One of the Cubs' main priorities this offseason was finding a third baseman, and on Thursday at the Winter Meetings, they found one: Ian Stewart.

Let's play a quick little game of Q&A (with my made-up questions!) to summarize this situation:

Isn't he the guy that hit .201 for the Cubs in 2012 before having wrist surgery in July and missing the rest of the season?

Yes, he is.

Isn't he the guy the Cubs non-tendered last week, making him a free agent?

Yes, he is.

So, what would he have made had the Cubs just offered him arbitration last week?

Likely $2.33 million.

And what are the details of this new contract?

I guess that's a pretty low-risk situation for the Cubs, right?

Yes, very. The fact they can release him in Spring Training if he's not impressing, without being on the hook for that $2 million, is pretty nice. And even if he stays on the roster, the only way he'll make what he would've in arbitration is if he reaches the incentives, which would of course mean he's playing well.

But, I mean, he hit .201 last year, just had wrist surgery, and the Cubs were willing to let him test the market instead of paying him approximately $2.5 million to lock him up for 2012. Was he really the Cubs' preferred option at third base?

The Cubs were in talks with Jeff Keppinger over the last week, as well as Eric Chavez. Keppinger ended up signing for 3 years, $12 million with the White Sox, and Chavez signed for $3 million over 1 year with the Diamondbacks. And the Cubs were connected with plenty of other third basemen. So, it's hard to say that Stewart was their preferred (realistic) option, but it's not like any of the other options were anything to write home about, either.

Well, is there any reason for optimism with Stewart and this signing? Is there reason to expect him to at least perform better than he did in 2012?

Yes, absolutely. The main reason for that? This:

That's a very big deal for a hitter. And looking at his stats over the last two seasons in comparison to his previous seasons, you'd have to think the wrist played a big role in his struggles.

2011 with Rockies: .156 AVG, 0 HR, 6 RBI, .464 OPS, 20 OPS+ in 136 plate appearances.

2012 with Cubs: .201 AVG, 5 HR, 17 RBI, .627 OPS, 72 OPS+ in 202 plate appearances.

Awful numbers each of the last two seasons. But the three years before that? Pretty solid.

2008 with Rockies: .259 AVG, 10 HR, 41 RBI, .804 OPS, 102 OPS+ in 304 plate appearances.

2009 with Rockies: .228 AVG, 25 HR, 70 RBI, .785 OPS, 95 OPS+ in 491 plate appearances.

2010 with Rockies: .256 AVG, 18 HR, 61 RBI, .781 OPS, 97 OPS+ in 441 plate appearances.

I actually live in Denver, and did during all of Stewart's years here. He was the most hyped prospect in the history (albeit short) of the Rockies' franchise, and his potential was clear in his first few big-league seasons.

He has a true left-handed power swing capable of producing 25+ home runs/season (and as you can see above, did that in 2009), and he has a very good eye at the plate.

If his wrist is back to pre-2011 form, maybe we see the Ian Stewart of those days, which would be a very productive player, and at a cheap price of $2 million for 2012. And he's still young (will turn 28 in April), so if he can become a productive player again, maybe he can be the Cubs' third baseman for the next few years as well.

But can he be an everyday third baseman? He's a career .218 AVG, .688 OPS vs. left-handers.

A definite concern, and last year the Cubs of course had Jeff Baker to get some starts against lefties. And it's highly doubtful that they'd have Josh Vitters on the MLB roster as no more than a spot-start guy at third base in the 2013 season. Not to mention he looked beyond awful in his 2012 major-league stint and needs a lot more seasoning before he can be trusted as a regular contributor at the big-league level.

With all that in mind, the Cubs indeed intend to acquire a right-handed bat (surely one that hits lefties well) this offseason that can back Stewart up at third base:

Anyway, overall, I like this move for the Cubs. The clear long-term answer for third base wasn't out there this offseason, and the potential options in the Cubs' farm system just aren't ready to yet (and may never be).

