The Chicago Cubs elected not to tender contracts to Ian Stewart, Jaye Chapman or Zach Putnam Friday, making all three free agents and clearing three slots on the team’s 40-man roster headed into next week’s Winter Meetings.
Stewart had a wrist injury that dated back to 2010 when the Cubs dealt for him last offseason, and was never right for them. He may return on a lesser deal than what he would have gotten through arbitration (over $2 million), but the Cubs seem to have moved on somewhat. Luis Valbuena, who became the primary third baseman down the stretch in 2012, was tendered a deal.
Stewart was a perfectly acceptable risk, and again, the Cubs may not be done taking it. One would think, though, that after paying for Stewart’s surgery once the wrist injury was finally satisfactorily diagnosed, the team would have protected its investment by keeping Stewart off the open market, if they thought he would come back at the top of his game. The brass does not seem keen on either Josh Vitters or Brett Jackson, so they may well look to fill two positional holes from without over the next few weeks.
As for Chapman and Putnam, both were not yet eligible for arbitration, and in that sense, their releases were surprising. However, the team might well plan to re-sign each on minor-league deals, which would allow them to push for bullpen roles on next year’s club without having them clogging the 40-man roster in the meantime.
And that’s really the crux of this. The Cubs have their chief rotation plans sketched out, barring a Matt Garza trade later this winter, with new additions Scott Baker and Scott Feldman alongside Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood, plus Michael Bowden and a handful of minor-leaguers pushing MLB readiness as insurance of a sort. They still need a regular outfielder, though, and probably either a third baseman or a catcher better than the incumbents. They also figure to hold a place on the roster for a potential selection in the Rule 5 draft.
Rumors of a Michael Bourn flirtation floated Friday, but that seems out of step with the front office’s expressed vision. Any good candidate for a Cubs surprise signing needs to at least be ineligible for draft-pick compensation, so that adding them doesn’t interfere with the team’s rebuild. Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson all could be gained without a pick lost, but Bourn would cost a second-round choice. It’s not in the cards.
One wonders whether the Cubs could try to find a taker for Garza at the Meetings, then sign one of the aforementioned free agents as the first pitching building block of the next good Cubs team. If they trust Garza’s elbow, of course, they could always simply extend him, but the other way, they could get a talented pitcher on a long-term deal AND a solid prospect or two in exchange for Garza.
Luis Valbuena, though a third baseman last year, is as perfect a platoon partner for Darwin Barney as can be imagined. The two had an identical OPS+ last season. Barney makes more contact; Valbuena has more power. Barney bats right-handed; Valbuena bats left. Barney is a great defender, but Valbuena is good, too, and better offensively overall. They are just three weeks apart in age.
I had hoped dearly for a Carlos Marmol-John Lannan swap with the Nationals, at least until the Scott Feldman signing. The Cubs could have sent enough cash to make the deal an even talent exchange, and both sides would have benefitted. Not now. Lannan is a free agent, and no longer a good candidate for the Cubs.
David DeJesus never comes up as a trade target, but one wonders if he would be a good solution to what ails the Braves, Orioles, Pirates, Mariners or Rays. The thing is, he won’t be anyone’s first choice, so he’s a January or July trade chip, not an early December guy.
Expect movement from the Cubs next week, but this is not the year for Cubs fans to AIT by their cell phones the entire duration of the Meetings, hoping for the Big Tweet. It is not forthcoming.Next post: Los Angeles Dodgers Trade for Skip Schumaker, Will Institute World’s Most Giant Second Baseman
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