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Could we see some movement at 3B this offseason?

Could we see some movement at 3B this offseason?

A while back I mentioned a source told me that it was unlikely that the Cubs could fill all their needs this offseason and he thought 3B might be the position the Cubs wouldn't be able to fill.  It's not that they're sold on Ian Stewart or Luis Valbuena. They're still undecided about the former and while they like the latter, they think of him as a utility player.  The Cubs could look to move things around and this is how I see things shaking out for each player...

Ian Stewart

The guess here is that the Cubs are holding on to Stewart for two reasons.  The first is that he's their plan B situation.  The second is that they could be trying to gauge his value around the league.  Nobody is deluded into thinking he has a lot of value, but in a very weak 3B market, you could do worse than a 28 year old guy who grinds out ABs, plays good defense, and can supply power when healthy.

If the Cubs were to deal Stewart, it would be similar to last season where they dealt for another team's iffy situation.  In other words, change of scenery deal, part 2.

My feeling is that if the Cubs can replace Stewart, they will.  Until then, he's their fall back guy to start the season.

Lonnie Chisenhall and Josh Vitters

One player the Cubs have been interested in for over a year now is Lonnie Chisenhall. Bruce Levine mentioned him again and it's not certain to me if he's recycling old rumors or if the Cubs are giving it another go, but here's why they should be interested...

Injuries have prevented Chisenhall from having a full season, including just 73 games last year.  The hope here is that the Indians are frustrated with the injuries and don't see him as someone they want to build on right now.  The Cubs, on the other hand, are just looking to take a flyer on a player with some talent and see if he can bridge the gap until Javier Baez is ready.  The Indians may be looking for a more permanent solution and the guess here is that the Cubs would offer one of their own young 3B prospects as part of the deal.  With Junior Lake earmarked for a position change this season, they have two prospects at 3B ready to begin the year at AAA.  You have to think that the Cubs would like to get Lake as many reps as possible at 3B to make sure he makes the transition defensively.  In other words, if the Cubs are interested in Chisenhall, the guess here is that they are dangling Josh Vitters, a player who is very similar to Chisenhall, but offers more youth and a bit more cost control for the Indians.  And unlike Lake, he has plenty of experience at 3B and should be ready to play in the bigs by midseason, if not sooner.

Like Vitters, what Chisenhall can do is hit.  He has a similarly sweet swing that is suited for making consistent contact .  Chisenhall's hit tool grades out as a possible 70 on the 20-80 scale and he does it from the left side, a void the Cubs are looking to fill for next season.  Also like Vitters, Chisenhall needs some work defensively, as he is just average at best and, though he showed good plate discipline in the minors, that hasn't translated in two years in the pros.  The difference with Chisenhall is he's ready to start the season in the majors next year while Vitters likely needs more time.  The Indians just acquired Mike Aviles and he can start at 3B until Vitters is ready, then return to a more appropriate utility role.  As far as timelines go, some sort of exchange involving the two 3Bs makes sense to me from both sides.

Junior Lake

If the Cubs do move Vitters, that opens up the AAA 3B job for Junior Lake full time.  The Cubs have already stated their desire for him to move to the position and as I said earlier, he's going to need the reps.  So why keep Lake instead of Vitters?  Simple, he offers more versatility both offensively and defensively and his floor is higher.  If Vitters doesn't hit a lot, there isn't much room for him in the utility role as a RH hitter who isn't a particularly good defender at any position.  With Vitters, his best shot is as a full time 3B and the Cubs simply have a lot of options in their system for that kind of role, starting with their best prospect, Javier Baez.

It was also strongly suggested by manager Dale Sveum last season that Vitters should play winter ball this season - but if you look down every winter league roster, you won't find Vitters name anywhere.  Just speculation here, but I can't imagine the Cubs are thrilled with that development.

