Cubs have some big questions at 3B

Cubs have some big questions at 3B

Third base isn't high on the Cubs priority list but there is no question it could use an upgrade.

Right now the Cubs have Ian Stewart and Luis Valbuena as options at 3B.  Josh Vitters is ticketed for Iowa and Junior Lake who, despite turning some heads with a good winter league performance, is probably even further away right now.

As far as the free agent market goes in 3B, the Cubs are not pursuing Kevin Youkilis and while that's not a high starting point, there is still a pretty big drop off after that.  The odds that the Cubs are getting a starting 3B from free agency is virtually non-existent.  That could well leave the Cubs to look at the trade market and/or non tender market as an option, and if they can't find a starter, they may try to mix and match a little.

The market is limited but the Cubs don't need a star.  They just need to bridge the gap until top 3B prospects Javier Baez or Christian Villanueva are ready to take over...or at least until Vitters or Lake can take a shot at winning the job sometime in 2013.

Is the best value "acquisition" already in-house? 

What would you say if there was a 27 year old 3B on the market who hits LH, grinds out ABs, and take walks?  What if he was also a plus defender? Then suppose he was also a buy low candidate, slated to make near the MLB minimum?  What if he was coming off a season where he raked in AAA, only to come to the majors and put up a .260 BABIP -- a number that brought his batting average way down but is unlikely to stay at that low level?  What if he was once considered a talented prospect who  is lauded for his mental makeup?  Lastly, what if this player went to play winter ball this year and his hitting to the tune of .341/.455/.593 (1.049 OPS)?  Sounds like a good fit and a solid bounce back candidate the Cubs should consider signing off the bargain bin, doesn't it?  Well, that player is Luis Valbuena and maybe he should get another chance.  Bill James projects him  hit .253/.330/.402 in 2013, which isn't bad, but what if the Cubs could potentially enhance those numbers by allowing him to play only against RHP, against whom he hit 30 points higher than he did vs. LHP last season?

Does Ian Stewart get a mulligan?

Most people thought that the Cubs trade with Colorado would either A) Not make a difference on either side or B) that the Cubs won the deal.  It turns out A is closer to the truth.  Colvin played really well against RHP, though almost all of his damage came in Coors Field against RHP.  Still, it's better than what the Cubs got, which was a player that did not even hit his weight.  The situation is also tricky because there was some talk that the Cubs weren't happy with Stewart's choice to stay home rather than spend time with the team.  Lastly, Stewart had a serious of questionable tweets (since taken down) that may not sit well from a PR standpoint.  My feeling is that Stewart is down 0-2 in the count here when it comes to sticking around this season, but with limited options available, the Cubs may have no choice but to run him out there and see if he can finally tap into the talent most scouts feel he had as a prospect.  It seems the wrist was bothering him more than he let on, and there are hopes that surgery has fixed the problem.  Stewart should hope that's the case, because he may be running out of chances.  If healthy, he may still be the most talented 3B on the roster so it appears the Cubs are taking their time on this one.

Should the Cubs acquire a player through trade?

Acquire Lonnie Chisenhall from the Indians.  The Cubs are interested and the Indians reportedly like some young Cubs players. Chisenhall gives the Cubs a much-needed LH bat who should hit lefties well enough to play everyday.  His defense isn't a strength, but he won't hurt them there either.   Chisenhall is just 24 and can serve as both a short term solution and perhaps a long term one if he stays healthy and finds the MLB success that has thus far eluded him.

If they want to look at a non-tender trade candidate list there is Alberto Callaspo.  He's a non-tender candidate and the Angels might consider an upgrade at the position.  I like Callaspo for a few reasons.  One is that he's a good defender at 3B and can fill in at other positions if needed.  Another is that he's a switch-hitter.  Both of those traits make him a potentially valuable and versatile player off the bench.  I also like Callaspo because he's better against RHP, hitting .306/.347/.417 in his career against them.  If you platoon him and get similar numbers and Valbuena hits what Bill James projects him to hit, then it's not out of the question that  you can get a combined .275 hitter with 10-15 HRs and good defense.  He also hits RHP well enough to play everyday if Valbuena struggles again.  That will do for a stopgap until either Vitters or Lake is ready.  The question is whether the Angels decide to keep Callaspo or opt for an upgrade.  In this thin 3B market, it wouldn't be surprising for the Angels to stick with Callaspo's excellent defense for another year.

