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Third base remains a question for the Cubs for 2013

Third base remains a question for the Cubs for 2013
Vitters and Lake could be in the mix next year at 3B

For a team that has the 2nd worst record in baseball, the Cubs lineup for next year seems pretty close to set in stone.  Assuming Alfonso Soriano returns and Brett Jackson holds on to CF, the biggest question mark entering the season is 3B.  That question became a little bigger as we found out a bit more about opening day 3B Ian Stewart.

In Bruce Levine's chat yesterday, he responded to a question regarding Stewart,

My perception is that they'll move on from Stewart. The coaching staff wasn't thrilled with some of his work habits. Some trades work out, some don't.

If the Cubs move on from Stewart, that officially leaves Luis Valbuena as the incumbent at 3B.  There are a couple of things to like about Valbuena.  He plays good defense and he sees a lot of pitches at the plate -- two areas that the Cubs have been trying to improve on with this young team.  We've seen that in itself will earn you some playing time under this new regime.

The other 3B on the roster, Josh Vitters, is the polar opposite of that philosophy and it's become obvious the team feels he isn't major league ready.  The same goes for AA shortstop Junior Lake, who did not merit a call-up this September.

I expect both players to get a good look this spring with an outside shot of winning the 3B job.  Unless there is dramatic improvement by either player, I also expect both to start next season in Iowa.

The question than becomes whether the Cubs can bring in a veteran to either compete with or complement Luis Valbuena.  The free agent pool is slim, with the big name being David Wright.  He fits the mold as far as what the Cubs want, he's played good defense and he grinds out ABs.  The difference with Wright, of course, is that he can also hit.

Beyond that, there isn't much as far as younger 3Bs.  There's Mark Reynolds. He'd compete with Brett Jackson for the most strikeouts on the team but he has shown he'll work counts, draw walks, and supply some power from the right side.  His defense is substandard, however.

You could also explore if someone like Stephen Drew or Jeff Keppinger would be interested in changing positions, but I think that would be a last resort for either, as it would cause them to lose some value.  Drew fits the profile as far as being a good defensive player who can occasionally draw walks and hit for power.  He's had a tough season and it could make him a bargain, though I think that he'll be signed as a SS.

Keppinger has only played a few games at 3B in his career and, although he hits for average, he doesn't have the power you normally like from the position.  As a part time player, however, he could share time with Valbuena and occasionally spell Barney to add offense.

You can also find a David DeJesus type stopgap solution, that is a player that fits that mold of playing solid defense and grinding out ABs, especially considering that the 3B of the future is Javier Baez.  If you're looking for non-Wright good defensive 3Bs with at least a 7% walk rate, however, the choices aren't all that enticing...

  • Brandon Inge
  • Maicer Itzuris
  • Scott Rolen

A bargain bin player such as ex-Cubs farmhand Casey McGeheemay also fit the bill short-term.  His hitting has dropped off, but his defense has improved and he has a solid approach at the plate.The other option is a trade and the name that immediately pops to mind is Chase Headley, whom we talked about a lot last offseason.  As it turns out, the cost was prohibitive and the Cubs never came close to completing a deal.  That may not change this offseason, especially after Headley's breakout season.  Headley is an ideal fit in terms of his skill set.  The more serious questions would be what it would cost to acquire and then retain him.

The Cubs could go even younger and look into prospects like Mike Olt and Nick Castellanos again, but the same questions resurface as to what it would take to acquire them.  A healthy Matt Garza might be a start, but he's also their best trade chip to acquire young pitching, a more serious area of need.  The Cubs have some depth at 3Bs, led by top prospect Baez.  Is it worth using your most marketable player in Garza to address a need that doesn't look to be a long term problem in the organization?  I'm inclined to say no.

In the end, I expect the Cubs to look at cheaper, short-term options to split time with Luis Valbuena until Javier Baez is ready, which could be as soon as 2014.

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  • 3rd base seems like the only real open spot as we head into next season. Most of the other spots are currently filled, and probably won't change between now and next year.

