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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.

  • baseballet

    The clown car opens and out comes Valbuena, Stewart, Keppinger, Vitters and Lake.

    • @_DannyWhite

      Comment of the year! Ha ha ha…

      • @_DannyWhite

        Valuena is most deserving of the spot, IMO.

        • @_DannyWhite

          Valbuena*

  • King Jeff

    I say even if he doesn’t re-sign, they can’t let him get to free agency. Someone is going to be willing to give him 2 or 3 million for one season, considering the other third base options, and the number of teams with holes there.

  • Kyle

    Prediction: We non-tender him, then bring him back. He hits .150/250/250 in 50 games before he begins complaining that his wrist hurts again, and is eventually shut down for the year. Next offseason we can get yet another round of “Man, now that his wrist has had a chance to heal, he’s totally going to be an awesome third baseman!” and have to waste a third year on him before finally giving up.

    • Stinky Pete

      And if he is shut down after 50ish games, then it’s time to bring Vitters up and say, “Here’s your one chance, Fancy. Don’t let us down.”
      I know someone will bring up how much Vitters will suck. That’s fine. After fifty games of Vitters sucking, they can throw their hands up and say, “Fine. Give it to Valbuena.”
      This plan allows the Cubs to offer thirdbase to three different players. Now that’s equal opportunity!

      • Hee Seop Chode

        does this fall under the category of “if you have two quarterbacks you have no quarterbacks”?

    • Featherstone

      In the friendly spirit of competition I will take you up on your prediction. I think he hits better than your .150/250/250 stat line through 50 games suggests. Partly because I think there is some upside and partly because those numbers are horrifically bad. Care to add some stakes and make this a real wager?

      • hardtop

        you’re right, those numbers are low.

        he’ll hit .180, c’mon kyle, be realistic.

    • Featherstone

      I also know you were being sarcastic as well, but im serious about my wager. Let’s figure out some metric used to calculate his performance and we’ll see where he stands after 50 games.

      • Kyle

        I generally avoid putting myself in the position of rooting against Cubs players once the season starts.

        • Featherstone

          Then don’t root against them. It’s win-win for you, Stewart does well then the Cubs do well. Stewart does poorly you win. I dont see a downside. Besides, the season hasn’t started yet we can make all our predictions now.

    • King Jeff

      I think that’s worse case scenario, and if he is hurt again, I see no reason he would be brought back again. He’s a career .230 hitter who has been hurt and has had terrible luck with his BABIP the last two years in which he had less than 300 at bats. I think best case, is he is a .230 hitter that could hit 20 homeruns, who plays solid defense. I think that’s better than anything on the free agent market right now.

    • wilbur

      Your premise that he could fail to perform is certainly as valid as anyone’s that he could, but other than risking something between $1.25 and $2.4 million what do the Cubs have to lose. There is no MLB ready third baseman. Either throw in a minor leaguer who is not ready or slide over a postional player who won’t be much above replacement. I’d be quite comfortable with this gamble.

      As for the next off season, to believe your assertion the process would be repeated a second time just because it worked that way the first time just doesn’t seem much more than an emotional response that I certainly see no merit in.

      • Kyle

        Major League playing time has value. A starting spot in a major league lineup especially so. Wasting it on an awful player is much worse than merely burning a few million.

        Ian Stewart wasn’t worth it the first time around, as I correctly and endlessly argued. He won’t be worth it the second time around, but I don’t know why the people who didn’t see it before the first time and don’t see it now will finally see it then. What will have changed?

        • David

          Funny, because you also argued the opposite when his peripherals got off to a nice start.

          What will have changed now is the wrist injury that very possibly, if not probably, derailed him from that nice start (peripherally) may now be fixed.

          Who’s feelin’ Ian?!

          • Kyle

            I wear the blue goggles once the season starts, and for that I make no apologies.

  • Believe in 2015

    I had enough of Ian Stewart. He was a high risk player who didn’t pay off. The Cubs would be better off with a utility type player in Keppinger. I think something might be happening with Vitters though. Seems strange that he was removed from the Winter league team.

    • terencem

      Vitters was probably cut because they felt they could do better. The Cubs have no impact on players during winter leagues if that’s what people have been implying.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        The have some impact – I’m fairly certain they could say, “hey, we want that guy to stop playing” at any time.

