The Cubs made their first trade of the 2011-2012 offseason, and their second transaction of the Theo Epstein Era on Thursday.
By sending Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu to the Colorado Rockies for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers, the Cubs settled their situation at third base for next season with Stewart.
I’m expecting the move to pan out to be a good one, as Ian Stewart definitely needed a change of scenery. A word thrown around a lot in the sports world is “upside”, and Stewart certainly has plenty of that. How long before we might see that out of him remains to be seen.
Of course, now the question shifts to where the Cubs go from there. With Stewart, they have four of their five spots on the infield locked up, assuming Geovany Soto stays and Darwin Barney remains the starter at second.
In the outfield, there’s the newly acquired David DeJesus, Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, and the assumption is that Brett Jackson will be included there at some point. I have a hard time not seeing one of Soriano or Byrd traded before spring training opens up.
Aside from depth on the bench, there is one hole still to fill in the lineup: first base.
There are plenty of options that the Cubs could choose to pursue to fill the spot that was occupied by Carlos Pena last season. Obviously, the big catch would be Prince Fielder. There have been plenty of rumors circulating about which teams are in and out of the Fielder sweepstakes, none of which I will believe until Fielder is trying on his rather large jersey at his introductory press conference.
There’s definitely a good chance the Cubs could sign Fielder. It’s no secret that they liked him more than Albert Pujols, and he could offer them a big, left-handed bat in the middle of that lineup for the next several years, while providing serviceable defense at first.
Should the Cubs choose to go in a different direction, rather than spend the big money on Prince, there are other options. Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales from the Angels are both options, after the Angels signed Pujols to a 10-year deal. The feeling is that Trumbo will serve as the Halos’ designated hitter at the very least, while Morales could be non-tendered. Should the latter occur, he’s certainly a candidate for the Cubs.
Other names mentioned have been Gaby Sanchez, from Miami, and Mets first baseman Ike Davis. With the Marlins missing out on Pujols, and unlikely to pursue Fielder, it’s unlikely Sanchez finds his way out of South Beach. The rumors surrounding Davis haven’t been as prominent as other names, but there is still a chance the Mets could try and find a decent return for him.
Also, don’t count out Carlos Pena. He declined arbitration, but that was expected. Pena’s average was as poor as expected, but he provided great power from the left side of the plate and flashed a solid glove at first. He’s also a welcome presence in the clubhouse. If the Cubs are unable to sign Fielder, I’d expect them to give a long look at bringing Pena back for a couple more years.
The bigger need for the Cubs, even more than a first baseman, is pitching. While their first base search might grab more headlines, Theo and Jed Hoyer have made no secret of their intention to build up the pitching depth, expressing their desire to throw seven or eight guys on the staff capable of being in the rotation.
Obviously, the biggest name there is Yu Darvish. Bidding to negotiate with the Japanese hurler ends on Wednesday, and the Cubs are expected to be in the mix to sign him. Putting him at the front of the rotation with Matt Garza, assuming he’s around, would be a dream.
There are still plenty of good arms to be had on the free agent market, as well as the potential trade market, should they decide to deal a guy like Garza. Kerry Wood will be re-signed in time, and guys like Edwin Jackson or Joel Piniero could be potential targets of the Cubs. And don’t forget the fact that Epstein already mentioned the fact that they want Rodrigo Lopez back in 2012.
While the pitching situation might be more difficult to diagnose, we at least have a good idea of where the Cubs are going, as far as positions go. With Pujols signed and the Cubs having acquired their third baseman, the wheels should be in motion for plenty of more action from Theo and friends in the coming weeks.