJesus in center, or move DeJesus to right again and get a center fielder who can hold the spot until Jackson is ready (assuming Jackson's 2012 numbers with the Cubs simply reflected the usual growing pains of a rookie).
It’s hard to remember now, but Marlon Byrd was the starting center fielder last spring before struggling early and being sent to Boston. Reed Johnson, Tony Campana and Joe Mather filled in until Jackson was called up, but Johnson was dealt to the Braves on July 30 and Mather was simply a utilityman.
Among the free-agent center fielders available are Josh Hamilton and Torii Hunter, who are almost certainly out of the Cubs’ price range. Power-hitting Curtis Granderson, who grew up in the south suburbs, also could be available if the Yankees decline his option, though he may still be pricey even after his poor postseason performance.
Perhaps the forgotten man in the center-field debate is Campana, who spent most of the season with the Cubs but managed only 174 at-bats in 89 games. Campana was primarily used as a pinch-runner, though he also had 21 pinch-hit at-bats.
Still, his speed is a valuable weapon, and Campana did wind up with 30 steals in 33 attempts. With Dave Sappelt expected to make the team as a reserve corner outfielder, Campana again will have to fight for a roster spot.
Campana's goal is to play every day, like everyone else, but he knows his best chance next year is as a role player.
“That’s what I’ll be here, the guy who comes off the bench, tries to get some excitement going — pinch-run here, pinch-hit there,” he said. “I’m excited. Hopefully I get a start here and there. It’s tough to hit here no matter what in the big leagues, and not getting many at-bats makes it tougher. But you just go up there and compete and do what you can do.”
Campana could be DeJesus’ backup if the Cubs decide to leave DeJesus in center and either sign or acquire a right fielder. After the Ian Stewart flop, the Cubs have little left-handed power outside of Anthony Rizzo and Bryan LaHair, so finding a left-handed-hitting outfielder who can hit for average and has some power seems like a no-brainer.
Of course, the last two “big name” outfielders they signed to solve that lefty problem were Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley.
Those two disastrous signings helped put the Cubs in the position they're in now, starting to build from the ground up.