Getting back to Lake, he is playing in winter ball and he is hitting well against the most advanced pitching he has faced to date.  It's roughly equivalent to AAA pitching with a mix of former MLB'ers and many pitchers from the upper levels of the minors.  In 18 games, Lake is hitting .368/.438/.569 with 2 HRs and 3 SBs.  His walk rate has been right around the MLB average at about 8%.

Lake has been maligned for his approach by some well-known prospect gurus but the fact remains he continues to perform -- and improve -- as he faces better pitching.  The tremendous athleticism makes up for some of his shortcomings, perhaps enough to make him viable as a MLB player, if not as a starter then at least as a role player.

Though it won't be easy,  I believe the Cubs are looking to shuffle the deck a bit at 3B this season and if they do, right now I see Vitters as the odd man out.

 

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  • Thanks, John for a good Sunday topic. Three thoughts:
    1) Unless they already know who's going to be playing 3B, does it make sense for the Cubs to commit to anything before the non-tender deadline, which is Nov. 30 I think? That situation affects Stewart and lower-cost candidates from other teams.
    2) I could go for Chisenhall if he's available. But....If the Tribe deals Cabrera, as is rumored, they'll need Aviles for SS, and thus Chisenhall for 3B. Also, why wouldn't Terry Francona want to take a long look at Chisenhall? They too have nothing to lose right now.
    3) My dark-horse candidates: a)Eric Chavez. And b) buried at the bottom of an earlier thread: Matt Carpenter if we could pry him from the hated and hating Cards.
    And finally, a question: How close is Villanueva to the bigs?

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    You're welcome. Been away from the computer for a couple of days and I felt refreshed..then this idea popped into my head about 3B. Suddenly realized that I think Vitters may not be in the plans, then a reader/contributor tipped me off to the renewed interest in Chisenhall via Bruce Levine, so I built the article around those two ideas.

    The Cabrera situation can certainly throw a monkey wrench into the whole thing. The Indians still have Hanrahan, whom they could bring back as a stop gap.

    I don't think we'll see Villanueva until mid 2014 at the earliest. My feeling, as is implied in the article, that Lake has leapfrogged Vitters on the Cubs 3B chart.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks for the info and insight. So is the Matt Carpenter notion a pipedream; a lousy option; an unobtainable guy; or someone viable, at least short-term?

    BTW, I still like Lake but he could be Roberto Pena-like drives-u-krazy.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    I think Carpenter could be a short term solution but you'd have to live with below average power and defense. Ideally he's a role player off the bench, but as a stop gap, you can definitely live with it. As far as his availability, I just don't know the answer to that question.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks for the assessment. It looks like the St. Louis press has an inflated opinion of Carpenter's tools--I'm shocked to say.

    Sorry 'bout the Roberto Pena reference. I saw him hit two crucial homers but draw three crucial errors at the '67 (?) home opener. Ancient history to most.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    No worries, there is a lot of divided opinion on Lake, and Roberto Pena was a little bit before my time :) First team I remember was 74, but really got into baseball in 75, with Bill Madlock being my first favorite player.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I doubt the Cardinals would trade Carpenter. With the injury history of Freese and Craig at 3b/1b, they need someone like Carpenter as protection.

  • Who assigns, allows, decides where a minor league ballplayer plays winter ball? I'm not a great fan of Vitters but is his not playing winter ball because no one wants him, the FO didn't assign him somewhere, or he decided to take a break? This sounds just like the put down on Stewart because he didn't rehab with the team.

  • In reply to cavemancubbie:

    That could be. They still have to come to agreement with a team and perhaps that didn't fall through for one of the reasons you stated.

    I think there's enough smoke with both Stewart and Vitters right now to legitimately wonder if either are part of their long term plans. Cubs continue to talk them up, but remember ,that's what they do. They're trying to keep their value as high as possible. As soon as they publicly express disappointment, their value falls through the floor.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm glad Theo and Jed seem to be smarter than the Diamonbacks' FO in that regard!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, some questions about winter ball. How much coaching do players receive down there? I see that the players that play from a MLB team are split up to different teams, so I'm guessing they don't receive any coaching that the parent club wants them to improve on. This probably reinforces any bad techniques they have. True? Do clubs work out year round at their training facilities? If not, why not?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Cubs have sent coaches down there before. I believe Pat Listach went down there in the past if memory serves. It's possible, but I don't know if that is the case this year.

