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Friday is the deadline for teams to tender a contract to their arbitration-eligible players. That’s the fancy, formal way of saying that teams have to decide, by Friday, if they’d like to keep their arbitration-eligible players (generally, guys with more than three years experience, but fewer than six years) by way of the arbitration process, which typically gives the players a raise over their salary from the previous year. The Cubs have five arbitration-eligible players – Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, James Russell, Luis Valbuena, and Ian Stewart – each of whom is relatively certain to be tendered a contract on Friday.

Except Stewart. The Cubs’ 2012 third baseman played just a couple months of defensively proficient, but offensively deficient, baseball before succumbing to a wrist injury that had troubled him for a good portion of 2011. He recently had successful surgery on the wrist, and recovering well. The Cubs are monitoring that recovery, and keeping a dialog open with him in advance of Friday’s deadline.

“We’re still talking to Ian,” Hoyer said, per Carrie Muskat. “We got a report today on his wrist and how he’s doing. He’s taking light batting practice, hitting balls off a tee and it seems like the wrist is progressing nicely. We’ll continue those conversations throughout the week. There’s a decision to be made at the end of the week. We’ve had a good dialogue with Ian and Larry Reynolds, his agent, and we’ll continue to do that for the next three or four days.”

All things considered, retaining Stewart’s services might not be as crazy as we once all thought. The Cubs don’t have a third baseman standing at the ready, and the market isn’t exactly overflowing with obviously better (similarly-priced) options.

But does that mean the Cubs have to tender him a contract on Friday? Not necessarily.

On the one hand, tendering him a contract guarantees that the Cubs will keep Stewart through 2013. On the other hand, it guarantees that he’ll make a healthy amount – relatively speaking – in arbitration. Stewart earned $2.24 million in 2012, and, because of the nature of arbitration, stands to earn a raise through that process in 2013. Technically, players’ salaries can be cut in arbitration up to 20%, but a reduction is extraordinarily rare. Stewart did not perform particularly well in 2012, but he gained service time, and would probably see an increase in salary to about $2.3 to $2.5 million.

If the Cubs non-tender Stewart, however, they can try and sign him to a lesser deal, but they’ll be competing with the market at large at that point. In other words, the moment he is non-tendered, he becomes a free agent. Are we certain that there isn’t a team out there, given the lack of third base options, willing to guarantee Stewart a couple million bucks? After all, he offers quality defense and, who knows, maybe the surgery finally did fix his wrist issue.

There is, fortunately, another option here. The Cubs could try and sign Stewart to a deal before Friday’s deadline. By taking that avenue, the Cubs do not risk losing Stewart to the open market, but could still try and shave some money off of what Stewart would receive if they tendered him a contract and went through the arbitration process. The offer could look something like this: “Ian, we’re prepared to offer you $1.25 million for 2013, or we’re going to non-tender you on Friday, and you’ll have to take your chances on the open market.” There’s risk there, sure, but at least then there’s a chance of holding onto a piece that could become an under-market asset. And Stewart did previously tweet that he’d take $1.5 million to return to the Cubs.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard some chatter that this approach is one that the Cubs would like to take. That squares with the fact that the Cubs have kept him on the roster this long – if they weren’t at least thinking of keeping him, why not DFA him last week and protect another player from the Rule 5 Draft?

That all said, the money isn’t the only issue when it comes to tendering Stewart a contract. The 40-man roster remains an issue as well.

The Stewart decision (and potentially the Luis Valbuena decision) is complicated by the fact that the Cubs are reportedly pursuing Jeff Keppinger, who would presumably get a look at starting at third base for the Cubs to start out 2013. Not only would that make Stewart less viable as a return option, it would also make keeping him on the 40-man more difficult – it already stands at 40, including Stewart. To add Keppinger (and any other free agents), the Cubs would have to remove someone. However, if the Cubs can get Stewart to agree to a one-year deal before Friday’s deadline, for an amount less than what he would receive in arbitration, they might be wise to do so. Yes, the roster spot remains an issue, but one easily enough resolved by removing a fringy player or two.

In the end, given the dearth of talent on the third base market, the Cubs might not be willing to risk losing an upside player like Stewart. He remains just 27-years-old, and is coming off of a surgery that may have finally rectified the issues that plagued him the last two years. What are the Cubs really risking by keeping him? They aren’t blocking a better third base option. They aren’t tying up a huge chunk of funds.