Should the Cubs look at the free agent market?

It is a weak year for 3Bs.  As mentioned, the Cubs have already said they will not pursue Kevin Youkilis. .  Similar to the Callaspo situation, the Cubs option may end up being a platoon. If the Angels don't want to part with Callaspo, perhaps a free agent such as Placido Polanco or Jeff Keppinger would be options as a platoon partner.  Polanco is the better defender but Keppinger may be the better hitter.   There will be some demand for Keppinger from AL East teams, so Polanco may be the easier sign. Eric Chavez would fit as a platoon partner, though I don't think he'll move to Chicago and a rebuilding team to do it at the twilight of his career.  Chavez has hinted at retirement if the right situation doesn't present itself and you'll have a hard time convincing me that the Cubs are that right situation.  He's not looking for an opportunity to build value. Brandon Inge is another possibility though his main contributions will be limited to defense and some occasional power.  Ty Wiggington provides a little sock but not much else.  Then, of course, you can't forget ex-Cubs Jeff Baker and Mark DeRosa.

Do upper level prospects Josh Vitters and Junior Lake have a shot?

For opening day? No.  Or at least it's an extreme long shot.  Josh Vitters is the more advanced of the two.  He still has that pretty swing and he was productive in AAA, albeit in the PCL, a league with a reputation for inflating offensive numbers.  Vitters is still just 23, however, so it's too soon to give up, especially since the Cubs feel it takes him a bit of time to adapt to new leagues.  Right now, Vitters is playing winter ball and as of this writing, he has played just 2 games, going 0 for 7.  The guess here is that Vitters, like Anthony Rizzo did last year, will return to AAA Iowa for at least a half season to see if he can apply all the coaching he's received at a more appropriate level of competition.  If he gets off to a good start, however, he could be in Chicago for another crack at the job.  While he has a good arm and is working to improve his defense, a lot of Vitters' value is tied to that bat, so he has to hit to have a shot.

Nipping at Vitters' heels is Junior Lake.  He's tearing it up in winter ball, hitting .341/.390/.484.  Lake  doesn't seem to have as difficult a time adjusting and transitioning into new leagues.  He is also the more athletic player and should be able to contribute in more areas than Vitters, putting less pressure on his bat.  What's holding Lake back is a lack of experience at the AAA level, something the Cubs like for all their prospects.   He also hasn't had a chance to play 3B on a full-time basis and with Vitters slated for AAA to start the season, the Cubs will have to find a way to divvy up the playing time there.  Both need reps at the position.  Lake's good offseason play has put himin the picture, but right now he's just lurking in the background.

 

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  • What were some of Ian Stewarts bad PR tweets?

  • In reply to Cubs8ball:

    Retweeted something with a homophobic slur than acted like a jerk when someone called him on it. Eventually backed off and apologized to the kid, who happened to be gay, so it ended much better than it could have, but never should have started. I don't think he's a bad guy, just showed some questionable judgment on the re-tweet. I've heard there was another situation but I didn't see it.

  • Once the non-tender deadline passes, the picture will become much clearer as to who's available. Not only at 3B, but all other positions. The Cubs' FO might as well wait. The current FAs aren't signing too fast any way.

  • Hopefully that's the case. It depends on who's non-tendered and my guess is that some will sign fairly quickly. Sometimes teams hang on to their borderline guys in hopes of dealing them later.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    When does the time start for the Cubs to sack the non-tendered players? I thought it was the end of Nov. Stewart should be one of them. Balky wrist and lack of power will make the Cubs look in another direction. Vitters should go to Japan, instead of trying the Cubs patience in AAA. The rebuilding will go on for years, I feel.