    I don't know if it necessarily reinforces bad techniques with different coaching. There's nothing to say the coaches there don't happen to have a similar philosophy.

    At any rate, I think the most important thing for guys like Lake is to get reps and work on some of the things they've worked on since last spring.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    thanks.

  • john, i love this trade idea for chisenhall. i think that vitters for chisenhall straight up wont happen, but i think vitters and a fifth starter type (like struck, rusin, raley, etc.) would possibly work.

    i think that vitters has a higher ceiling, but hes less likely to reach it. secretly i think every cubs fan has had 2 hopes for vitters,
    1. it finally clicks while hes still in our organization
    2. we can trade him for someone better than him

    i think the 2nd option would be happening with this trade.

    one question about chisenhall tho: only being 24 he could definitely be a part of the cubs future, and if he really started to figure things out its possible he'd be a part of the core, but since hes plays 3b and we have lake, villanueva, baez, candelario, etc. is a possible move to 2b in his future, and if not would make sense to shift one of castro or baez there and have the other one stick at short with chisenhall manning 3rd?

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    Thanks. I agree that it probably doesn't go down straight up and that the Cubs may have to add something to the deal. I think it's a two for two deal with the second player from the Cubs being better than the 2nd player from Cleveland.

    As for who moves, I think your second scenario is more likely if Chisenhall turns into a solid regular. Chisenhall won't be able to move to 2B and I'm not sure LF is even an option because he's about as slow as Vitters. I think it's 3B or bust for him as well.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    obviously this is way to early to be asking this question, but if something like this happened where either chisenhall, vitters, lake, villanueva emerged as a solid to above average regular and was entrenched at third before baez got up to the big leagues, do you think its more likely that castro moves to second or baez, or do you we trade one in this situation?

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    That's going to one heck of a decision to make. I like Castro better at SS, but I also think he can be a better 2B than Baez. That said, you keep the better player at SS and, for now at least, that's Castro. On the other hand, I like Baez's intangibles there better, so there's still a chance he passes him at SS if he shows he can still play there as he matures physically.

    A trade may be inevitable if everyone pans out. Of course, that's a good problem to have, as unlikely as it is to happen.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    i kind of view baez in the robinson cano mold, it would be great to have an asset like that. but id really be fine with either at each position and i hope they keep both players considering the talent level infield we'd have

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    That would be a great situation if he (or Castro) could be that kind of offensive player at 2B.

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    If they can't move Vitters for Chisenhall (or the like), what are the odds Iowa starts next season with Lake at third and Vitters in left?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I think so, but I think they'd like to avoid that as much as possible. My feeling is that they both move around with Vitters playing some 1B and perhaps some corner OF with Lake occasionally filling in at SS. I think eventually Lake tries the OF but I'm beginning to believe that the Cubs want to explore whether he can be an option at 3B first.

    I have reservations about Vitters moving to 1B or a corner OF because it puts even more pressure on that bat to succeed in a big way for him to be viable. This is why I think the Cubs would really like to move him sooner rather than later. Once they switch positions with him, I think any value he has left is basically gone.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks for the insight It seems like a difficult situation to be in, since it essentially announces that they have no faith in Vitters. But, they can't cut off their nose to spite their face if they think Lake is the higher upside third baseman.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Agreed Mike. If they think Lake is now the better prospect at 3B, he needs to play.