    Chase Headley would be a very interesting guy, but I would imagine the price to be sky-high. I believe Wright has an option for next season, so he won't hit FA. Another guy not listed who I think would be a nice fit is Kevin Youkilis. He's a guy who can't play every game, but he would be a nice OBP guy, and could sub in a 1st when there is a tough LH on the mound. He may cost a little, but I'd like to see if his pitch taking ways could rub off on some of the other players.

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    In reply to bwenger:

    Youklis is a possibility; the price tag figures to be quite high, but he might be had on a 2-year deal. I think he might be too much $$$ at this point though. And at age 33, he is probably looking for 3-4 years. Given the thin pickings at 3B, someone will overpay for him.

    Chase Headley would cost prospects big-time; too rich for us

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Don't disagree about Youk, but the list of teams that would overpay him to play 3rd is pretty small. Maybe both LA teams or ChiSox. I like that if we sign him for 2 years (maybe 22-24 million), we have our bridge 3rd baseman until Baez is ready. It opens up the Cubs to move Vitters and Lake in deals to try to find more starting pitching. And, at the very least, Youk would round out what would be a pretty solid lineup for 2013.

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    In reply to Zonk:

    If the Cubs want Youk and think his leadership will be good for the youngsters and will make this team better, then they should sign him.

    Cubs have plenty of money and it's not like the signing of Youk is going to stop them from signing someone like Josh Hamilton, LOL

  • In reply to bwenger:

    You're right, the Mets have the option on Wright for next season. Also, he'll be on the wrong side of 30 before Opening Day.

  • In reply to bwenger:

    Quite possibly. Youkilis has a history with the Cubs FO and he does grind out the ABs. Defense is downgraded, but if he hits I think it may well be worth it.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Don't know how I forgot about the history as well! I'm sure his defense has really fallen off, but I think any FA we get will have major flaws.

    I do really like how the Cubs lineup would look with Youk in it:

    DeJesus
    Barney
    Rizzo
    Youk
    Castro
    Soriano
    Jackson
    Castillo

    A good mix of LH/RH, with some pop. It would at least make for an interesting season.

  • In reply to bwenger:

    Its actually not too bad if the young players continue to develop and improve. With decent pitching, I see the Cubs as a lot better next year -- but still a long way away, of course.

  • In reply to bwenger:

    Youk I think has an option that the Sox will likely pick up since he's been hitting well with them. I agree he would fit well there although I would slot him in the 2 hole and drop Barney to 8.

    There's always Arod, right?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    what are the chances lake moves to second base?

  • In reply to alex41591:

    I'd say 25% or less. It's a more injury prone position and he's a potential gold glove defender at 3B, in my opinion.

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    I wondered about this position in another thread......I think we have to sign a FA to play 3B. With several interesting prospects on the horizon, and the total lack of high-quality Free Agents, I think we go for an aging/marginal vet on a 1 to 2 year deal.

    The market for 3B is very very thin, and a few teams will be looking, so even a guy like Brandon Inge we would have to compete for (he turned his season around after getting DFA'ed by the Tigers)

    I like the McGehee or Keppinger options; we just need to keep the position warm for Vitters or whomever.

    Interesting feedback on Ian Stewart; I guess we're done with him.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Its something I've been thinking about as well -- and we're probably not the only ones.

    Short-term stopgap seems like the most prudent solution here.

    I was surprised to hear that about Stewart. It was perhaps the shortest answer in that chat, but to me it was the most interesting one.

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    Given the dearth of options next year, let me be the first to call for Greg Rohan to get a shot at starting next year.

    Not that I think it's a good idea, but he seems like the perfect candidate for a hot spring, calls for playing time and a LaHair-type surge and collapse.

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    In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    Rohan has more starts at first, so here's how we do it. Rohan on first where's comfortably. Rizzo at second because Cubs pitchers get pulled so much that few guys are going to hit it to second. Barney at short for his glove, and Castro at third for his arm. I don't see anything whatsoever that can go wrong with this.

