Ian Stewart is a player who has never really lived up to expectations. Once rated No. 4 on Baseball America’s top prospect list, Stewart now finds himself looking for a job.
The move has also left the Cubs with two third basemen on the 40-man roster. They are Josh Vitters and Luis Valbuena. Junior Lake can also play third, but the organization has had him playing the outfield during winter ball as a tryout.
Are the Cubs ready to head into 2013 with Valbuena as their starting third baseman? Probably not.
Valbuena filled in for the injured Stewart in 2012 and could have seized the moment. Nobody was waiting in the wings, and he really didn’t have any pressure. All Valbuena had to do was outplay Stewart and he could have locked the job down.
Instead, he didn’t separate himself at all. He batted .219 with four home runs over a span of 265 at bats. He slightly edged out Stewart with his batting average, but in fewer at-bats, Stewart hit more home runs.
There really aren’t many top-flight options at the third base position in free agency this year. Mark Reynolds is a name that has to immediately turn some of the Cubs executives’ heads. While Reynolds is not known for his batting average, he would bring a tremendous amount of power to the lineup that is not generally recognized for its power.
Reynolds is probably best suited for an American League team so that they could split his time between playing third, first and designated hitter. However, he is definitely a serviceable third baseman. The Cubs can use him as a stop-gap until one of their top prospects, like Javier Baez, is ready.
With Anthony Rizzo hitting third, Alfonso Soriano hitting cleanup and Starlin Castro hitting fifth, the Cubs could slot Reynolds into the six-hole of their lineup and pack a serious punch.
Valbuena hasn’t shown to be much more than a .225 hitter with minimal power at this point. With Reynolds, the Cubs will get the same sort of low .200s batting average, but gives them the potential to add 20 to 30 home runs to the lineup.
The Cubs have the ability to pencil a .225 average, 25 home runs and 75 RBI into their lineup simply by signing Reynolds. Unless the Cubs work out some sort of trade this winter, Reynolds will be the only player that could bring that sort of offensive production to the third base position for them.
With the Winter Meetings a mere day-and-a-half away, it will be interesting to see how the Cubs address some of their gaping holes before 2013.
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