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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