    (Inner dialog of Castro at third: "Okay, Andrew McCutchen is up. I have to pay attention. A-ten-tion. Tension. Why am I so tense. Hot dogs! Someone is selling hot dogs. That would relieve the stress. OW! My head! Why does my head hurt so much! It's like a baseball just hit it!")

  • In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    I thought about adding Rohan to the equation. I'm not sure he's going to get a 40 man roster spot -- and if he's not, Cubs could lose him in the Rule 5.

    If he is still around, I'd give him a shot, even if it's just as a ST invite.

  • Any thought that the Cubs might see if Cardenas can play some third over the winter and into Spring Training? He'll obviously never be anything but an average fielder at best, but he's hit well when receiving consistent at-bats, and has some experience at third in the minors.

    He's a lefty bat with a good walk rate, solid offense, experience at the position, and possibly some upside. He might even find himself as a regular at some position, whereas Valbuena's future seems to be locked in as a utility infielder.

  • In reply to Jim Weihofen:

    I'd like to see them try that. He's not a starter long term probably, but may as well try him there if you're looking for short-term answers.

    Valbuena, though, hit about as well in the minors, plays much better defense, and also puts up a good walk rate -- even in the majors. Cardenas will have to really separate himself with the bat at the MLB level to have a chance.

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    For me, the real key on how big a deal to make with a FA third baseman is Baez. If he's only a third baseman or left fielder, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to sign a third baseman and put Baez in left, because there seem to be more high OPS left fielders.

    If Baez can play second, all bets are off and finding a power hitting third baseman to complement the rest of the lineup becomes really important. At that point, the only real in-house candidate is Villaneuva who is an odd third baseman, anyway. (20 HR would seem to be a ceiling, not a floor, for him.)

    Since the Baez question probably needs at least one more year to answer, going stopgap and reassessing things in a year is probably the most prudent course of action.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    The last paragraph pretty much says it all and pretty much rules out acquiring a long term 3B...unless it's Castellanos, who has shown he can play LF and RF too.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Does Ott have another position? I'd be surprised if the Cubs put together a package for either of them though.

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    In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    Olt is actually blocked at third by Adrian Beltre. He's been playing first and a little right in Texas.

    I agree the trade, though -- the pieces that get Castellanos or Olt are a healthy Garza and Baez, and, as John has said, Garza is their only real trading piece for quality pitching and Baez isn't going anywhere.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    *I agree about the trade, though

  • In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    He can play 1B. He's a good defender, so I think if you use him at first, you waste some of his value. Castellanos is different because most of his value is in his bat.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Don't worry, they will find a place for Javier Baez to play when hes ready.

    They should just sign quality players regardless of where they play this offseason.

    A lot of us are assuming Javier Baez is going to just come in like Starlin Castro and take over. ( I believe this as well) I just wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't make the gains or becomes that superstar we all hope he will become. Some scouts say he projects as a SS, some say he's as 3B when it's all said and done. Others have said he's a corner outfielder, and I have even read some think he can play 2B. So don't worry, if he's ready, he will not be blocked from joining the everyday lineup unless this team suddenly is dominating the league in the coming years!!

  • Unless Stewart was a club-house cancer or off the charts lazy, I'd bring him back. He is a stellar defender and with a healthy wrist, could hit 27 bombs. He was a great hitter early in the minors and may have some of that left in him, if he's healthy. He'll cost the Cubs $4 million in arbitration, but he buys them time and becomes trade currency, if he delivers. The key is getting him back on track, so they can trade him and then hopefully bring up a well schooled Vitters. Valbuena is a utility player at best and Wright would be interesting if we could get him for 3 years and trade him in 3 months.

  • In reply to Dsqd2:

    I read the Stewart would come back for 1.5, and I've got to think that his wrist affected his work habits, especially if everything he did caused it to hurt like an SOB. If he did play better and the club still had a problem with him, they could trade him easily enough. There's always a market for 3rd basemen.

