Who's your 3B in '13? Stewart, Vitters, Lake..or none of the above?

Who's your 3B in '13? Stewart, Vitters, Lake..or none of the above?

The Cubs have a lot of holes to fill.  Anthony Rizzo should soon help fill some of the Cubs slugging void the team desperately needs, while Brett Jackson may soon follow to help out with some pop and OBP from the CF position.  One concern that I hear from a lot of Cubs fans is the 3B situation.  The Cubs have Ian Stewart in the present and Javier Baez as the most likely long-term solution, but what about in-between...what about next year?

The Cubs took a flyer on Stewart that has yet to pay off.  Stewart has played good defense and has shown a good approach at the plate, but his inability to make contact, coupled with a low BABIP of .242 has really hurt his ability to contribute consistently on offense. He could still come back strong in the 2nd half, but if he doesn't, who is the answer for 2013?

I found it interesting that manager Dale Sveum, when talking about possible solutions for next season, mentioned Rizzo, Jackson, and Lake.  But not Vitters.

"There's obviously going to be some guys available this winter, and you've got to sit down and decide what the plan is. It's not like we've got a lot of guys coming except the (Anthony) Rizzos, (Brett) Jacksons and Junior Lakes, guys with tons of upside. So we do have to obviously fix some things."

The key word is upside.  While it's not out of the question Vitters can still be a MLB third baseman, most doubt he can be a star.  Lake, while having his share of detractors, still has tons of ability and seems to have improved his approach at the plate, though it has vacillated somewhat between very patient to Dunston-esque in this season alone.

Let's compare the two, though they are playing at different levels and have had a different number of playing appearances...

Josh Vitters Junior Lake
Level AAA AA
DOB 08/27/1989 03/27/1990
Ht/Wt 6’2”, 200 lbs. 6’2”, 215 lbs.
Line .271/.320/.463 .297/.354/.449
BB% 6.1% 8.4%
K% 16.5% 22.1%
ISO% .192 .153
wOBA .334 .351
RC+ 96 117

It seems that Vitters has the edge in power and contact ability, but that Lake has been a better offensive player overall.  Neither is going to be a plus on defense, though both have good arms -- though "howitzer" may be a better description for Lake's arm.   Lake also has better speed, having stolen 38 bases in 2011.

Granted, Vitters has put his numbers up at a higher level and over more plate appearances, but even so numbers such as wOBA and RC+ indicate so far that Vitters has been an average offensive player at the AAA level in a hitter's league.  You have to believe that those numbers will come down at the major league level.

The good news is that both players are just 22 (Vitters turns 23 in August) and still have room for individual improvement. Both will have to continue to make progress to have a shot at the job next year.

The Cubs have other in-house options. They can try Adrian Cardenas at 3B who had a line of .319/.376/.521 (wOBA .385/RC+ 130) at AAA before his promotion to Chicago. He hasn't been able to put up the same numbers in Chicago, but he has played very sporadically. His defense isn't a plus either.

Luis Valbuena is not on the 40 man roster but has plenty of AAA experience as well as some time in the majors. He has played primarily 2B/SS at Iowa but can also play 3B. His line at AAA Iowa is .303/.380/.500 (wOBA .380/RC+ 126).

Or should it be a stopgap free agent? Or try to make a deal for a younger 3B such as Chase Headley?

There's no clear answer here so I'll put it to out to the readers.

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  • Seems like Lake would have to skip AAA given that Vitters is there. He would need a stellar year both offensively and defensively to warrant a trip up in 2013. I vote free agency pickup until Baez is ready.

  • In reply to Cubswin4harry:

    I can see that. In some ways, I can see them both needing more time in the minors. Baez clearly the 3B of the future, but Cubs may need to go outside the organization in the meantime.

  • Great, great article, John, and I'm not just sucking up because of our disagreement on scouting. :) Love these advanced stats based pieces.

    I like the idea of giving Cardenas a try at third. He's a doubles ma-sheen so far. Valbuena's RC+ number is impressive, but I'd probably prefer Lake because of the steals if he can make the jump past AAA. Maybe we'll get someone back in one of these upcoming deals?