That’s why, if the Cubs figure out a way to bring Stewart back – even if they tender him a contract on Friday – I’m probably not going to be too troubled by it. In fact, now that we have a better sense of the plans for 2013 and of the free agent market, it might be the best option.

  • cubzforlife

    I’m at the season ticket holder event and am shocked at the small number of seats available. Season ticket holders are drinking the kool aide. In the sections closest to the field there are only twenty or so seats available. One glaring exception are 8 seats by the visitors dugout. At 25k a seat you need deep pockets. I’m waiting my turn not sure if I stick with my four or find two cheaper seats. Come on 2:30! And they have not started on the field. Must be a spring project.

  • ruby2626

    Not an IS fan but I say give him his $1.5M and see how he does. You just know that if the Cubs let him sign elsewhere he hits .260 with 25 homers. I don’t know much about Theo but if he has an ego like I’m sure he does you figure he’ll at least want something to show for trading away Colvin and DeMathieu. If the 40 man roster is still an issue Clevinger and Coleman I believe can still be moved off. After Clevinger’s 14 for 28 start he hit .152 the rest of the season in well over 150 at bats. I think he’ll go unclaimed. Maybe i’m getting greedy but would still like to see them get Keppinger also. Sorry but that .333 career avg against lefties is kind of screaming at me. Took a while but it appears the Cubs have finally figured out DeJesus can’t hit a lefty. Apparently it takes several years of batting averages .100 apart lefties vs. righties. for that to be figured out. .149 LY against lefties, yow.

    • WGNstatic

      While I am certain that Theo and Jed each have a very healthy sized ego, I would disagree with this:

      I don’t know much about Theo but if he has an ego like I’m sure he does you figure he’ll at least want something to show for trading away Colvin and DeMathieu.

      I do trust that these guys are perfectly willing to cut their losses and not let a previous mistake compound itself.

      • Pat

        Agreed. These guys know when to cut their losses. Of course, I fully believe that evaluating a decision like that trade in hindsight is the worst thing you can do. They had a piece they didn’t feel was useful and traded for something they thought would be useful. Regardless of how it pans out, it was the correct process. The only way it becomes a mistake is when you keep non useful pieces too long.

  • ruby2626

    Not an IS fan but I say give him his $1.5M and see how he does. You just know that if the Cubs let him sign elsewhere he hits .260 with 25 homers. I don’t know much about Theo but if he has an ego like I’m sure he does you figure he’ll at least want something to show for trading away Colvin and DeMathieu. If the 40 man roster is still an issue Clevinger and Coleman I believe can still be moved off. After Clevinger’s 14 for 28 start he hit .152 the rest of the season in well over 150 at bats. I think he’ll go unclaimed. Maybe i’m getting greedy but would still like to see them get Keppinger also. Sorry but that .333 career avg against lefties is kind of screaming at me. Took a while but it appears the Cubs have finally figured out DeJesus can’t hit a lefty. Apparently it takes several years of batting averages .100 apart lefties vs. righties. for that to be figured out. .149 LY against lefties, yow. Update: Coleman, DFA

  • terencem

    The would still have to release him if they want to give him less than his arb amount.

  • Byron Browne

    If for 2013 all you need is a stand-in for the future “real” third baseman, go with Stewart. At least he already knows where the clubhouse is and won’t get lost getting to the ballpark on opening day…

    • Kyle

      That is the most convincing argument for Stewart I’ve heard so far.

  • RockyMtnCubzFan

    Wrist Surgery won’t fix Stewarts probs….
    Surgery can’t fix a guy who stares at pitches down the heart of the plate and swinging when the ball isn’t even in the strike zone………Time to cut your loses with him……I saw it all to well here in Denver

  • RockyMtnCubzFan

    Rose never had his Team lose on Purpose..Every Player that played for him and with him has always spoke on his behalf that he would yell at them to play harder when they didn’t hustle and yes he shouldn’t have bet on baseball,but he deserves to be in the Hall…….If they are gonna allow racist,bigots and other low lifes in then that is exactly where Rose belongs…

    • DarthHater

      If they are gonna allow racist,bigots and other low lifes in then that is exactly where Rose belongs…

      [message forwarded to Department of Damnation, Faint Praise Division]

  • RockyMtnCubzFan

    Ty Cobb did way worse to ruin the MLB’s image in his Playing days then Rose has ever done and Cobb’s in…….