  • I know the Cubs are on the hook for about 30 million for the new spring training complex, and I'm not sure when that is due, but there has been a lot of money that's come off the books in the last couple of years. Rickets has said in the past that he would keep reinvesting in the team, but I don't see that really happening if we pick our free agents from other team's rejects, or from the D lists. I'd love to get Youk for a few years and give our prospects some time to get MLB ready. I don't see Vitters being ready at all during 2013, if ever.

    You could say the same about the other positions of need on this team. Right now I expect the Cubs to be out of contention by Memorial Day if we continue our talent search the way we're doing it now. We're a big market team with some of the highest ticket prices, and considering how we're limited financially in the amateur draft and the international draft, we should be able to acquire better talent than this guy Navarro we just picked up. This is looking to be even more dismal than last year since we no longer have Maholm and Dempster.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I like Youk too but it may not just be the Cubs. He may not want to come here if he thinks he can get offers from contending teams. He's the best 3B in a very weak market, so he'll likely get what he wants. I think if it were a bigger market the Cubs would have a shot with a sort or make-good kind of contract offer, but I don't think Youkilis will need to settle for that.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    The other thing is that having to overpay FAs to come here is an inefficient way to build a team. I think the Cubs are trying to be competitive, but not in a way that's going to hamper future teams. I don't want someone like Youk here in 3 years if that's what it takes to get him here. In recent years, teams like Arizona, San Diegeo, Tampa and Oakland have done an excellent job of finding value and contending without having to sign mediocre players to big, multi-year contracts. The one team I remember taking that strategy in a rebuild, the Royals, wound up paying for it and it set their rebuilding back a few years. Didn't the Cubs themselves recently learn that throwing money at FAs is a bad long term plan? You might win more in year or two. The Cubs really only had one year where they were truly a top playoff team -- but when it didn't work out, it set the team back 5 years. No thanks.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree that overpaying FAs is inefficient. However, if they agree to contracts that don't include NTCs, the signing team could still trade them at the deadlines if they're out of contention and only be out the money they paid them up to that point. I believe it when Ricketts says all profits will go back into the organization. Teams can only spend so much at the player development level and in the international market. The Cubs should be able to spend at the Major League level, as well.

  • Maybe but that would mean eating contracts and then having to take on new ones. It's a lot of money on both ends and this FA class isn't even that good.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I don't believe that the Cubs would have to eat the contract of any "big" free agent(s) that they might sign. They might need to overpay to get that FA to sign, but once signed, if signed to a contract without a NTC, they should have no problem trading that player and his entire contract to a team in the hunt.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The Cubs learned that throwing money at free agents is particularly bad if they include NTC, and more than 2 or 3 years. I think that for CF and 3B we should get along with what we have in house, but we need to stock up on SP. We should decide and make a move while they are still available.. We're in a big enough market where we can do both if we fill the positions that offer the biggest bang for our buck.

    And you're right - that philosophy did set back the club 5 years because we had a terrible farm system, but we're different now, at least I hope so. If we can ride a few good FAs for 2 or 3 years then our first wave will be here. If the Cubs don't do that they'll have empty bleachers by the 4th of July.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    My next question then is, who are you going to get that will sign for 2 years and no NTC?

    The answer: Bargain free agents.

    The Cubs are certainly up for making those kinds of deals. The question is who you can bring in with that? In your example of Kevin Youkilis, why would he come here and take that deal if he can get it somewhere else. The Cubs don't even have the advantage of a familiar coaching staff to lure him in. That distinction goes to the Indians and Rangers.

    I think you bring people in by putting a competitive team out there and the examples I gave earlier prove you don't have to overpay for brand name players to do that. Just put good player out there with good value. I mentioned Callaspo, for example. He has been worth 6.4 Wins above Replacement the last two years. Youk? 5.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Then if we're just going to be getting by, not overpaying and just shopping the thrift stores, then I'd rather use all in house people for the most part and get them mlb experience along with our best coaching and making sure we draft high until the first wave arrives. That might not hurry things along much, but the more elite talent that will be available to us will make it that much more worthwhile when it does arrive.