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Thanks Carne.

    No worries. I like numbers a lot, but I'm very passionate about scouting as a key tool.

    The hope is we get somebody in a deal, otherwise stopgap and wait for Baez.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks, John. I don't think I worded myself very well on that whole thing either. Of course I understand the need for scouting a guy's stuff and his skill set, etc, it's just some of the "softer" stuff like presence, or counting a guy's height against him that bothers me. Really, it's just my heart going out to the underdogs is what it is.

    I like Headley as a stopgap, but really I'd like to go in system. Nice to go young. Like a monkey with poo, throw them all at the wall and see who sticks.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I know what you mean. You want to root for those guys that don't quite fit the profile -- like LaHair, or Torreyes...I'm like that too. I guess my experience has taught me that those guys are longshots, but it doesn't stop me from rooting for them. I think one guy to root for is Alcantara. At 160 lbs, doesn't look the part, but the kid can flat-out hit. Need to add him to our 2B mix.

  • I have to admit, that I had hoped Ian Stewart would pan out because of his defense, but his inability to hit higher than about .200 has just gotten too frustrating. That, and he is cost-controlled for a while. At this point, however, he seems to have little upside other than a bench player/defensive replacement in the long-term.

    It really seems with the options available in the minor leagues, the Cubs will be going backwards in terms of defense, and it is questionable at this point if they can provide consistent offense either. Who might be available as a free agent this year if we are simply waiting on Baez?

  • In reply to TheSinisterUrge:

    3B include Youkilis, David Wright, Placido Polanco, Scott Rolen...

    Most of those guys play good defense, so that would help, though Wright would be expensive for this stage of their rebuilding.

    Could trade for a guy like Headley or Callaspo too.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I guess my question then would be how long until Baez is ready? Youkilis and Wright would surely require a long-term commitment.

    Didn't the Cubs actually have Placido Polanco for a few days several offseasons ago? Or am I thinking of someone else?

  • In reply to TheSinisterUrge:

    I think Baez is 3 years away. As far as Polanco, you're thinking of someone else...I'm going to rack my brain trying to think of who that might be!

    Polanco is a good defender and he's the anti-Stewart at the plate, high contact, low power.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    We made a minor deal with the Tigers one off-season, and acquired an infielder - who was then shipped away for another minor piece. I cannot remember the details very well, obviously.

  • In reply to TheSinisterUrge:

    I was way off - Omar Infante for Jacque Jones.

    Move along, nothing to see here!

  • In reply to TheSinisterUrge:

    Oh man...I didn't get a chance to guess ;) Got caught up on a new article. Got some tips on some draft signings.

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    Neither Vitters nor Lake is a great defender right now, but there can be no question that Lake is the better athlete. So he should be the better defender in the long run, and if he can at least keep the walk rate where it is while slightly cutting down on the strikeouts, he should be the better offensive player over the long haul as well. However, if either one would entice a team to give up a top rated third base prospect as part of a deal to get Dempster or Garza, I'd think including one of them as part of a package deal would have to be considered. Obviously, I'd prefer it be Vitters, but if I were, for example, Dave Dombrowski, and I was being told Nick Castellanos was part of the price I was going to have to pay to get Dempster or Garza, Lake would be my choice to be coming back as part of that deal, and if I were the Cubs, I'd be pushing Vitters on them.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Easier said than done. Tough hit for Detroit to give up their best prospect at 3B, and assuming Cabrera isn't there for the long haul, that's a position of long term need for them. Vitters is a big step down. I don't think that's something Detroit wants to do.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm sure Dombrowski doesn't "want" to do it, but it may be the price he has to pay to get what he wants in the short run, and if I'm in the Cubs front office, that isn't really my problem. There is nothing in Dombrowski's history to suggest that Castellanos would be a deal breaker for him. After all, he does have a track record. All I'm saying is that it might make it easier for Dombrowski if he were getting a third baseman back from the Cubs.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I understand but I don't think he has to do it either. If he's worried about this year, he can trade for Demp instead and maybe, maybe only has to give up Turner, which is preferable to them, imo. I like Castellanos bat, but if I'm Detroit, I think.