    I think if you're a good defender, you got that way with at least some work.

  • In reply to Dsqd2:

    Maybe, but Valbuena's defense and offense was actually rated higher than Stewart's this season. Valbuena will be heading into his age 27 year. I'm not sure it's clear cut right now that Stewart's better. He's 3 years removed from his 25 HR season. At some point, you can't just keep giving him chances.

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    Eric Chavez will also be a free agent this offseason. Maybe an acceptable option as a stopgap. Easier to sign on a one-year deal and probably cheaper than someone like Youkilis. Having a nice year in New York...

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    That could work. I think he's a part-time player these days, so if they get him, they'd have to have a LH complement...which would probably be Valbuena.

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    In reply to João Lucas:

    Yea, and he may be that "leader" Jedstein's are looking for, although a quiet leader.

    We Could do worse then a multiple gold glove winner/ part of the nucleus of some pretty darn good A's teams in the early 2000's

  • Looking at the list of 3B players,,,,I like Chavez, Wigginton...and Reynolds, if their option are not picked up......I pass on DeRosa and the others.....the Cubs should not give up a draft choice on a temporary 3B.

    Sounds like Mark Grace will be fitted for Pink underwear.......Grace is looking at jail time under Sheriff Joe Apario in Arizona........charges have been upgraded since Grace's last DUI arrest.

    Yes, Kane County games are primed to find some nice single moms. I met a few last year. .......and I love those funnel cakes.

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    In reply to CubsTalk:

    The rules are changed so that you will only give up draft choices if you sign the absolute top-tier FA's, basically.....you only give up a choice if the other team makes a qualifying offer in the $12-13 mil range. Which won't be David Wright because the Mets have a $16 mil option on him, and won't be any other 3B option.

  • I would expect the Cubs to use Valbuena as a place holder until Vitters is ready. Vitters would probably be ready to be a contributor in the second half next year. He's very young and improving and had a nice season in his first taste of AAA. If he can establish himself over the next couple of years in the big leagues as a guy who can hit 270-280 with 20 HR (probably reasonable expectation for 2014), he could then--as a cheap young hitter just entering his prime--bring a pretty nice return in trade when Baez or Villanueva are ready to take over 3B in 2015.

    The Cubs are in the business of building value by either collecting undervalued talent (Maholm) or by opening up a pathway for young guys with some upside to establish themselves at the MLB level (Valbuena, Bowden, etc.). In terms of this overall scheme of the FO to build value on the roster, I would think that giving continued opportunities to guys like Vitters to establish themselves would be more beneficial than signing a free agent as the highest bidder.

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    In reply to SVAZCUB:

    We can't start Valbuena all year though; he's too limited offensively. He's a good defender, and his bat is fine as a utility guy; I actually like him as a UT, not sure why the Indians DFA'ed him. But he ain't a starter at 3B.

    Casey McGahee would be a buy-low type of reclaimation project, the kind that Stewart was; he might be that kind of option

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Not that either of them are good but Valbuena had a 0.7 WAR...but McGehee was even worse with 0.2 -- his second consecutive year as a replacement level player. And he's now 30. Players usually don't start suddenly improving. These guys are all utility guys at best.

    Grass looks greener with all of these players but they're at the same level...and maybe even worse.

  • Sorry to muddy the waters a bit here, but I still think it's too early to jettison Stewart or Vitters out of the 3B spot, or even Rohan or Cardenas.

    Valbuena has a pretty large pool of MLB at-bats, I think over 1000, and he's proven to be about a .250/.300/.350 hitter. That's a backup 3B at best.

    Vitters is only 22, and has had just one season at AAA. He hit much better in June and July at Iowa, so the hitting was improving. Why so quick to throw him out?

    Stewart had a wrist problem that's supposedly healed by now. Shouldn't we find out if that was the cause of his crappy hitting this year?

    Rohan and Cardenas have shown good bats in the minors this year. Arguably better than the other options, maybe.