    I'd rather not trade one of the few pieces we have for someone who might be non-tendered, especially if he's going to be a bench guy.

    I didn't bother buying a subscription for MLB.com last year because I knew they'd be painful to watch and its apparent they'll be worse this year unless something dramatic occurs. I didn't see hardly any games on tv because the networks know a losing team doesn't draw viewers. I figure I might be able to only catch a half dozen games or so this year, and as a result I'm approaching my limit of even caring about the Cubs anymore.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Then you lose cost control and risk hurting their development by exposing them before they're ready. This is a process and it takes time. A lot of us have been asking for this organization to build the right way. There have been multiple examples of teams building a team in this way and competing within 2-3 years. I'm going to be patient for the long term and stay hopeful that things can click the way they have with teams like the D'Backs, Padres, A's, and Orioles the past 3 years. None of those teams needed big FAs to turn it around. The difference is that the Cubs will be able to keep all their players, plus sign new ones once they get to that level.

  • I would not be upset to see the Cubs start out the season with Valbuena / Stewart in competiton for the starting 3B spot. Valbuena does play better than average defense, does know how to take a walk (something rare on last year's team), and in a pinch can cover other positions.

    Stewart is a bit more questionable. IF (and it is an IF) he is actually healthy, he obviously gives better power production than Valbuena, but at a cost of higher strikeouts, fewer walks, and a decrease in defense.

    I say give Valbuena a 2 year contract with an upgrade from last year's salary, and keep him on staff. Let him have the 3B job as his to lose in Spring ball, and make Stewart or Vitters beat him. If they do - you have a decent tradable piece for the trade deadline next Summer - whether that piece be Valbuena, Stewart or Vitters.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I think the nice thing about Valbuena is he's at least a utility IF'er if he can't start for you. And it's not a bad thing having a guy off the bench who can play defense and hits LH.

  • Report from the Boston Globe is that the Cubs are one of five teams working on a deal with the Marlins for Stanton.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Phil Rogers reported something similar. Said the discussions would start with Castro and the Cubs would have to add from there. It makes some sense since it gives the Cubs another impact power bat and they have some minor league depth at SS.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Not "working out a deal". They've inquired.

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    I'd much rather just go with Valbuena and perhaps a rh/switch hitter backup infielder who can platoon at 3b with the other guy being the utility infielder that day. I can't see how the Cubs would want to bring Stewart back after he decided not to rehab with the team, and this is the first I've heard about him tweeting insulting stuff. That's not the kind of player the team needs, nor should they ignore the two major issues there and bring him back.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    I think that's probably the most realistic answer, though its one many won't want to hear. I think Keppinger is a great fit for the role you describe, but a lot of teams seem to have the same idea.

  • I don't share the optimism over Valbueba and I have seen all I need to of him as a starter. As a utility guy, he'd be fine, but even then, I think the Cubs could do better. I'd much rather take a chance on Stewart's upside, though I think it's unlikely he is back next season.

    None of the FA options are more than a stopgap, but Inge is somewhat intriguing to me. Fairly similar to Stewart in that he plays good defense, has some power, and can't stay healthy.

    If the Cubs are really going to go with a placeholder in 2013, I'd rather see them take a chance on Stewart rebounding than settling for safer chance that Valbuena turns out mediocre.

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    In reply to North Side Irish:

    Here are the Ian Stewart tweets he tried to delete. Start at the top where a twitter follower asks him why he re-tweeted something offense from someone else.

    https://twitter.com/IAN_STEWART_2sc/status/259534076430675968

    The Cubs don't need that kind of nonsense. Non-tender him immediately.

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    Oh yes. He's a utility infielder. But so are most of the free agents out there who are listed as 3Bs.

    Stewart is the more talented player of the two but sometimes that's not enough. Ideally, you'd like to see him break out and play the way teams think he can play, but they've been waiting for a few years now.

  • 3B is going to be a wasteland for the Cubs for a while. None of the players you mentioned (even Lake) are long term fits. Vitters provides hope - some would say a a false hope. The talent in the Cubs system will all be at short season A, low A and high A next year with a couple sprinklings in AA and AAA.