    I think Toronto is the most logical destination for Garza if he goes, with Cubs stocking up on pitching prospects.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    In that scenario, I agree. Dempster, especially by himself, to Detroit probably doesn't get you Castellano, but I'd still be happy to get Turner and either Oliver or Crosby.

  • Next year's 3rd baseman? ABS, anyone but Stewart.

    Unless we're still in full-blown tank mode, in that case he's perfect for the job.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Ha! think they'll go with him for the rest of the year (or close to it) and see if he can turn it around. It's been a very frustrating year for Stewart but he does play the defense they like and has the kind of approach they prefer.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Oh I think he's a lock for the rest of this season (barring a Sept call-up to get one of the kids some "free" experience without it counting as a season in the bigs).

    I love his defense too, but that upper-cut in his swing is something I don't see him overcoming. Of course Sori has been hitting the ball to RF lately, so anything is possible!

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    Don, you've hit on the heart of the matter quite well. The real question in regards to third base in 2013 is whether or not you expect to compete for a playoff spot.

    Unless it's Middlebrooks coming back as part of a deal for Garza or Dempster, whatever third base prospect the Cubs might acquire isn't likely to be ready on opening day of 2013. So if you are not expecting to be competitive again in 2013, what do you lose by keeping Stewart around? Besides, by keeping him around, there is always the chance he figures it out and suddenly becomes an unexpected trade chip.

  • Vitters will have a year at AAA unless the Cubs are competitive in the division, I would rather see what he can do than to go outside the organization. The Cubs may get an additional 3b before the trading deadline which could be a better option than Vitters. Lake probably would benefit with a full year at AAA.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    We'll have to see what happens, there's some 3B prospects, as Mike mentioned above that could be coming back as part of a deal, but we'll see.

    I agree that Vitters needs some time in AAA, at least this whole year and maybe part of next year too.

  • Also happy Soler day. Go get him, Thoyer!

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Keeping one eye on that at all times!

  • Isn't Stewart basically a stopgap himself? I don't see any stopgap free agents that would be much of an upgrade. Mark Teahan? Eric Chavez? Pass.

    Supposedly Vitters, Rizzo, and Jackson are the 3 amigos of Iowa. Might as well keep the band together.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    I listed a few possible free agents above. Could go with a Callaspo type guy to play defense and then could be a versatile utility guy once Baez or a permanent 3B arrives.

  • I think Stewart is injured(wrist). He could platoon maybe. He looks like a quality big leaguer who's ship may never sail. Unfortunate!

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Wrist injuries are really tough to overcome for a hitter, I sometimes wonder if it's affecting him too. He'll say no, but he's a tough ballplayer, that's what I'd expect him to say.

  • I still think that Stewart is the favorite. Neither prospect is ready so let them continue to develop against minor league pitching. I have more hope for Vitters now than I did this time last year - he does seem to have the uncanny ability to struggle mightily when he first advances a level, and then adjust to the point where he is a decent, if unspectacular hitter. With his hitting ability and aversion to walking, he could be a poor man's Castro. I wouldn't want to build a lineup with guys like that, but coupling them with high OBP guys like Rizzo, Jackson and LaHair could work.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    A poor man's Castro is a lofty expectation for Vitters, in my opinion. He simply hasnt been as good a hitter as Castro, who adapted immediately and convincingly at every level he's played. I think Vitters has some of the same contact ability, but he doesn't square up the baseball nearly as frequently as Castro does.

    For Vitters, I'm hoping he can be a .275, 15-18 HR guy, but with his low OBP and so-so defense, that will probably grade out to something less than league average for his position. I want to believe in Vitters, but he still has a long way to go -- best thing going for him is a natural ability to make contact and the fact that he's just 22.

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    as you all know i'm in the Vitters camp. Every once and a while you see a player who despite everyone else views, projections, and stats on him say you just have a feeling when he finally gets to the majors and gets a year or two under his belt he will suprise everyone ala Casey Mcghehee(SP) and Sam Fuld, Even though those guys couldnt keep it up I feel that Vitters could. Is he the next David Wright? no. Do I think he could be our 3rd basemen for a few years and be a part of a young solid nucleus? yes.

