Cubs looking at creative alternatives for third base
Thin market may force suitors to seek complementary players
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It's good to be a free-agent third baseman right now.
The Yankees joined the crowded market Monday with the news that Alex Rodriguez needed hip surgery. The Cubs also are in line, and Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, said they may "have to be creative" to fill the spot.
"[We might have to] rely on players who haven't held down that position over 150 games in the big leagues or rely on a platoon or rely on someone who is more of a middle-of-the-field player who can provide plus defense over at third," Epstein said Monday on the first day of the Winter Meetings. "There are not a lot of obvious fits of everyday third basemen in trade or free agents available right now. When that happens, you don't throw in the white towel but try to be creative to piece it together."
The Cubs are still talking to Ian Stewart, who was non-tendered on Friday. Now a free agent, Stewart is considering his options.
"It's always important to look at it from a player's side," Epstein said. "If I were a player and for the first time in my life, I had the ability to hear what teams thought about me, let alone pick my own employer, I would want to take the time to do it and wouldn't appreciate if a team put a deadline on me. This is part of the process."
Stewart batted .201 in 55 games last season and missed most of the year because of left wrist surgery. Luis Valbuena filled in and is another option for the Cubs for 2013, possessing all the right attributes, Epstein said. Valbuena batted .219 but was faring better in the Venezuelan Winter League, batting .325.
The Cubs also could consider a platoon at third base, which is something Epstein favors. Having two players who can start at third helps the team's bench, plus gives the manager more versatility.
"I don't mind a platoon as long as you have good players," Epstein said. "If you throw a couple has-beens or '4A' guys out there and call it a platoon, that's not enough."
The Cubs also are considering other infielders who might not have been full-time third basemen because the free-agent market is a little thin there.
"It'd be good to be Mike Schmidt right about now," Epstein said.
They could use the Hall of Famer. Cubs third basemen combined to bat .201 last season, worst in the National League.
The position that did produce for the Cubs was left field, as Alfonso Soriano drove in a career-high 108 runs, hitting 32 home runs and 33 doubles. There has been some interest in the veteran, who has two years and $38 million remaining on his contract.
The Cubs talked to Soriano, who has no-trade rights, during the season when teams inquired about the outfielder near the July 31 Trade Deadline. Epstein wouldn't talk about any inquiries.
"One of the things that comes with being a veteran is obviously, there's going to be speculation, but veteran players appreciate when clubs don't sort of fuel those fires," Epstein said. "It's the Winter Meetings and there will be lots of rumors, but they don't need to come from the club.
"We really value what he's done here and we've been open with him about the fact that, 'Hey, we'll listen, and if there's something that makes sense for everyone, we'll come to you,'" Epstein said.
The Cubs are in the market for an outfielder, preferably someone to play right, which would move David DeJesus to center. Epstein said they have been "really active" meeting with teams about possible trades and also were keeping an eye on the free-agent outfielders available.
One thing Epstein hasn't had to worry about is selling a free agent on the possibility of playing in Chicago.
"Dale [Sveum] is making a name for himself as a manager," Epstein said. "Players recognize we had a good clubhouse last year despite a difficult season. Free agents believe in the positive direction we're going.
"Elite baseball players are really competitive and I think they like the thought of being part of the solution here and being a member of the team that finally wins a World Series with the Cubs," he said. "I've had a number of players tell that to me directly. We have not had to sell our situation much at all. Players, when we express interest, we're hearing back, 'Oh, that's a place we've had our eye on.' You don't hear that often after a 101-loss season."
One free agent the Cubs are expected to add to the mix is Japanese pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa, who has reportedly agreed to a two-year, $9.5 million contract. Fujikawa needs to pass a physical before the deal can be completed, which could happen next week.
Expect the Cubs to add a player on Thursday during the Rule 5 Draft. Chicago has the second pick overall, and Epstein said he has been checking the names available as well as getting interest from other teams trying to acquire that spot in the order.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.