Next week figures to be an eventful week for the Chicago Cubs along with the other 29 Major League Baseball teams. Next week is the annual winter meetings, where general managers and executives from all 30 Major League Baseball teams will be confined under the same roof for a week. The Cubs are generally active at the winter meetings. Past signings such as Carlos Pena and Milton Bradley have occurred at the winter meetings. Before the Cubs’ front office make their way to the winter meetings, the team has an important decision to make on Friday.
Tonight at 11 P.M. is the deadline for Major League Baseball teams to tender a contract to arbitration eligible players. Starting pitchers Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, reliever James Russell, and infielder Luis Valbuena will all be offered arbitration. The important decision that the Cubs have to make before 11 P.M. tonight is whether or not to tender a contract to third baseman Ian Stewart. Stewart was last seen by Cubs fans on June 12 before having wrist surgery that ended his season. The Cubs acquired Stewart from the Colorado Rockies last off-season for outfielder Tyler Colvin and infielder D.J. LeMahieu. When Stewart has been healthy with the Cubs, the third baseman has struggled. Stewart hit a tick over .200 this season to go along with 5 home runs. After having surgery, the third baseman opted to rehab away from the team; a decision that manager Dale Sveum did not seem too fond of. Chicago Cubs’ president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have been monitoring Stewart’s progress throughout the off-season. Though, neither Epstein nor Hoyer have offered any indication of what decision they will make on Stewart. If the Cubs do not tender Stewart a contract, then the third baseman will hit the free agent market.
Meanwhile, Stewart has indicated on several occasions over recent months that he would prefer to be back with the Cubs in 2013. Stewart is a fairly active tweeter and does an admirable job to responding to questions that are asked by his followers. Stewart has been asked several times whether or not he wants to be back with the Cubs, and the third baseman has an overwhelming desire to return to the Cubs. However, while Stewart wants to be back with the Cubs, the third baseman indicated that he does not think he will be back with the Cubs in 2013.
The Chicago Cubs need a third baseman for 2013. That alone may be reason enough for the Cubs’ to retain Stewart for the 2013 season. Third base prospect Josh Vitters will start the season with the Iowa Cubs, and of all the Cubs’ third base prospects, he may be the closest to being Major League ready. Though, Vitters in all likelihood is not the Cubs’ third baseman of the future and may be a valuable trading chip for the Cubs’ front office. While Valbuena is a nice player to have on a 25 man roster, I would be hard pressed to think that the Cubs will enter the 2013 season with Valbuena as the everyday third baseman. The free agent market for third baseman is considerably thin, and the trade market does not appear to be too much stronger. The prediction here is that the Cubs will not tender a contract to Stewart, but bring him back at a reduced rate or even a Minor League contract.