    Lake, in my honest gut opinion, has Corey Patterson/ Felix Pie written all over him. When I look at him play I see bust and most times I get that feeling about a player ive been right so I think ill stick to it. he may have success but I dont think it will be as a cub and im afraid we will give up on Vitters prematurely.

    In terms of what I think the cubs WILL do. I see them going hard after Middlebrooks. Nick C. im not 100% sold on just yet. When I look Detroit their team has little to no homegrown talent on the field and their so called top prospects from years back like Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, etc have not been done much. Im not sold on any player in their farm system because little to none of them have had any success aside from a verlander or granderson here and there. A trade/free agency built team.

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    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    to sum up the long post. Im not too high on Lake even with his superior tools, I also see him in the outfield by the time he comes up. I think Vitters needs to be given a chance before we decide what he is, that might not be at the start of 2013, after all star break is my bet. and the only 3rd basemen id want to give up something for is Middlebrooks. If your going to go get a Callaspo you might as well see what you have in some of your own players.

    Vitters I think will surprise everyone.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I know you're a Vitters guy. He still has a pretty strong support group out there. I hope you all are right!

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Marcel, I'm a lake fan and the few times I've seen him on MiLB, he has impressed me, especially coming off an injury.

    I like his range and his arm. I also saw him squaring up some balls when he got on that hot streak a week or so ago.

    Also, if they do package Barney, I would expect the FO to call up lake as the ss backup and I would expect lake to get a long long look this spring. You heard it here first...

  • I think that Stewart will be gone if he doesn't get it together in the 2nd half of the season. Youkilis makes the most sense in my opinion. He's a Theo guy. He'd probably sign a 2 or 3 year deal (I'd like 2 years with a team option for the 3rd). He'd solve the teams likely right handed power problem for next year (assuming they trade Soriano). He's also be a great veteran presence in the club house and with regard to approach at the plate. He has a great eye and could help some of the younger Cubs embrace "the Cubs way". That way they can give Baez time to mature. Vitters is not the answer short term or long and Lake could play 2B just as easy as 3B. Go for Youk in 2013!

  • In reply to irishivy75:

    A short term guy is the other option. Won't rule out Youkilis, could also be another flyer that hopefully works out better.

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    I don't think either Vitters or Lake is ready next year. I love Stew's defense but oh that bat. This is a season and a half of ineptitude. I've seen enough to think he's DONE. Count me as one that doesn't think 2013 3B is here on the roster. That being said, give Cardenas a shot. What do we have to lose? I was so glad to see Mather finally in the lineup but his stroke has disappeared. Next man up is Cardenas. Give him a month or two and let's see if there's any spark in his play. Working the count is one thing, but unable to hit above your weight is unacceptable.

  • In reply to Hal McCarty:

    Cardenas does seem to have the ability to make hard contact, though he won't have HR power. I'd be willing to give him some starts and see what he does with regular PT.

  • I would prefer to give Stewart the rest of the year, and next year see if Vitters can unseat him by doing the righty/lefty lineups Sveum loves. If not we can watch those two continue struggling while Lake gets ready at Triple-A.

  • In reply to WillW:

    Agreed...or at least a couple more months on Stewart.

  • if we have learned anything from starlin, its that until a player is ready on both sides of the ball he should not be promoted. promoting lake from AA to the big league club would be a huge mistake.

    i love that we have all of these tradeable pieces this year. maholm, dejesus, baker, mather, camp, johnson may not bring back huge hauls, but will definitely be coveted pieces at the deadline. i hope that we can add some more guys like this to be stop gaps for next years team and then pawn them off to other teams at the deadline. i know they arent worth all that much, but sometimes prospects from deals for players of this caliber will surprise u.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    I wish we waited another few months on Starlin, but that bat was going to force it's way to the big leagues early no matter what.

    I imagine scouts love the kind of deals for a minor veteran, it's their chance to try and dig out a sleeper from another organization.