  • also, considering our interest in masterson, maybe this could be our "rizzo-like" acquisition this offseason, although this trade might be include a few more players.

    im thinking something like this
    cleveland: watkins, vitters, struck, golden
    cubs: chisenhall, masterson.

    i think this makes sense for both sides. the cubs fill 2 needs at SP and 3rd and add 2 possible core pieces going forward, while also opening up 3rd base at AAA for lake. the indians get salary relief, and 4 guys with 6 years of team control. 2 pretty decent upside plays in vitters and golden and solid upside guy with watkins, while adding a 5th starter to eat some innings.

    i think this trade will also help barney, hes a very self motivated player and i dont think he'd ever play better or worse just because someone is gunning for his position. now that watkins has been traded he can relax at second and can just focus on his game rather than try and force things because someone else is waiting in the wings.

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    In reply to jshmoran:

    Watkins strikes me as a guy who this FO would value more than most others. I'd think they'd be more inclined to include Junior Lake or Brett Jackson than Watkins in a deal.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    i agree that watkins is probably pretty valued by the cubs FO, but i think hes expendable given the depth at the position in the system. theres risk in every trade and in this one watkins is definitely the player i would hate to lose the most, i just happen to like chisenhalls upside more than his.

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    In reply to jshmoran:

    I can't see Cleveland dealing Masterson and not getting back a very good prospect or two, instead of just salary relief and some inexpensive, mostly fringe players.

    I also don't think Reggie Golden has much trade value, he's just never lived up to the expectations everyone has had of him since he reported to camp overweight a couple of years ago and he can't stay on the field. Golden has a total of 272 ab's in 3 seasons in the minors.

    Watkins is the only guy in that group who might be a major league starter, and that's still pretty iffy. Watkins probably profiles right now as a nice supersub who can play 2b/SS/CF and might force his way into a major league lineup in the right situation.

    I've never been high on Vitters. He has Jeff Francouer written all over him, but unlike Francouer, can't play defense.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    would not be surprised at all if they asked for more of a return than what i said above, however the indians are 1. selling low on both players, so its possible they take a smaller return 2. theyre entering a pretty big rebuild, id say there 2 or 3 years behind the cubs because there considering selling there entire core including chisenhall, cabrera, santana, masterson, choo, jiminez so they might take on guys who have upside that they might have to be patient with i.e. vitters and golden.

    and i agree for the most part with your view on the prospects that i have listed, however u dont know how the indians view them and u dont know how t/j are gonna sell them on a deal like this, so this could very well happen, but i wouldnt be surprised at all if they wanted more/different players.

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    While we're on the subject of third base: can you make the case for Villaneuva for me? 20 home runs appears to be an absolute ceiling for him and even if he provides a lockdown on gold glove for a decade, it really seems like that position has to provide more offense.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Villanueva is an average tools across the board kind of guy. What you're looking at with him is something like a guy who hits .280 with 15-20 HRs with lots of doubles and hopefully draws enough walks to give him an OBP in the .350 range. When you add his potential for good defense and average speed with good instincts on the bases, you have someone who can help you win in a lot of ways. That won't make him a star, but it'll make him a legit everyday 3B.

  • They have until the 30th to tender Stewart, but they have to turn
    in their 40-man roster list by the 20th. What will they do? Is it a
    given that they will save a spot for a Rule V pick (2nd pick in draft)

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I think the Cubs would love to have something worked out at 3B before the 30th. That would make a decision on Stewart a lot easier. Not going to be easy, though.

  • Wouldn't mind Chisenhall. Wish his d' was better.

  • Me too, but we can live with it as a stop gap if he hits better than Valbuena or Stewart did last year.

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    I was reading Fangraphs top 15 Cubs prospects and loved this part about Vogelbach:

    "As one baseball evaluator I spoke to said, “He’s going to be a folk hero down the road,” and later added, “He’s a sharp, instinctive hitter… What you saw was not a fluke… He did it all year.”"

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/chicago-cubs-top-15-prospects-2012-13/

  • In reply to Just Win:

    That's some nice praise.

