The Chicago Cubs witnessed the shrinking of the third base market during the Winter Meetings in Nashville this week. Within the past two days, two third base candidates that the Cubs have expressed interest in, Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez, signed with new teams. Meanwhile, Kevin Youkilis did not fit the direction that the Cubs are headed in for the 2013 season.
The Chicago Cubs were in need of a third baseman to start the 2013 season. Third base prospect Josh Vitters will start the season with the Iowa Cubs, and Luis Valbuena is best suited as an utility infielder for the Cubs as opposed to an everyday third baseman. Last week, the Cubs opted to non-tender third baseman Ian Stewart. The Cubs acquired Stewart last off-season from the Colorado Rockies, though his 2012 season proved to be irrelevant as the third baseman underwent wrist surgery in June that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. The thought was that the Cubs would non-tender Stewart, but then hope to re-sign the third baseman to a Minor League contract. Stewart was eligible for arbitration this winter and likely would have received more than the $2.23 million he earned in 2012.
Not only is Stewart returning to the Cubs for the 2013 season, but the third baseman has an opportunity to earn a raise from his 2013 salary. The Cubs announced on Thursday that they have agreed on a one year Major League contract with Stewart worth $2 million with an additional $500K that can be earned in incentives.
The Cubs are taking a risk that should prove beneficial to them during the 2013 season. There is no question that when healthy, Stewart has the potential to be a potent run producer for the Cubs’ offense. The issue is that Stewart has not been healthy for the past two seasons. Though, with the third baseman returning from surgery in the 2012 season, it may not be out of the question to suggest that Stewart could hit 20+ home runs for the Cubs in 2013. Stewart likely is a short term answer for the Cubs at the third base position, meaning the third baseman could be the subject of trade rumors if he has a productive first half of the season.