Stewart is a cheap, high-upside option, with a solid glove at third base. And if it doesn't pan out for him this year, 'oh well' from a Cubs' perspective. They get another year to evaluate potential major league third base options in their farm system, and/or look for third basemen to acquire via free agency or trade before the 2014 season begins.

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The Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (or whatever they're called now) have reportedly agreed to a trade that will send closer Carlos Marmol to the Angels, in exchange for starting pitcher Dan Haren. Chicago-Sun Times beat writer Gordon Wittenmyer is one of the reporters to confirm this deal:
The Angels will reportedly pick up the final year of Haren's $15.5 million option before making the trade official. Marmol is in the final year of his contract and is set to earn $9.8 million this season.

On the surface, this is a brilliant get by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Haren turned 32 in September, but the three-time All-Star has put together sub-four ERAs in five of his last six seasons. However, the one season he didn't post an ERA under four was the 2012 campaign, in which his ERA was 4.33. He's been dealing with some back issues, and that's certainly something to monitor closely, especially with him being on the wrong side of 30.

Still, the track record is there, and if he can stay relatively healthy, should have a few more very good seasons ahead. At worst, he figures to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation innings eater, and those guys are very valuable.

And with value in mind, that's likely a large part of why the Cubs' front office made this move. The Cubs are likely still a couple of years (at least) away from contending, and a pitcher that will be 32 years old for the upcoming season may not be a guy you can count on still producing at a high level when those years come around. Additionally, Haren will be a free agent in 2014, so he figures to be a bit pricey to retain when/if he hits the market.

Therefore, the Cubs may be looking to swing Haren to a contender before the July 31, 2013 deadline in exchange for quality prospects. So, the Cubs are either going to have a solid starting pitcher to put with Jeff Samardizja and possibly Matt Garza for a few years, or they're likely going to get some promising prospects in return for Haren. It's a win-win scenario, provided Haren can stay healthy enough to give the Cubs these options.

As for Marmol, the 30-year-old closer had some absolutely remarkable seasons with the Cubs.

In 2007, Marmol put together a 1.43 ERA; in 2010 he struck out an insane 138 batters in 77 2/3 innings, good for a whopping 16 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. And in the 2012 campaign, he was successful in 20 of his 23 save opportunities, with a very respectable 3.42 ERA.

When on, Marmol's devastating, with a violent delivery to distract hitters, and arguably the best slider in the game. Control issues and lack of command with his fastball have caused him to struggle at times, but overall, the numbers have been very impressive.

But, the Cubs surely weren't going to offer Marmol what he wanted in 2014 free agency, and Haren would likely get a better return at the trade deadline than Marmol would (if the Cubs choose to not extend Haren, of course).

We'll have more on this reported trade as the information becomes available.

UPDATE: Well, whaddya know. Cubs reportedly make a big trade, and then within an hour, reports surface that there is no "done deal", at least yet. Seen this before, right?

Here's some of the latest tweets from reporters:


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Video description from YouTube:

In Daytona's 2-1 win over Fort Myers on August 1st, the home plate umpire ejected the Cubs "music guy" for playing a non-lyrical version of "Three Blind Mice," and demanded no music and no PA announcements for the remainder of the game. The Daytona faithful rallied behind their Cubbies after the umpire's demand.    
And the video:

Hell yes, Derek Dye. Let's get the robot umpires out there already.

Oh, and speaking of the Daytona Cubs, third baseman Christian Villanueva is making his debut for the single-A club after being acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Ryan Dempster trade, and he's 2 for 2 with 2 bombs so far.

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Cubs 3B Ian Stewart Says He's Likely to be Non-Tendered

Posted by Michael Castillo | 7/21/2012 12:04:00 AM |

It's been a rough go of it this year for Ian Stewart, as a wrist injury has sidelined him for seven weeks and forced him to require an early-July surgery.