  • Let Stewart play until Sept. then put Vitters in. If during the next
    6 weeks the Cubs are blown up the way we want, then make
    the 3rd base change sooner.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I could go with this...give Vitters a looksee if Stewart continues to struggle.

  • I know the number have to improve, but I'm still holding out for Stewart to improve. When he does get hits they seem to be in important situations, innings where getting a run on the board is crucial. I've seen plenty of Cubs come through who had better numbers than him, but hardly ever give the team a big hit when they need it.

    So I'm willing to be a little more patient with Stewart, though don't have a problem with giving Vitters a chance.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    I'm sort of in the same boat. Let Vitters get his PAs in Iowa, then call him up late if Stewart is still struggling.

  • I'm gonna go ahead and take credit for this post as John Arguello and I had a little twitter tete-a-tete over this very subject.

    I've renamed the dirt path from home plate to the dugout "Ian Stewart Way". Every 3 innings, I go all Mary Dixon and give traffic reports. ( When Koyie Hill and Jeff Baker are in the lineup, traffic on Ian Stewart way can get quite clogged...) He's frustrating beyond belief. It will be interesting to see how and/or when they decide that he's no longer a reclamation project. The wrist may still be bothering him, which might lead to the question will the wrist ALWAYS be bothering him.

    Which leads me to Vitters. All the things EpStoyer are claiming they want to see out of Rizzo- Dealing with adversity, improving incramentally, hitting his way out of a slump- they kind of have to be seeing with Vitters. Now if they feel that Vitters isn't "Their guy" they want a more patient hitter or softer hands, or more cerebral thinker or what have you- then by all means trade him for a more Theo friendly version. But Vitters had a great May and his June is fairly good too. If he continues at this pace, September should be his.

  • In reply to felzz:

    Haha! You're one of the guys who's been frustrated with Stewart and big on Vitters so you definitely get some credit.

    I do want to see him keep improving. Something about him though makes me think he's going to be a late bloomer. Just when everyone gives up on him, he starts figuring it out.

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    I'm sorta in the Vitter's Camp as well. I was real excited when he was drafted so I may be a bit biased in my opinion. I'm not totally sold on Junior Lake as our long term solution as well. One reason is....... Javier Baez! Where does he fit in this whole puzzle? Does he push Castro over to 3B eventually? Does Baez convert to 3B or the outfield?

    IMO, Vitters is our short term solution. In 3 years from now anything can happen. I say stay far away from free agency for the next 2 seasons. Let our kids develop and then we can re-enter free agency to fill in the gaps.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    I think Baez is most likely to move. We know Castro makes the occasional gaffe, but his actions around SS are so much more natural and fluid than Baez. I like Baez as a 3B, though he could also play OF, or maybe even 2B.

    Would like to see Vitters continue to improve. He shows flashes but need to see a consistent approach and consistent power.

  • I'd rather see Vitters given a shot in 2013 than another stopgap solution like signing Youkilis or Rolen. I aso don't want to give-up prospects to trade for someone like Headley.

  • In reply to Zorb:

    That's the problem with trading for young guys like often have to give up even younger guys to get them, especially when dealing with a small market team like the Padres.

  • I think Baez will be up sooner than people think. And I don't believe there are a lot of great 3B free agent candidates that Theo & Co would plunk down big money for. They would much more likely "take a flyer" on another Stewart, given the state of this team.

    Since that's the case, it makes sense to give Vitters a shot out of the gate in 2013, assuming he has a good second half this year, which is likely. Bring back Valbuena and Cardenas (who are both still pretty young and entering their primes) as back up plans, and maybe even Stewart--and chances are that one of those guys will pan out and be okay for a year or two (or until Vitters is ready).

    Ideally, you'd give a guy like Vitters and extra year in AAA--and they may have to depending on his performance.

    As far as Lake goes, I don't see him as in infielder. He's got something like an 820 fielding percentage at 3B in the minors. If he reaches his ceiling, he's a Juan Samuel or a Soriano--a low OBP, high speed guy with pop who doesn't belong defensively as an infielder. The smartest thing to do would be to move him to RF right now and let him get accustomed to it.