        • hansman1982

          ya, in case a team was grossly overusing a starting pitcher I am sure an MLB team could call them up and say – “HEY – STOP IT OR SHIP HIM BACK”

  • BD

    There’s just no better options- sign him for a year and see if the surgery really did help. If not, they’re out a couple million. Oh well.

    I’d rather take the risk on someone who could be a starting 3B, than sign a utility type to maybe flip if he’s having a career year.

    • Jeff

      I agree with you. The cubs might as well give him a couple of million (like they are doing with Feldman and Baker) and hopefully he has a decent first half so he can be flipped.

  • kranzman54

    How did we get the roster back to 40? With Feldman I thought we were at 41 all pieces included.

  • Fastball

    My prediction is the Cubs re-sign him for about $2M. They at least have a 3B. They can go out and sign a couple other guys to Minor/Major League hybrid deals to come to ST and see what happens. Theo can always dfa him in ST and let somebody claim him then. We at least get to take a look and see if he passes the eyeball test. It’s a small risk with some upside. At this point I believe they do a deal just to have a guy who can play the position.

    • Brian

      Ahhh, the eyeball test, shudder, to small sample size, not enough metrics, head spinning.

      Seriously though, if the guy can field his position correctly as a true 3rd baseman(proven), don’t you jump on it this year and take what you get from his bat?

  • cubsin

    I think (and hope) that this is all related to trying to re-sign Stewart for the least possible money, rather than deciding between Stewart and Keppinger. Keppinger’s upside is almost entirely tied to what he might bring back at the trade deadline. If Stewart’s wrist is actually fixed, he has much more upside, and could hold down third base until Villanueva, Vitters or Baez replaces him.

  • Luke D

    Drop Valbuena, keep Stew.

    • http://bleachernation ferris

      agreed

    • ETS
      • Luke D

        From the same article: “How much stock can you put in that line? Well, not a huge amount, but it’s certainly better than struggling.”

        So in the words of Peter Griffin… “Oh my God, who. the hell. cares?”

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          I guess that makes me Meg.

          • hansman1982

            Shut up strange boy who is in my house.

    • terencem

      At least Valbuena provides above average defense.

      • terencem

        I just find it a little unlikely that Valbuena somehow became a better hitter between October 1 and November 28.

        • Kyle

          Does he need to? He had the best peripherals of any of our options at the MLB level this season, and his defensive metrics were by far the best.

          • hansman1982

            A healthy Luis Valbuena contributed a whopping .6 wRAA more than Ian Stewart last year.

            If you can’t get your hands on a good 3B option, there is nothing wrong with starting Stewart over Valbuena.

            • Kyle

              That’s why I referenced peripherals and not production.

              If we’re playing the “sucked but might be good” game, Valbuena showed more.

  • Mick

    Both Keppinger and Valbuena have at least played in the OF so having those 2 with Stewart to serve as 3b/utility/bench players isn’t a terrible idea. It would give Sveum and the FO plenty of time to evaluate the players and Kepp would be a nice trade chip mid-season for a contending team at which point the best of the rest would take over 3B. I’d much rather have the power/defense potential in Stewart on the bench than another Mather or Cardenas. I’d first try and work out a contract with Stewart and if that failed would be willing to take it all of the way to arbitrator but I wouldn’t risk losing him after only the 1 season and the lack of better options available.

  • Fastball

    Keppinger is hardly immune to injury. The guy always has something wrong with him. No he has a broken bone to mend. I don’t know. It almost seems like grasping at straws with him. The dude was a Cubs killer at Wrigley when he was with the Reds I remember that much. I live close to Cinci so I remember him well. I think he is one of those guys who could have been pretty good if he hadn’t gotten hurt all the time. Maybe he has cleared that hurdle but I don’t think he has. He fell down the steps in his house and broke his leg. You just can’t have that kind of karma following you around. Kerry Wood fell out of a hot tub. I pass on him it just doesn’t feel right to me.

  • AP

    This is the kind of place where the Cubs can use their payroll advantage. Sure, while they rebuild they don’t want to blow money on someone who will be in decline when they’re finally competitive, but it doesn’t hurt them at all to throw a 2.5mil flyer at Ian Stewart. It seems like this is their plan anyway – throw money at some short term commitments, see which ones pan out and either extend them or flip them for assets. Given their market, they can do this much more effectively than the other teams in the division and most teams in baseball. Buy up all the quantity and keep what’s good while jettisoning the rest.