Stewart played in just 55 games for the Cubs this season, hitting five home runs, with 17 driven in and a batting average a smidgen over the Mendoza Line, at .201. It's been a rough two seasons for the third baseman, as he spent time in AAA last season in the Rockies organization, and in a combined 103 games in 2011 and 2012, has a rather skimpy OPS+ of 50.

Perhaps rest is exactly what the 27-year-old needs, as he went to twitter on Friday night to officially get the word out about his predicament.

When asked if Stewart expected to return to the North Side in 2013, he wasn't exactly going to beat around the bush, giving the truthful answer.
With Vitters having his best professional season at Iowa, Stewart is likely spot on. Nonetheless, it's easy to feel for him.
Let's hope for football season too. Well, after the trade deadline.

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The Cubs defeated the Marlins 5-1 on Thursday at Wrigley Field, to complete a 5-1 homestand. Oh, and somehow, they've managed to put together the best record in all of MLB since June 25th. Believe me, I don't get it either.

But, while that's all fun, what the Cubs do before the July 31st trade deadline is the much more important situation at hand in the grand scheme of things (summarized: sorry to break it to you, but the Cubs aren't making the playoffs this year). And we just got some news that may get the ball rolling for some major Cubs trades to happen.

The Cubs just acquired pitcher Justin Germano from the Red Sox for cash, and designated right-hander Jairo Asencio for assignment (source: Cubs' Twitter).

Germano, 30, has pitched for the Padres, Reds, Indians, and Red Sox in seven major league seasons, compiling an 8-20 record, 4.91 ERA, and 1.384 WHIP in that span. The 6'2", 230-pound right-hander made a start for the Red Sox on July 7th against the Yankees, and tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings. He pitched in 17 games (16 starts) at triple-A Pawtuckett this season, putting together a 9-4 record and 2.40 ERA.

Asencio, 28, was claimed off waivers from the Braves by the Cubs on June 1st. He had a fine 3.07 ERA for the Cubs in 12 appearances, but that ERA should be considered extremely lucky when you factor in the 12 hits and 11 walks he allowed in 14 2/3 innings pitched.

Reports are that right-hander Casey Coleman (currently on Iowa's roster) is joining the Cubs tomorrow, and will officially be a part of the 25-man roster if Justin Germano doesn't arrive in time. But, that could just be the Cubs covering up the fact that they're having Coleman hang around because they have a deal in the works for Ryan Dempster, who was expected to be traded by his next scheduled start, which is... tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

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Jorge Soler, the 20-year-old Cuban outfielder that the Cubs gave a nine-year, $30 million contract in June, will make his minor league debut on Thursday for the AZL Cubs (Rookie League), according to ESPN Chicago Cubs beat writer Doug Padilla:

Soler is 6'3", 205 with tremendous power potential, and projects as your prototypical right fielder. On Monday, Baseball America's Jim Callis updated the publication's top 50 midseason prospects list by inserting recent international free agent signings and draft signings, and Soler came in at No. 44.

Also added to that list (at No. 38) was the Cubs' 1st round pick (No. 6 overall selection) in the 2012 draft, 18-year-old outfielder Albert Almora, and you can see in Padilla's tweet that the Cubs are not ready to throw the just-out-of-high school player into minor league games yet.

Oh, and back to Soler- the AZL Cubs may have one of the most powerful middle of the orders in all of the minor leagues with Soler and Dan Vogelbach (.360/.423/.779 with 7 HR and 30 RBI in 20 games) in it. Quite an entertaining rookie ball roster in Mesa.

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USA Today baseball writer Bob Nightengale shared some solid info in his "Trade deadline primer", about where he's hearing Cubs right-handers Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster could be traded before the July 31st deadline.

Starting with Garza, Nightengale is hearing the"Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers would love" to have him.