    Next year is another "rebuilding" year, so I think it should be a wide open position for a number of players.

    I just don't think Valbuena is a good option, otherwise I'd give him the nod.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    You can quote Vitters AAA stats but you have to note that Valbuena's were better in terms of things like OPS, wOBA, RC+...and he's the better defender. It's hard for me to assume Vitters can be a better player right now, even on offense. In fact, Valbuena's numbers were also far better than Greg Rohans, and pretty close with Cardenas -- and he's easily the best defender of all of them.

    I'm not saying Valbuena is good or even an MLB quality starter...but he's outperformed all those guys in AAA. You can't talk about their AAA performance when Valbuena was the better than all of them at that level.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Good points there. Valbuena was certainly a good pickup for us, just as a UT guy.....he can also play SS fairly well, but we never see him, because Castro never takes a day off.

    I see the point on McGahee; maybe we pony-up for someone better. At this point, our payroll next year projects to about $68-70 mil, assuming arb raises for Garza, Shark, Russell, and re-upping Volstad. Even in a budget year, that leaves an easy $20-30 mil to spend on short-term FAs, so we have the money on the right talent.

    I also think we'll spend some $$ on a starting pitcher or two. I agree with Levine, that Marcum or someone like that feels right.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Totally agree Valbuena's a utility guy. Unfortunately, it seems that's all that's out there right now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I like Valbuena for the reasons you've mentioned. His BA is low, but he does seem to be clutch with RISP. I think the thing that makes me want a Stewart over him is the power potential. If he's economically viable, that's the route they should go. Otherwise, I'd prefer a vet RH 3B. If not, no worries... we're not competing in 2013 anyways. lol

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Marcum's an interesting idea as long as somebody else doesnt go crazy and gives him a 3-4 year deal

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    David Wright is not a free agent, the Mets have another option, which they will pick up.

    Keppinger is not going to come be a backup to a guy who isn't even a big league starter, at a position he doesn't play much anyway. Keppinger will get a full-time job at 2b from someone.

    As annoying as Valbuena sometimes is, like getting picked off tonight while not even looking at what was going on, there really isn't much reason to spend any money on next year's team. We are going to lose over 90 games for sure. Signing Shawn Marcum makes no sense either unless he's looking for a 1 year make good deal, in which case you trade him at the deadline for whatever you can get.

    This team isn't going to start having the major pieces from the farm system in place in the majors until 2015 at the earliest. The next two seasons will be bad. And it's not like we will suddenly flip a switch in 2015 and be contenders just because guys like Baez, Soler, and Almora might finally be in the everyday lineup. Without good young pitching to plug in, or signing some younger free agent SP's to long term deals, there's no reason to be spending much money at all on veterans other than 1-2 guys who can help teach the kids and provide some leadership. I highly doubt they are going to spend $20-30 million on free agents this winter, we're at least 2 more years away from that happening.

  • Nothing about Brett Jackson's numbers warrants him starting anywhere but AAA next year. .175 BA and 51 SO's in 120 plate appearances? Yeesh. I see him right next to Vitters riding the bus in Iowa to start the season.

    My guess is Valbuena's our opening day 3b. Besides his good glove and high pitches per AB that you mentioned, he's also clutch - .901 OPS with RISP. Though I wouldn't be at all surprised if we hit the free agent market for a 3b this offseason either. Theo talked awhile back about how the most challenging part of the rebuild so far has been finding veteran leadership. I'm thinking he goes out and looks for a couple guys to fit that bill, and with 3b being one of our holes, that could be a landing spot.

  • I doubt either one of them would want to sign with a rebuilding team at this stage of their career, but I kind of like Ty Wigginton and Eric Chavez as stop gaps if the Cubs could get them to sign.

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    What could be attractive about the Cubs to a guy like Chavez is that he would have the chance to play everyday for a while, which wouldn't happen pretty much anywhere else.

  • The other thing which could be attractive is the high likelihood that if he performs well and the Cubs are out of contention, he will be traded to a a contending team in July.

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