  • Of topic, but funny..Has anyone not seen this video yet about Hitler hating the Cubs?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsELQmqZwAw&feature=related

  • In reply to SFToby:

    So Hitler's a Cards fan? Interesting :)

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    That explains a lot...about Cardinals fans :)

  • I could also live with Chisenhall as well. He would be , hopefully, a better stop gap than Stewart . I can see him filling in for a year or two until guys like Baez come up.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    And there's still some upside. I think he's basically a left-handed Vitters but he's performed better in the majors so there's less risk for 2013.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    There's another interesting piece here: if this happens (big if) and Chisenhall sticks (bigger if), if could open to door for Baez to move to left, where he could be an outstanding defensive left fielder and his bat could more than handle the position. That gives you an entire cost controlled team in place, more or less, and the Cubs could really go crazy adding pitching assets. $70 million+ to build a rotation is a really nice place to be.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Very true. If Chisenhall turns out to be something close to what Cleveland once thought he could be, then it gives the team some options.

  • If we trade any prospects that have any value I hope it is for Masterson well before Chisenhall. A shinier turd than Stewart isnt worth prospects , not for a stop gap. I am not convinced that Vitters cant be a part of a package to get a core arm , I do like the idea of moving him for a CORE need .

  • In reply to Bryan Craven:

    If they can get a core arm for Vitters, I'm all for it. I disagree, though, that he has that type of value.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    We could trade Vitters for Robert Bundy, but write "Robert" in disappearing ink, and then when the paperwork is sent into the league office replace "Robert" with "Dylan."

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Hire this man!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I know that John , I said part of a package lol. I just hate to see the Cubs move prospects and not get a Core piece. I would rather move Vitters now but in a package to try to get a Masterson or Porcello.

  • In reply to Bryan Craven:

    Oh, I see that now. Read it too fast :)

    I do understand that sentiment and I agree with it. Who knows? It may be that they've tried or that they just haven't had much interest from other teams. Maybe they'll have to try and get what they can before it's too late.

  • We traded away an awful lot of our tradeable assets last year with the exception of a few. We can't trade Garza until he proved he's healthy which will be probably at the trade deadline. If we're lucky we can move Marmol before spring. I think for any significant acquisitions, we've got nothing but free agency to look forward to, without trading a piece like Castro or Rizzo. Last year the Giants picked up Gregor Blanco from the winter leagues, where he was mvp of Venezuela's winter league. We need to scout in the winter leagues for any gems like Blanco.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    They'll probably have to try and uncover every stone to find talent with a weak FA market. I think they'll make a trade or two but, yeah, definitely nothing major until Garza is healthy.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If we don't pick up a couple good starters, I see us potentially having a worse year than last. I believe we're going to have to overpay to avoid that from happening.

  • When I had more time to read this blog, in particular the comments section, I became swayed by arguments from some commentators (who will remain nameless because, well, I forgot their names) that Vitters is simply not this FO's type of prospect. Given that the Cubs do not have that many assets to deal, I just have a gut feeling that Vitters will be in a different organization sooner rather the later, via a trade that fills a need. John's arguments above strengthen rather than diminish that gut feeling (which I hope is not due to the gulash I had for dinner).

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    Haha! You know, I've never actually had goulash. Will have to try it sometime :)

    Vitters doesn't quite fit their mold but I suppose they tried to see if it was possible he could change his game. Starting to get that gut feeling that maybe it isn't going to work out. I hope I'm wrong. I know there are a lot of Vitters fans on this site.