The Tigers' interest in Garza has been well-documented, going back to this past offseason (with pitching prospect Jacob Turner being the main name brought up as part of a return package). But, there's been conflicting reports of late as to whether or not the Rangers (currently 5.5 games up in the AL West) are legitimate players for Garza. The Rangers feature a top-5 farm system, so if Garza's going to be dealt, that might be the organization the Cubs could get the best prospect return from. Simply put, interest from the Rangers is a very good thing.

But the most noteworthy Cubs-related nugget from Nightengale's article was definitely about Dempster:
The Dodgers are the leaders for Dempster, according to a high-ranking Cubs official, who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because negotiations are ongoing.
Dempster's expected to be dealt any day now, and we can officially consider the Dodgers the front-runners to acquire him.

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Reports over the last few days suggested that the red-hot (to the tune of 33 straight scoreless innings) right-hander Ryan Dempster pitched his last game as a Chicago Cub on Saturday. Now, the rumors of where Dempster could soon land are picking up steam, and it appears the Boston Red Sox are one of the leading candidates to acquire his services.

ESPN's Buster Olney just tweeted that a source told him the Red Sox are aggressively pursuing Dempster:

Adding on to the point Olney made in the second tweet, Jed Hoyer & Jason McLeod know the Red Sox system very well too.

The Red Sox are currently 9.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East, but are just 1.5 games back in a very crowded AL Wild Card race, so they'll surely be hoping to make a Dempster-esque splash before the July 31st trade deadline.

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Cubs sign 16-year-old Dominican prospect Frandy De La Rosa

Posted by Matt Clapp | 7/02/2012 12:34:00 PM |

The Cubs and 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Frandy De La Rosa agreed to a $700,000 deal on Monday according to Baseball America's Ben Badler.

The switch-hitting De La Rosa was ranked #19 on Baseball America's top-20 international prospects list, and #10 on MLB.Com's top-20 international prospects list (where you can see video of De La Rosa).

Here's the scouting report on De La Rosa from MLB.Com's Jonathan Mayo:

The switch-hitter has a good feel for hitting and has good hands on defense, but he will need to continue to develop his tools and build strength if he wants to stay in the infield. For now, his makeup and ability to hit from both sides of the plate are what scouts find the most attractive about the young infielder. Scouts have praised his soft hands but have expressed some concern about his running and throwing abilities.

De La Rosa is from Elias Pina, near the Haitian border, and moved to Boca Chica because his mother believed the larger city could provide more opportunities for her son develop as a baseball player. Educated and grounded, De La Rosa’s good makeup works in his favor. He is considered mature for his age and could develop into a leader.

A star in the Dominican Prospect League, De La Rosa was a member of the league’s All-Star travel squad that played games and put on showcases at big league sites during Spring Training.

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As pretty much every website or writer that covers the MLB Draft predicted would be the case, the Cubs used the #6 overall pick in the 2012 draft to select high school (Mater Academy, Hialeah Gardens, Florida) centerfielder Albert Almora on Monday.

As Keith Law said right before the selection, "Cubs taking Almora, which might be the worst-kept secret of the top ten."

Kevin Goldstein later added, "An exec said to me last week, 'If the Cubs had the No. 1 pick in the draft, they'd probably take Almora.'"

So why were the Cubs so high on Almora? Tools, instincts, and mental makeup.

Almora is a great, great kid. There was a tremendous fluff piece about Almora before the draft on MLB Network that made it impossible to come away as anything but extremely impressed with the 18-year-old. He figures to work very hard to get better, and has outstanding leadership qualities.

But, teams aren't selecting a player #6 overall because of their mental makeup. You need great baseball skills first and foremost, and there's no question Almora has such skills.

Almora is a five-tool talent. He has a mechanically-sound right-handed swing, and scouts think he could turn into a 20-25 homer guy down the road as he adds on to his wiry 6'2", 170-pound frame. He has very good arm strength, and while he doesn't have blazing speed, it's good enough with his terrific instincts. If he grows out of the centerfield position, oh well; you move him to a corner spot, and his arm's good enough to play right field.