  • In reply to SVAZCUB:

    I've always thought Lake would be a great supersub where he can play just about every position except catcher, and provide speed/power off the bench. But he keeps getting better so I'll just wait and see on that.

    As far as Baez, I think his talent and maturity level will dictate his ascent. He's talented enough to move quickly if it all clicks for him.

  • Hey John, how is Lake's defense at 2B? I realize 2B is more difficult than 3B is most areas, but it seems like Lake has the speed and range to play there. I don't know if he'll be able to stay there long-term as he fills out and gets larger, but if we could play him at 2B and occasionally at 3B/SS and LF/RF as a supersub he would be outstanding. Kinda like our version of B. Zobrist. I realize this is very optimistic, but I hope the Cubs try utilizing him this way.

    Also, the Cubs seem to stress strong team defense as a core principle now. The trades for A. Rizzo and I. Stewart seem to indicate this. Both are strong defenders at their respective positions. Going forward is this going to be a deciding factor for players they acquire? What I mean is will they look the other way to get a veteran player who has a strong bat, but is somewhat subpar on defense? I would love the Cubs to trade for J. Willingham if he is indeed available to play LF after Soriano is traded. The problem is he isn't a strong defender in LF, and is getting up there in years. Still, I think the Cubs should try to acquire him.

  • In reply to I miss Ron Santo:

    I know a lot of people are writing it up with Lake at 2B, but I'm not sold that he can play there. I just don't think he has the lateral quickness to play middle infield on a regular basis. To me, it's 3B or OF.

    Now a Zobrist type scenario would be great.

    I think defense will be a consideration in all their major acquisitions. We've already seen it with Rizzo, draft pick Almora, and now Soler. You mentioned Stewart and DeJesus is also a good defender.

    That said, they do need a bat or three. So we'll see if they sacrifice D in LF. The other hangup is whether they would trade the young players needed to get someone like Willingham.

  • I'm so glad you chose to write about this subject, John. I voted for none of the above. I guess they're three main reasons I feel this way.

    First, I feel neither Lake or Vitters will NOT be ready for the majors next year. Cubs management has shown their patience with their young prospects. Vitters has played well but he could still work on some things. Plus I think his numbers are a little inflated due to the fact that BJax and Rizzo are hitting before him in the lineup.

    Second, once Lake and Vitters make it to the majors they won't be playing 3B. I agree that Lake will either be a back-up or play 2B. I also think Vitters should get a shot in LF. I'm not comparing him to Ryan Braun but when he was brought up to the majors, he started at 3B and then he was moved to LF due to his poor defense. I have a feeling lots of the Cubs outfield options will be traded.

    Last, I think it's pretty clear that Stewart is not the solution to 3B. I have to be honest. When they traded for him I really thought he would've made a difference. I just think his injuries are effecting him offensively. I think management should deny his option and sign him as free agent. Use him as a back up.

  • In reply to WillieG1:

    I tend to agree Willie. I think the Cubs will either go with one of the internal stopgaps (Stewart, Cardenas, Valbuena) or acquire one from outside the organization . I think Lake gets one more year and Vitters gets at least half a year in 2013 at AAA.

  • I'd really like the Cubs to put Stewart on the 15 day DL to rest that wrist and give Cardenas a little more playing time to see what he can do with more regular ABs. Then, assuming Stewart's wrist is stronger after 15 days, they'll get an even better sense of what Stewart has. Win-win...

  • I would bring Marquez Smith back from Mexico on an NRI and give him a shot. He had a 2010 season in Iowa that Vitters would kill for and likely has a better glove than Vitters or Lake.

  • David Schoenfield in his SweetSpot blog talks about some deals for Dempster:

    I think many are off base; some involve deals which move Castro to 3B or a collection of spare parts. One suggestion is 3B Lonnie Chisenhall from Cleveland. Schoenfield does not think Dempster for Chisenhall will work, so maybe something expanded would do the trick. Regardless, I do not know much about Chisenhall, but he is only 23. Thoughts and comments from John, Tom, and contributors?

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