  • RockyMtnCubzFan

    The Comish office actually took away the Cheating accusation and changed it to straight betting on his team……..They never could prove that he cheated and the Bookies confirmed it,not sure how old you was in 1990 and 91 when the Heart of the investigation took place,but they went on a witch hunt and Rose beat them at every turn and we all know how the comish office in the MLB hates to lose….Every Time He bet it was for his team to win…….Being a bad gambler is one thing but he never cheated…

  • hardtop

    Ian, we know your read bleacher nation, please just set us straight once and for all:

    Are you a potential above average 3rd baseman that has just been plagued with injuries most of your career?

    or

    Are you a below average hitter (with some power) who had 1.. maybe 1 1/2 decent seasons at the dish?

  • RockyMtnCubzFan

    I never said Rose shouldn’t have faced some of the ban he recieved……I would never say that,but a lifetime ban is overboard is what I am saying……Plus the Comish office told him if you admit it your back……….He did the Man thing and admitted it and it’s time for the MLB to do the right thing and Re-Instate Him……

  • Carne Harris

    I’ve thought they were going to keep Stewart all along in this crappy market, but with Hoyer’s tone above and Valbuena’s good winter numbers, not so sure anymore. Since it’s a borderline call as to whether the Cubs consider him worth 2.5mil, there’s probably some team out there that does and maybe we could at least get a low level prospect back for him if we’re not going to offer him arbitration and can’t work out a deal.

  • MichiganGoat

    Just so everyone has this: from Wikipedia “On August 24, 1989, Rose voluntarily accepted a permanent place on baseball’s ineligible list.[14] Rose accepted that there was a factual reason for the ban; in return, Major League Baseball agreed to make no formal finding with regard to the gambling allegations.” He accepted the ban to avoid future charges, he chose to be banned. This was his choice.

  • RockyMtnCubzFan

    It probably is a moot point but some say Selig will lift the ban right before he retires..I don’t know if he will or not but i read some supposedly insider news reports that says selig is just waiting to right before he retires and we all know when it comes to Selig anything is possible.

    • MaxM1908

      Selig, retire? I always imagined he’d hold the position until death, and even then, they’d just prop him up at the podium when necessary, Weekend at Bernie’s style.

      • Stinky Pete

        If they can recover his body after his son throws him down the gigantic shaft. Why are there so many shafts?

    • Chris

      I’ve heard the opposite. I’ve heard that Selig was close to Giamatti and is bitter towards Rose because the stress of the media circus around the ban probably contributed heavily to Giamatti’s death. I’ve heard that Rose’s ban will NEVER be lifted as long as Selig is commish. I’ve also heard that the bitterness actually increased when Rose finally admitted that he gambled on the Reds as a manager, when he was pumping up a book 4-5 years ago. If true, I can certainly understand that. After all the years of denial, for him to come clean to sell a book isn’t exactly an admirable act. It’s really a shame. He should be in the Hall. While he should be in ahead of the steroid-era guys, I totally understand why they won’t put him in. Much like Santo, nobody should make any attempt to clear him for the HOF until after he’s gone. He should be in the Hall, but at this point I’m fine with them not allowing him to profit from it.

      • RoughRiider

        I don’t get the reference to Santo and because of that I feel using his name in this discussion is in poor taste.

        • http://wavesoftalent.webs.com tim

          Many voters didn’t like Santo’s (what they would consider) antics, preferring players to be more anonymous than Ronnie was (see heel-clicking).

          Some writers today don’t like purported cheaters.

          While they may well be entirely different to you, anything that alienates voters does just that. If Santo doesn’t click his heels in 1969, he may have gotten in before he died.

  • RockyMtnCubzFan

    You know it’s a bad sign for your team when you are discussing Rose.
    The Cubs sure could use a huge earth shatering signing or deal on wrigley right about now.
    LOL

  • RockyMtnCubzFan

    Sorry Stinky I missed that joke about the shafts……..LOL but if it makes ya feel better i still laughed(can’t tell ya why so please don’t ask)

  • http://www.justinjabs.com/blog/ justinjabs

    I saw throw Stewart a bone and give him a chance. From what I’ve read about the surgery it seems like this could finally be the answer. What do we have to lose in this 3B market? Cut him if he doesn’t turn it around by July.

    • http://www.justinjabs.com/blog/ justinjabs

      say*

  • Blinda

    Might as well keep him considering what we gave up for him. But we should have gone after Danny Valencia from the Red Sox. Lots of upside on that guy.

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