While much was made about the Cubs' lack of pitching depth in the 2012 season, they also entered the winter with a big question mark at third base.
The Cubs traded for Ian Stewart last winter in hopes of cashing in on the talent that made him the 10th overall pick of the 2003 draft. But he hit just .201 in 55 games before missing the rest of the year with a wrist injury.
Stewart was non-tendered in late November, but with the free agent market at third base so thin, the Cubs brought him back for a one-year, 2 million deal (with 500,000 in incentives).
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"That was a business decision and I understood that," Stewart said. "And Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was great. I talked with him all the time during that time. He expressed that they really wanted me to come back.
"It was the business part of it that we had to work out, and we did that. I couldn't thank them enough for how well they've treated me."
Stewart, who will turn 28 shortly after Opening Day, had surgery on his ailing wrist in July and thinks he may finally be past the issues that has plagued him the last couple of seasons.
"It's been a few years since I've felt good," he said. "The last time I was fully healthy was 2010. But even then, I missed the last month with an oblique injury.
"I did well that year, and the last few years have just had lingering wrist issues. I really believe I've gotten that taken care of. A lot of credit goes to the Cubs. Just the fact that they could have easily done the non-tender and moved on, but they've done a great job of keeping up with me through the injury."
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Stewart -- who said the Cubs supported him 100 percent with the surgery -- hit 18 home runs with 61 RBI in 386 at-bats in that 2010 season and slugged 25 homers the year before. He resumed hitting in November and says it's been going "great."
"I realize the situation I'm in and the position I'm in in my career that things like that need to be done now," he said. "I really wanted to be here, too, so I figured the earliest I could show them I was healthy, the better it's going to be for my career and for them as well."
With the free agent crop so bare at third base, Stewart admitted that other teams had expressed interest in his services. But he also said there was a time after the non-tender where he was concerned about his future.
"It was very nerve-wracking because there was a time where I didn't have a job," he said. "That was kind of a scary feeling. It wasn't a point where I was coming off a great year and a free agent. I was injured and a free agent.
"It's not a great feeling and again, I go back to I'm so appreciative that what the organization did for me and that part of being job-less didn't have to last very long.
"There were obviously teams out there that needed third basemen or at least some depth in that area. But really, once the Cubs expressed what they thought of me and what they thought I could still do for the organization, it was a no-brainer."
Stewart heads into camp as the favorite for the starting third baseman gig, but Luis Valbuena -- who saw the lion's share of the time at the hot corner in Stewart's absence last year -- has been retained and prospect Josh Vitters will be waiting in the wings at Triple-A Iowa.
Still, if Stewart can regain the power he displayed in the 2009-10 seasons, his 2 million deal will be a bargain. With his solid defense and ability to work the count, he fits what the front office is looking for.
"They could have easily brought me back for a lot less, but it just shows the first-class kind of people we have running the organization here with Jed and Theo and the whole Ricketts family. Everybody that's involved," Stewart said. "I've got nothing but good things to say about them."