For most of their recent history, getting on base as a team has been one of the Cubs' biggest bugaboos.
General manager Jed Hoyer and team President Theo Epstein took another step Monday toward remedying that situation by acquiring center fielder Dexter Fowler from Houston in exchange for third baseman Luis Valbuena and pitcher Dan Straily.
Fowler brings solid on-base credentials to Chicago. Last year, he had a .375 OBP to go along with a .275 batting average and .399 slugging percentage. For his career, most of which was spent in Colorado, Fowler has a line of .271/.366/.419.
Fowler is a switch hitter. This off-season, the Cubs also acquired left-handed hitters in catcher Miguel Montero and infielder Tommy La Stella.
"Our biggest needs this off-season offensively were left-handed hitters and guys who get on base," Hoyer said. "That's been a focus for us. We acquired Tommy La Stella to give us some depth in the infield. He fits that role. Then we acquired Miguel Montero."
Fowler has 1,832 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter, with a .366 OBP from that slot, and it's a good bet he'll hit first for the Cubs, even though Hoyer said he wouldn't make out the lineup card for manager Joe Maddon.
The acquisition of Fowler also gives the Cubs some much-needed outfield depth. Jorge Soler could open in right field, with Chris Coghlan and Chris Denorfia available for left, along with Junior Lake and Matt Szczur.
Arismendy Alcantara, who played center field for the Cubs much of the second half of last season, is a player the Cubs can use all over the diamond.
Interestingly, the Cubs traded a guy praised for his on-base skills in Valbuena, who was second on the Cubs in walks (65) to first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Of course, moving Valbuena sparked a question of whether that makes the path to the major leagues easier for minor-league phenom Kris Bryant. The Cubs would like to buy some free-agency time with Bryant, so a plausible scenario would be for Mike Olt to open the season at third base, with the Cubs calling up Bryant early in the season.
Hoyer termed the Valbuena trade and Bryant's situation "totally independent."
"Kris' development is certainly independent of the move we made today," Hoyer said. "We have a number of guys who will be working at third.
"When Kris is ready to come to the big leagues, we'll make that decision. Trading Valbuena is not going to speed that clock up at all. It's all dependent on Kris."
Fowler turns 29 on March 22, and he can become a free agent at the end of the 2015 season. Hoyer said the Cubs will spend some time getting to know Fowler before making any long-term decisions about him. He is seeking $10.8 million in salary arbitration while the Cubs inherit the Astros' offer to Fowler of $8.5 million.
Acquiring a player such as Fowler also represents a shift in thinking for the Cubs, who have stated as their goal to contend this year.
"We've said all along we want to build a team that is ready to compete," Hoyer said. "With that comes making some moves that are a little bit different from the moves we made the last three years. We had been focused very much on (contractual) control and very much on volume. We were because we know we were building for the future. Now, with a move like this, we gave up a little bit of control, giving up two years of Valbuena and giving up Straily. We feel it was the right thing to do to balance out this team.
"We're certainly aware of our future. We've held on to our prospects. We've held on to our draft picks."
Valbuena, whom the Cubs claimed from Toronto in April 2012, had a line of .249/.341/.435 last year with 16 home runs and 51 RBI.
The Cubs obtained Straily from Oakland last July in the trade that sent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A's. Straily appeared in 7 games for the Cubs (1 start), going 0-1 with an 11.85 ERA.
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