You're rarely going to see what can be considered a "safe pick" in the MLB Draft, especially when it's a high school player, but Almora seems to be pretty damn close. He's the type of very well-rounded, outstanding instincts and mental makeup player that the new front office covets. And that's the type of player we're not used to seeing in the Cubs' farm system.

Cubs fans should be very excited about this pick.

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Carlos Marmol has officially been removed from the Cubs' closer duties, according to CSN Chicago's David Kaplan:

Cubs.Com's Carrie Muskat tweeted that Rafael Dolis and James Russell will share closer duties, based on matchups:

Sveum said after Marmol's meltdown in the 4-3 extra-inning loss at Cincinnati on Thursday that he was "considering" Rafael Dolis and James Russell for the closer role, so all of this becoming official a day later is hardly a surprise.

It's hard for anybody to disagree with the decision, as Marmol's been flat-out terrible this season, and wasn't much better in the second half of 2011, posting a 5.91 ERA in 32 innings pitched. This season, the 29-year-old has a 6.23 ERA in 8 2/3 innings pitched, with eight hits allowed, and most notably, 12 (!) walks allowed.

It's crazy to think that just two seasons ago, Marmol had a 2.55 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings pitched. His command's always been very bad, but he was able to get away with that because his slider was so filthy that few people hit him. Now, his slider doesn't seem to have nearly the same bite on it, and he's not missing nearly as many bats. When you're walking a batter per inning, AND they're making solid contact on you, the results aren't going to be pretty.

Still, Rafael Dolis and James Russell aren't options that Cubs fans can exactly be confident in.

The 24-year-old Dolis only had 1 1/3 major league innings under his belt before this season. Currently, he has a 3.52 ERA in 15 1/3 innings pitched, but has also walked eight, and struck out just four. He's a sinker-baller that gets a lot of groundballs, but if he keeps walking hitters at that rate, some of those groundballs will find holes and runs will score. The right-hander has a fastball that touches 97 mph on occasion and a slider that can be filthy at times, so his strikeout rate should improve in time (hopefully very soon).

James Russell had a terrific 2.19 ERA out of the bullpen last year for the Cubs, and only walked nine batters in 49 1/3 innings. And this year, he hasn't allowed a run in 7 2/3 innings pitched. However, right-handed batters have put up huge numbers against him in his career: .308 batting average, 14 home runs, .890 OPS, and just 38 strikeouts in 322 plate appearances (compared to 55 in 213 plate appearances from lefties). If Russell continues these trends, he's best-suited as a lefty specialist.

So, let's hope Sveum indeed plays the matchups correctly. Dolis should be starting most ninth innings, and Russell should start the inning when multiple left-handed batters are due up. Or start one of them in the inning and bring in the other depending on matchups.

It's unknown what Marmol's role is going to be for now, but I'd hope Sveum waits until Marmol shows some improvements before using him in any important seventh or eighth inning situations in the near future.

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Outfielder Brett Jackson is considered by many to be the Cubs' top prospect.

Baseball America released their annual farm system rankings today, and the Cubs came in at 14th. Last year, Baseball America ranked the Cubs' farm system two spots lower, at 16th.

14th is about what I would've guessed at the moment for the Cubs, but there's no doubt the farm system is going to continue to improve a ton with Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, and the rest of the Cubs' new front office superteam running the show. Heck, if they sign highly touted Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler - as they're considered the favorites to once he becomes a free agent -, you might as well move them up another spot or two in these rankings.

The main issue with the Cubs' farm system right now is without question their lack of starting pitching talent. There's not one guy you look at right now in the system and think, "He's going to be a front-of-the-rotation starter." If a couple starting pitchers can break out this year, expect the farm system to be ranked in the top 10 in Baseball America's 2013 rankings.

