(CBS) Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler is set to become a free agent, and while he may have priced himself out of the team’s range, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein wants to sit down and try to convince him to return to Chicago.

“Dexter Fowler had an unbelievable year,” Epstein said Thursday at his season-ending press conference. “He fit in tremendously well in this organization, and I think really highly of him as a player and a person, as do we all, frankly. He made a wonderful impression. He’s a free agent. He’s earned that status. It’s not something I take lightly.

“We’ll see what the future holds. Certainly, there’s an interest in sitting down at the appropriate time with Dexter and his agent … and seeing if there’s a way to keep him a Chicago Cub. Because he made a big impact on the field and off, and we love having him around.”

Fowler, 29, hit .250 with 17 homers and 46 RBIs and — most importantly — had a quality .346 on-base percentage out of the lead-off spot. That helped him scored 102 runs, the fourth-most in the National League. With a lineup that features a ton of power in the middle of the order, Epstein is well aware of how important a high-OBP player is at the lead-off spot.

It’s expected that the Cubs will extend Fowler a quality offer, a one-year deal that should be worth around $16 million. It’s expected that Fowler will decline to sign that, becoming a free agent and getting far more guaranteed money. The Cubs could then receive draft pick compensation for losing him in that scenario.

While the Cubs like Fowler, the dilemma is that they intend to pursue big-name pitching too. And they likely can’t do that and give big money to Fowler.

Fowler made $9.5 million in 2015 and will certainly command a multi-year deal worth more than that on an annual basis.

Adding to the equation is that Double-A prospect Albert Almora is maturing in the minor leagues and may be the center fielder of the future. To sign Fowler to a big-money deal would block Almora’s path and go against the organization’s philosophy of developing position players and getting those types on team-friendly contracts while they’re still young, opening room up to spend buy pitching.