Hot Corner? Who Will Be the Cubs Backup Third Baseman?

Posted by Jumbo on February 19, 2009.

The most watched position battle throughout spring training in Mesa will be the Cubs closer situation, which will come down to favorite Carlos Marmol or newly acquired Kevin Gregg. Marmol seems to be the lock for the first crack at the job while Gregg seems to have been brought in as a veteran closer that can step in and pick up the slack should Marmol face a rough patch or go down to injury.

The rest of the roster is pretty much locked. You've got a "battle" in CF for AB's between Kosuke Fukudome, Reed Johnson, and likely Joey Gathright (a topic for another day is how this guy is locked in on the roster when he's basically Felix Pie only older, more expensive, and with far less potential). And you've got a bit of mystery at 2B surrounding the AB breakdown between Lil Mikey Fontenot and new guy Aaron Miles.

The bench, too, is just about locked in. The Cubs will carry 12 pitchers again in '09, so that leaves just 5 bench spots. Micah Hoffpauir seems locked to get his shot. Whomever the 2 of Fukudome/Johnson and Fontenot/Miles aren't playing will get 2 more. The backup C, likely Koyie Hill or Paul Bako, has a spot. So that leaves just one open position on the 25 man. Rather than holding another IFer, of which the Cubs really have no legit option (all 5 on the 40 man will make the opening day roster), early word is the Cubs are holding the end of the pine for Joey Gathright. Why I'm not sure. Really, is it great bench management to carry, essentially, 3 CFs? But it appears the Cubs are currently without another option.

So what this leaves is what I'm finding to be the most interesting, and most concerning, hole on the Cubs roster: a backup 3B. With all-everything super-sub Mark DeRosa gone to the Injuns, the Cubs have no legitimate backup at the hot corner.(Quick sidebar on DeRosa-dude played SIX!!!! positions last year. Take out P and C, and the only spot DeRo didn't take the field was CF. All this and being the heart, soul, and MVP of the team the last 2 years. Just amazing. No way he will not be missed this year).

Aramis Ramirez isn't getting any younger, he'll be 31 in '09. The guy's going to need a blow this year. The current plan has Mike Fontenot taking 3B to spell ARam while Miles holds down 2B. But, here's how confident the club is with this arrangement: Jake Fox is taking grounders at 3B. THAT Jake Fox. The Catcher. The Jake Fox who has 4 games played at 3B in his 521 pro games. He's plan "B" at 3B. And should ARam go down to injury? He's the backup 3B. How's that grab ya?

As a result, word is the Cubs are considering adding another IFer during the spring that could provide a more reliable and less scary-as-eff option at third. With camps now well underway, the free agent pool is really more of a scrap heap, save for Manny "I hit 400 ft. bombs using only my wrists in the playoffs against the Cubs" Ramirez. Add in that the Cubs really don't have much cake left to spend and the options are going to be slim. I'll assume, however, that the Cubs can find a way to squeeze another $1M 1 year deal or so out of the budget. Let's take a look-see at what I consider to be the best of a rag tag bunch, in order of who I'd like to see the Cubs obtain:

FREE AGENTS:

Joe Crede: The Bad-Because there's only bad. Dude wants $7M. No way he'll get it, but no way he'll sign for $1M either. He's not a great player, but he's better than the rest of these jamokes.

Mark Grudzielanek: The Good-Gruds can still play. In 360 ABs last year with KC he put up a .299 BA and a 11.6 VORP. He's a former Cub and a guy who could be a poor man's DeRo in the locker room. The Bad-He's not really a 3B, having played only 31 games there across his 1765 MLB game career. He'll be 39 this year. Also, Gruds pulled down $4.5M in '08 and would have to take a significant paycut for the Cubs to afford him. That said, after getting his ass kicked in KC the last few years, maybe the chance to win something would let him take a small deal.

Nomar Garciaparra: The Good-He's able to play a decent 3B. He's got some game left, PECOTA seeing an 8.2 VORP out of him in '09. Although briefly, Nomah's a former Cub. The Bad-Guy gets hurt more than Mark Prior (OK, nobody gets hurt more than Prior, but he's a close 2nd). Battling injuries, again, in '08, Nomar only logged 181 ABs. He made $8.5M last year-no way he takes such a huge paycut just to be a backup 3B.

A Bonus Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda...
Eric Hinske: The Good-resurrected his career last year in Tampa, putting up a 14.1 VORP in 432 PAs with 20 HRs. Only 31. Plays a decent 3B and can play all 4 corners. Lefty. Cheap. The Bad-he just signed with Pittsburgh at the end of January on a 1 yr. $1.5M deal. Granted, he'll get many more ABs in PIT, but the Cubs may have missed the boat on this one. I would feel a lot better about our glaring 3B sinkhole if Hinske were in Cubbie pinstripes right now.

Yeah, so that's about it as far as the remaining free agents go. Not really a truly decent option in the bunch. I'd be up for giving Gruds a chance, but he wouldn't be any better than a full time Mikey Fontenot at 3B, Miles at 2B combo.

Let's look at who might be a cheap option available in trade.

TRADE BAIT?:

Andy Marte:
The Good-Just DFAd by the Tribe today, the Indians have 10 days to trade or release Marte. Marte was once the #1 prospect in baseball. Still only 25, I see no reason why the Cubs shouldn't at least attempt to swing a deal on the cheap with CLE and get Marte into the system. He's exactly the kind of low cost/high upside player this organization rarely goes for (save Ryan Dempster). The Bad-Marte is out of options. I'm not sure how, or if, changing teams or getting traded would effect that. Still-even if he is out of options, the Cubs could give him a crack. I'd rather see him than a third CFer in Gathright. The Bad-despite the flickering pedigree, Marte has yet to put together anything resembling a good pro season. He's still young, is far from reliable, and doesn't really fix the problem.

Ronnie Belliard:
The Good-he's cheap, signed for '09 at $1.9M and that's it. He's looking like he may be the opening day 2B for WAS, but when things go south for them, and oh will they go south, he'll likely be moved to make way for some younger players. BP's tossing him a decent 12.5 VORP. The Bad-Dude's a fat ass. Lazy. Fat. Not a good combo for a pro ath-uh-leet.

So there you have it. After a day's worth of "the Cubs will be adding an IFer" articles from the usual mouthpieces, there's what we're looking at. I'm sure some things will shake out during camps that may loosen up a potential 3Ber, but for now, it's slim pickins. If something new comes up, you can be sure TD will be here to blather on about it. So get excited for that!




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Comments (2)

Lionel

February 20, 2009 at 10:28 PM

Hinske was actually drafted by the Cubs and was in the Cubs farm system, until they traded him for Miguel Cairo.

The farm system isn't going to help the Cubs, either. Casey McGehee was the I-Cubs 3-sack last year, but was claimed off waivers by the Brew-Crew this offseason. The other prospects aren't MLB-ready.

jumbo

February 21, 2009 at 9:22 AM

Yeah, I should have mentioned that. I looked through the minor league rosters for something, anything, that I could present, but like you came up blank. There's just nobody there until you get to Vitters-and he's 18 years old. We're turning into the fugging Yankees with this BS farm system.