After whiffing on – apparently – their preferred third base targets in Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez, the Cubs may be turning back to the guy they thought was going to be the guy in 2012.
According to Jerry Crasnick (who’s been all over Cubs stuff this week), the Cubs are going to be re-signing free agent third baseman Ian Stewart, though the details are not yet known. Crasnick adds that Stewart is “back to full health after playing 2 years with a broken bone in his wrist.” We all know about the surgery he had late in the season which, according to Stewart, finally addressed a lingering problem that other doctors had missed for years. The problem caused him to miss all but 55 games in 2012, and probably impacted his performance.
I’ve been on board with bringing Stewart back for a month now, once it became clear just how disastrous the third base market is. With Stewart, who is still just 27, the Cubs get the upside associated with a hopefully fixed wrist, and they get it for probably very cheap. Once again: 2013 is not likely to be a competitive season for the Cubs, so these are the kinds of risks they should be taking.
Stewart, you should note, is not necessarily being brought back as *the* guy at third base next year. The signing, depending on interest from other teams, could be something in the range of a flyer, and the Cubs will see what they have in him in the Spring. If that’s true, Luis Valbuena will also get a look, or the Cubs might bring in a right-handed platoon-mate for Stewart. (Though, it’s notable that Valbuena, a lefty, is actually a better hitter against lefties, so that could be your platoon right there.)
Given that Stewart was non-tendered last week, and would have made around $2.5 million in arbitration next year, you can safely assume he’ll be getting less than that.
If Stewart is, indeed, signed, that would put the Cubs’ 40-man roster at 41 (together with Nate Schierholtz, Kyuji Fujikawa, and Hector Rondon), so there will have to be a corresponding move before the signing(s) is (are) official.
UPDATE: Bob Nightengale says Stewart is getting $2 million, plus $500K in incentives. So, technically, it’s cheaper than he would probably have cost in arbitration, but not too much cheaper. It’s likely that the third base market did what it did, and bumped up Stewart’s price a little. Still, clearly not an amount of money that prohibits the Cubs from doing anything in the short or long-term.
UPDATE 2: Like Schierholtz, Stewart won’t have enough service time through 2013 to qualify for free agency, so he can be offered arbitration after the season if things work out swimmingly.
UPDATE 3: And confirmation from the man, himself: “Glad to be healthy and back with the Cubs. The support from the Cubs organization and the fans has been incredible. Thank you all so much.”
UPDATE 4: Gordon Wittenmyer confirms my expectations about the plan for Stewart – he’s considered the starter, but the Cubs would still like to bring in a righty who can back him up (and, presumably, spell him against tough lefties).
UPDATE 5: Paul Sullivan jumps in with a significant update: a source tells him that Stewart’s deal is not guaranteed. If he doesn’t make the team in Spring Training, he can be released without a financial hit to the Cubs. This is good to know, and makes the deal look even better, but it’s kind of academic, because, if that happens, the Cubs are still without a third baseman, presumably. Then again, given the market, who was that guy going to be anyway? (You should note that arbitration contracts are also not guaranteed (essentially, if you’re on one and are released in Spring Training, the team owes you 30 or 45 days termination pay (depending on when released)). So this deal is probably kind of approximating an arbitration deal.)