This is the second in what might become a brief series on filling the holes in the 2013 Cubs lineup. Last week, we looked at possible center fielders for next year; here's a brief look at possible free-agent acquisitions for the hot corner.
Earlier this month, in a much longer article dealing with why I didn't think it was right to give up on the 2013 season, I mentioned Kevin Youkilis as a possible target for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Many of you said you thought Youkilis might be too expensive, since he's the top third-base free agent this year, despite his rough season in 2012. I still think Youkilis might be a good fit, if he's not overpaid somewhere else; he's got a history with Theo, still plays a decent third base, and I think his down year at the plate was mostly due to injuries.
If Youkilis signs somewhere else, or if Theo & Jed decide he doesn't fit, another free-agent third baseman might fit for a couple of years.
That would be Eric Chavez, most recently of the New York Yankees.
Chavez, for several years with the Athletics, was one of the top power hitters in the American League; from 2000-2006 he hit .273/.352/.495 with 28 home runs and 94 RBI. He also won Gold Gloves in six of those seven seasons.
Then injuries hit; from 2007-2011 he had just over 800 total plate appearances, hitting .239/.296/.390 with a total of 20 home runs and 97 RBI.
But playing part-time for the Yankees in 2012, he was back to almost his previous level of performance, hitting .281/.348/.496 with 16 home runs in 278 at-bats. Chavez is a little more than a year older than Youkilis; clearly, he'd be nothing more than a stopgap and there's no way he could play every day. That's where Luis Valbuena would come in. While I don't think Valbuena is an everyday player, there's no reason the Cubs couldn't sign Chavez and play Valbuena at third base a couple of times a week. It wouldn't be a straight platoon because both players hit lefthanded; it would simply be a player more suited to backup (Valbuena) being, you know, an actual backup.
Chavez is quite a distance from the years where he made $12 million with the A's; he had a base salary of $900,000 in 2012, and as near as I can tell, made $1.05 million in bonuses based on plate appearances, so $1.95 million total. He had a good year, but I'd bet he could be had on a two-year, $10 million deal -- almost the same thing the Cubs paid David DeJesus to sign before the 2012 season.
Then there's Ian Stewart, who was recently returned to the 40-man roster from the 60-day DL. Stewart had a pretty bad year for the Cubs, hitting .201/.292/.335 with five home runs in 197 at-bats before wrist surgery finished his season. That was better, though, than his 2011 season with the Rockies, when the wrist issue was also bothering him. Why he didn't have the wrist surgery after the 2011 season and be totally ready for 2012 is beyond me, but presumably, he is now healthy.
From 2008-2010 for the Rockies, Stewart hit .246/.334/.454 and averaged 18 home runs and 57 RBI in 359 at-bats. That's not great, but it's better than the overall production the Cubs got from third basemen in 2012 -- including Stewart and Valbuena, Cubs third basemen hit .201/.289/.322 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI in 572 at-bats. That's... really bad. Even an improvement to Stewart's average production from 2008-2010 would be better.
The Cubs finished 14th in the National League in 2012 with 613 runs scored, just four more than the 15th-place Marlins. Improving the offense in 2013, even just with a mid-range signing at third base, would go a long way toward a better major-league record without derailing the rebuild.
Who do you think should play third base for the 2013 Cubs? Vote in the poll.