  • John, it seems like the Cubs lost a lot of depth via the 6 year FA rule , whatever that is. Are there players from other teams that were also affected that are worth pursuing?

    the players we lost control of are:
    Jim Adduci, OF
    Alfredo Amezaga, IF-OF
    Juan Apodaca, C
    Jairo Asencio, RHP
    Justin Berg, RHP
    Adrian Cardenas, INF
    Brian Esposito, C
    Jeff Frazier, OF-1B
    Vladimir Frias, INF
    Diory Hernandez, INF
    Rodrigo Lopez, RHP
    Seth McClung, RHP
    Blake Parker, RHP
    Horacio Ramirez, LHP
    Ryan Rowland-Smith, LHP
    Nate Samson, INF
    Miguel Socolovich, RHP
    Alvaro Sosa, C (player coach)
    Matt Tolbert, INF

  • In reply to SFToby:

    If you look at this list, it's hard to see any obvious solutions for the Cubs. Guys become 6 year minor league FAs for a reason and it's really hard to find one that's worthwhile. I took a quick look at the overall list and nobody really stood out to me as anything but perhaps a role player or a bullpen arm. I'm sure they'll sign a couple for some experienced depth or even just to fill some holes in the organization.

  • I wouldn't move Vitters at this point. He always has a hard time adjusting when he moves up leagues and I see his ceiling as higher than Lake's. He just has too much upside for me to want to move, though I can see the reasoning - Vitters probably has another good half year at AAA in 2013 but then what happens? If he's the kind of player that needs a couple three months to play through his problems at the big league level, I just don't see Sveum giving him that chance with his defense.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Vitters can improve his value if he plays good defense. I think people believe he'll hit, though whether it'll be enough remains to be seen. Showing he can play good defense will ease some of the pressure on that bat.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I haven't seen Vitters much, but he made one of the best plays at third I saw all year diving for a ball down the line. Throwing seemed to be his problem. If that's the case maybe it's fixable like Dusty Baker changed Aramis's footwork.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Footwork is definitely a problem for him and that may be part of the reason he's more comfortable with a quick step or two and then dive. Sometimes those things are fixable, not just with Aramis, but we saw it with Castro last year too.

  • I hate to sound so negative BUT...

    I really doubt the Cubs are willing to make a big splash in free agency and sign a "big fish" 3B. Feel free to correct me but I don't think there is one anyways. Having said that, the FO is stuck. They could stay with what they have or trade for a 3B. In my opinion, I don't understand the need to trade for a 3B. There's a good writer, John Arguello, that wrote about the good depth of 3B in the minor league system. I vote to wait. Why trade away prospects for a 3B that will be coming up soon? Doesn't make sense to me. The limited games Stewart played in, he hit the ball hard and grinned out at bats. His defense was perhaps gold glove caliber. So again, I vote to give the Stewart experiment another chance and to wait and see how the system's 3B pan out.

  • In reply to WillieG1:

    Totally agree Willie. No big guys out there worth signing and even if there were, this wouldn't be the year to do it.

    And thanks!

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    Would the Cubs consider trading for Chase Headly and could a slightly bigger deal centered around Garza/Headly be possible?

  • In reply to Jive Wired:

    Rumor has it that Headley is not available.

  • In reply to Jive Wired:

    Going to take a ton to get Headley. Opportunity was last season but they were reportedly asking for a lot back then and he was coming off a so-so year. Because they're cash strapped, they'd probably want prospects. Timing isn't right for the Cubs on that kind of deal.

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    One thing I do want to point out with all the people who seem to be reminiscing about Ian Stewart's performance. He had a .627 OPS last year. That's even lower than Darwin Barney. That's lower than Luis Valbuena! Obviously Stewart is capable of better play, but there was a reason Colorado moved him to begin with. I have no problem if they decide to bring him back, but I think one option is to non-tender him and resign him for a lower base with some incentives for games played and AB's. I know the 3b free agent pool is weak, but I can't picture there are other teams willing to offer him $2-3 mil guaranteed right now.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Valbuena gets ripped a lot but he was the Cubs best 3B last year. I know that's not saying much, but he played D, he grinded out ABs, and he generally played good baseball. Just couldn't buy any hits. Probably a utility guy, but I think he can hit better than what he showed last year.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Carrie Muskat has Vitters going to Venezuela.

    http://muskat.mlblogs.com/2012/11/12/1112-extra-bases-campana-to-venezuela/

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    Thanks. Good to hear. He needs to keep playing. Guessing he took a break after the long season.

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