Ian Stewart will not have it as good as he did last winter, when the Cubs handed him the third-base job after making him the centerpiece of a four-player trade with the Colorado Rockies.
Wherever Stewart winds up for spring training, its hard to imagine him getting the same guaranteed opportunity or benefit of the doubt. But with Fridays non-tender date looming, the Cubs havent completely ruled out a return yet.
The front office will continue talking with Stewarts agent, Larry Reynolds, over the next few days. General manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday that the Cubs have received a good progress report on the third basemans recovery from wrist surgery.
Were still talking to Ian, Hoyer said. Hes taking some light batting practice, hitting balls off a tee and it seems like the wrist is progressing nicely. Well continue those conversations throughout the week, and obviously there is a decision to be made here, (but) weve had a good dialogue.
Stewart left the team and went off the grid after having surgery on his left wrist last summer. The Rockies had questions about Stewarts commitment and wound up getting two useful pieces in outfielder Tyler Colvin and infielder DJ LeMahieu, pulling the deal together at last years winter meetings.
The Cubs have reportedly shown interest in Jeff Keppinger, who hit .325 with an .806 OPS for the Tampa Bay Rays last season. But Keppinger will be 33 next year, and CBSSports.com reported that the veteran infielder is recovering from a break in his right fibula after tripping down some stairs at his house (though the website said he should be ready by spring training).
Overall, this class of free agents is weak, and there arent many good options at third base. Stewart would be looking at a steep pay cut from the 2.2375 million he made last season, when he hit .201 with five homers and 17 RBI in 55 games. But this is also a left-handed bat, a former first-round pick and a plus defender, all qualities valued by this front office.