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A Week Later, The MLB the Show Cubs Commercial Still Sucks

Posted by Michael Castillo | 3/17/2012 01:07:00 PM

Last week, Matt posted the infamous MLB The Show commercial that's done an awfully good job at simulating what it would be like if the Cubs were to actually win the World Series. In that time, I've watched the video quite a few times and have really began to question exactly how I feel about it, because let's be honest, as beautiful as it may be, it's probably the hard video any of us have had to watch. But in a case like that, does beauty and realism warrant bliss? I'm not too sure.

First, let's back things up a bit and get some back story on my perspective. As a kid that grew up with the voice of Harry Caray and Steve Stone, and ditched many sunny summer afternoons for some Rey Sanchez at bats on WGN, I've always been a helpless romantic when it comes to the Cubs. But having said that, most of us are. While most kids played tag and sold lemonade to strangers, there I was, drawing World Series ticket designs with a couple of crayons when I was six. As I got older and more refined (I'll leave my transition from crayons to MS Paint for another post), the dream of the World Series never changed, and rightfully so.

In 2006, I was on YouTube trying to learn about the Premier League after the 2006 World Cup, and I stumbled across the most amazing video I had ever seen. It was a montage of sorts of the 1999 Champions League Final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich, that included play-by-play on top of Sigur Ros and Coldplay songs. Sure, it sounds cheesy now, but if you saw it you wouldn't think so. Well, maybe.

I watched the video for months straight and relived the moment of United becoming European Champions over and over and over again, even though I proclaimed myself to be a Chelsea fan, because there was something magic about the video. The music just fit perfectly, and Clive Tyldesley's antics were incredible. "A basecamp for the last final assault," has been a part my vernacular ever since, and rightfully so. You just can't write a line like that.

So after watching the video hundreds of times, and probably sometime after the Cubs embarrassed the hell out of me in 2008, the video was removed the YouTube. I tell you, a part of me died.

Why was it so hard? Because when I watched the video I didn't think about Ole Solskjaer winning the Champions League, I always pictured Aramis Ramirez putting a ball in the basket and the Cubs walking off as World Series Champions. I would listen to Coldplay's "Fix You", internally avoid the 40-Year-Old Virgin script, and fantasize about some grown men in giant ball of humanity on the Wrigley infield. But alas, the video was gone. I searched many times for the producers of the film, Hammond Films, and never found anything.

The dream was gone and the visualization was fading along with the Cubs' performance in 2009 and 2010.

Or so I thought. About a year ago, for the hell of it, I searched for the video on YouTube and found it. I watched it again, smiling the whole time, and feeling like the cheesy bastard you're envisioning while reading this. There were even other comments on the video saying how happy they were that the video was back. It was awesome.

Again, I envisioned the Cubs defying the odds and doing the unthinkable. Starlin Castro was the hero this time, as clearly my imagination resigned to the notion that Aramis just wasn't cut out for the job anymore.

I downloaded the video now to prevent YouTube from killing it once again, and I still watch it from time to time in iTunes, imagining Wrigley Field instead of the Camp Nou. But earlier this month when the MLB the Show commercial came out, instead of swooning over the uncanny resemblance to my envisions, I couldn't help but feel nothing but petty angst and disappointment.

I know it looked and felt real and that's what it was supposed to do, but it was too real. Too fucking real. It didn't make me happy like Coldplay and Sigur Ros. It didn't make me more excited for the season and fire me up for a lineup headlined by Bryan LaHair. It didn't make me want to win the World Series even. All it did was exploit the notion that it will never happen, showing that this fictitious account of it is the closest we're going to get. At least with my imagination, I was able to

Plus, the asshole's tear at the end was really a lame touch.

Oh, and YouTube deleted that video again. Sorry.

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This is the latest commercial for 'MLB 12: The Show"... just saw it on ESPN 2:

My reaction: Same as that guy's.

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