  • Kyle

    The same Ian Stewart who couldn’t stick on the Rockies in 2011 is suddenly going to be in-demand and command millions on the open market, despite being awful since?

    Don’t see it. He’s an NRI on the open market.

    • Mick

      Kind of a trolling comment because you know he injured his wrist in 2011 and again in 2012. I gurantee if the Cubs non-tender him he will get millions and he will get a 25-man roster spot.

      • Kyle

        1) His awfulness on the Rockies in 2011 that led him to being sent down still predated his wrist injury.

        2) Wrist injuries linger. They derail careers of marginal hitters.

        But since you guaranteed it and all, I guess that’s that.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Actually, his original wrist injury dates all the way back to the Fall of 2005. Not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Stewart_(baseball)

        • Mick

          1) This true but his wrist injury prevented him from ever rebounding from that slump.

          2) I doubt you’re qualified to diagnose Ian Stewart’s wrist injury or have done the research to actually back up this claim.

          My guarantee was a way for me to “put my money where my mouth is”. I’ll either be right or wrong unlike anything you ever say which always contains a caveat which allows you to be right either way.

          • Kyle

            I already backed up the claim when we had this argument last year. This is just a rehash of people pursuing the definition of insanity.

            • ETS

              I have to agree with Kyle on this one. No one is risking big money on Stewart and if they are then I’m not upset about losing him.

            • Mick

              Would it have been insane for the Pirates to dump Pedro Alvarez mid-way through this last season? The guy OPS’d .561 in 2011 and was batting .189 by June 15th and he was healthy. I don’t think Einstein had these types of decisions in mind when he made his famous quote.

              • Kyle

                It would have been insane to pay him a couple of million if he had continued to suck in 2012.

            • DarthHater
  • Dustin

    What about Brandon Inge? Sign him to a 1yr deal

    • Lou

      That actually for this team might be good value.

  • Fastball

    Stewart does have some power and can play defense. If he stays healthy and hits 15 dingers he out produces Valbuena and Keppinger. I used to think they should just forget about him and move on. Now I think we should do a 1 year deal. A couple Mil isn’t going to kill anybody.

  • Leo

    Brett 2 players from the highest level in Cuba, Aledmys Diaz SS 22 Dariel Alvarez OF 24,have defected and will become free agents as soon as next week do you see the Cubs involved in either of those players?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Will have a write up on them soon. Diaz, the better of the two, is expected to wait until he turns 23 in early January to sign (because then he’s not subject to the new CBA spending rules), so it could be a little while.

  • Rcleven

    Keppinger would be buying on the high right now. Renegotiate with Stewart with for 1.5 MM and offer another 1 MM in incentives. Just too early to give up on him now.

    • MightyBear

      This is exactly correct.

  • J

    athletes and non-athletes..listen…
    NEVER get a wrist surgery – EVER…

    ( ** ) unless a sever break that requires surgical intervention.

    too much scar tissue

  • Kyle

    Just so we can settle this myth once and for all:

    http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20120320&content_id=27441856&vkey=news_chc&c_id=chc

    This is definitive reference to Stewart saying he hurt his wrist in late July of 2011.

    Through July 15 of that season, he was hitting 139/229/189 with no home runs.

    The wrist injury did not cause his awfulness that season.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Again, not for nothing, but he didn’t say he *injured* it in July 2011. He said he “felt” it in July 2011, and it bothered him to the point he could play after that. I am definitely NOT saying the wrist is the reason he had a bad 2011 (or any other time before that), but it seems to date back to an original injury five years earlier. Could be the kind of thing that lingered. I really have no idea.

      • Kyle

        So he hurt it in 2005, then did alright for a few years, then sucked for half a season because of it but he wasn’t feeling it at all, then it started to hurt.

        That seems an unlikely interpretation to me. Maybe he just sucked.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Believe they said this latest procedure resulted in the removal of some small, free-floating bodies, which actually would be consistent with all of that – the bone fragments (or whatever they were) floated around in an area that did not bother him before settling in a troublesome spot the last two years. It may not be what happened, but it’s not implausible.

