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...
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.
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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