    I think what we have found out in the last year since Theo and company took over was that there was some talent in the system. However, the system was bereft of impact talent, and the aforementioned talent (Jackson, Vitters, McNutt, Lake) was over rated. The talent that was there was mainly bench talent. What I have seen in the past year in the new way of doing things is that the players have specific goals and targets to meet to move from level to level. Villanueva will be the key. How long that will be - no one knows.

  • In reply to historyrat:

    Team really does lack impact prospects at the upper levels, so I think you're probably right about it being stop gaps and band aids until Villanueva or Baez is ready. Villanueva should be at AA, so hopefully he makes it by 2014.

  • Thanks for the analysis, John. One request: Could you put the names of the pictured players in a caption? I think that's Junior Lake on the right, but....

    As to 3B, I hope we stay away from Youkilis. While he's a grinder at bat, his ability to perform well--or even play at all--in the field seems to be declining. I'd rather give the current guys, Stewart and Valbuena, a longer chance; as you imply, what have we got to lose?
    Lake rakes, but he's raw. Vitters may get it together; we'll see.
    Not sold on Chisenhall either, but if the FO deems him a good pickup, that's good enough for me.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Sorry...yes, it's Lake on the right and Vitters on the left. It was a picture from my archives and I thought the names were on there. Will put it on next time.

    You hit the nail on the head with my concerns on Youk. Can he continue to play 3B effectively and can he stay healthy? The two go hand in hand but he's already lost a step or two at 3B.

    Chisenhall is a flyer type. But I think if it costs Vitters and change, then it's one worth taking.

  • No top prospects should be traded until July. Cubs need more
    time to figure out who is really a fit for their future.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Depends. I think if you can do a prospect for prospect/young player deal (i.e. Vitters - Chisenhall), I'd do it if I thought it was an upgrade. Cubs are going to have a log jam soon at 3B with Vitters, Lake, Villanueva all at AA and above.

  • I don't trust that Stewart will be healthy or, if so, be able to stay that way. His possible career ending injury may be contributing to the surly behavior. I will say the same about 3b that I said about cf field, even though it is more of an offense/ power position, the candidates will need to play defense to play here.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Agreed. Tough to count on Stewart right now.

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    Just thinking out loud here folks. Possible 2015 Chicago Cubs core may include:

    1B Rizzo
    2B Barney
    SS Castro
    3B Baez
    LF Jackson
    CF Almora
    RF Soler
    C Castillo

    I know we just lost 100+ games. But any deals that involve changing this core group would have to be a move that fits for us long term. Anything else is just filler, imo until we can get to this point.

    Lot's of folks may want to take a bite of the shiny fishing lure out there to win games now. But I've been waiting my whole life to see the Cubs be the top dog in the National League. And the top dog does not win one year and then take 3 or 4 years to win again (aka Marlins, White Sox).

    We are on the right course. We have a direction. We have the right folks calling the shots. I can't wait to see what everyone will do because of how strong the future Cubs will be.

    And a last thought..... The Dodgers will pay dearly for what they are doing now. Our money will be better spent in about 2 years to fill in gaps.....

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Agreed. I want to see the Cubs build a team that can sustain success long term. Once the Cubs start winning and have a good organization, FAs will want to come here.

  • Looks like the Angels are planning on keep Callaspo. Sigh. Probably would have let him go under the old regime.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That's why we cannot afford to wait and see which player means less to a team than another player so we can try to beat the Astros in signing him. We need to be aggressive in chasing free agents. If that means publicly courting multiple free agents to appear that we're going after a major facelift and not suck as badly, so be it. The Nationals overpaid for Weurth one year and Jackson the next, real competitive teams do it when they need to improve. That's the penalty we get for being so terrible last year. I'd rather get pieces that remain with the team going forward than get cheap stopgaps.

  • I read that KC would listen on offers of Mike Moustakas. He is by far the only 3rd baseman out there I personally would be interested in. Wonder what it would it...

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