        • Kyle

          Hahaha. This is from a 2006 article:

          “Stewart suffered a left wrist injury sliding into a base last year during the Arizona Fall League, and the Rockies shut him down during the winter. He missed time in Tulsa with another wrist injury. Wrist problems can slow a power hitter, but Johnson and Stewart insist that there is no chronic issue.”

  • http://bleachernation.com lou brock lives

    Sign Eric Chavez & Keppinger & dump Stewart & Valbuena from the 40 man roster. Let Feldman replace Rusin or Coleman on the 40 man.

  • http://bleachernation ferris

    i dont think chavez would go to cubs when yanks are contenders who want him back….kppinger would be nice but now a broken leg , stewart does have power and is way above avg. ef. 3b so id like to see how that wrist surgery does first, we gave up some decent players for him i’d hate to see us just dump him cause he got hurt, we knew he was a rehap project when we got him, he prolly needed that surgery three to four years ago……weve been throwing 5.5 an 6 mil. at pitchers who are injury prone lets throw 1.5-2m at keeping stewart for one more chance….imo

  • Spencer

    Coleman DFA’d

    • TonyP

      about time

  • Leo

    Detroit has reached out to agent Scott Boras about free agent closer Rafael Soriano…… Hello Marmol/Barney for Castellenos.

  • MightyBear

    For what it’s worth I listened to the podcast (actually all of them) and they are great. Thanks Brett.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thanks, MB. Appreciate that. Obviously it’s a new venture, so I feel like I’m still getting my footing. But I’ve enjoyed working with Sahadev, and I feel like they’ve been pretty good so far.

  • North Side Irish

    @CSNMooney: #Cubs designate Casey Coleman for assignment to make room for Scott Feldman on 40-man roster.

    Not exactly shocking…

    • terencem

      Hopefully last season was Hoyer’s chance to give all of the fringe MLB pitchers he inherited in AAA their shot and now he can move on. Wells is gone and maybe we’ve seen the last of Rusin and Coleman. Maybe.

  • Dustin

    I see that the Tigers really like Stephen Drew and if they sign him,they will most likely trade Jhonny Peralta. Maybe the Cubs could workout a trade with the Tigers and move Peralta to 3B. If I remember correctly Peralta played 3B when he was in Cleveland.

  • http://bleachernation ferris

    (232 ba -19 hr -68 rbi- 319 obp)…………this is what stewart has avg. over 161 games…..no its not great but do you think valbuena can do this, an nothing suggest vitters can either, an this is stewart having wrist issues, i think this can improve, and at least hes the better def. 3b also.Also this is hiim going up an down from bigs to aaa so its hard to be consistant,jus saying.

    • hardtop

      what 161 games was that over? not his last 161 for sure?

      • bbmoney

        That’s his average (162 game) season based on his career numbers. Obviously he’s been much much worse than that the last two years. He’s played almost exactly 3 full seasons worth of baseball games and has 59 hrs and 204 RBI (for whatever that’s worth). Not that he’s every played anywhere close to 162 games in one year.

  • Zogie

    I have a gut feeling Stewart is going to have a good season this coming year. I see a 242/335/454 stat line. He can get on base, hit for power, and play good defense. So far, the cubs have about 85M in payroll which is about 40M less than last year. They have plenty of money, so the only reason not to sign him is because of the 40-man roster. Then you have to look at the roster. Clevenger would be the next to go I believe and then there are several relievers who could go on the roster. (Dolis, Beliveau, Putnam,). There will be a ton of roster moves yet to come this offseason. I see the cubs trading away some young talent to make room on the roster. With the current roster, the cubs still need to find a CF and a bench player.

  • Riggs

    Would the Cubs take a look at Chone Figgins now that the Mariners released him? Vet Min.

  • KidCubbie

    My hope is Stewy is over the wrist injury. The Cubs pick up his contract and he goes on to mash the hell out of the ball and be stellar at defense at a premium position. Its not a big gamble. If it doesnt pan out than we just have the same problem as last year. Nothing to lose but lots to gain. I believe in Ian Stewart. At the worst we bring in someone like Keppinger and Stewart becomes a utility infielder spelling starters at 3B, 2B, and maybe even 1B if Rizzo ever needs a day off.

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