Prior to the 2012 season, the Chicago Cubs were spoiled. The Cubs were spoiled for the fact that the team did not have to address the third base position since the 2003 season. Of course, it was during the 2003 season that the Cubs acquired third baseman Aramis Ramirez from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ramirez became a cornerstone player for the Cubs as he was a part of the Cubs’ National League Central champion teams in 2003, 2007, and 2008. Before Ramirez, one would have to trace back to the days of hall of famer Ron Santo as the last long-term solution for the Cubs at the third base position.
But, nothing in life lasts forever. With former general manager Jim Hendry being fired during the final months of the 2011 season, Ramirez’s future with the Cubs became unclear. Once Theo Epstein took control as the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations and Jed Hoyer took over as the Cubs’ general manager, it was looking clear that Ramirez was no longer the answer for the Cubs at the third base position.
With Ramirez signing a free agent contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, Epstein acquired third baseman Ian Stewart from the Colorado Rockies in what was Epstein’s first trade with the Cubs. Epstein’s first trade with the Cubs was perhaps the only mistake that was made during his first off-season in control of the Cubs’ baseball department. Stewart struggled offensively during the months of April and May, and that would lead to the third baseman electing to have surgery in an attempt to alleviate the pain that he has felt in his wrist for the past two seasons. That surgery ended Stewart’s first season with the Cubs. Instead of remaining with the Cubs and rehabbing with the team physicians, Stewart opted to return to his home in California and rehab on his own time. That was the first indicator that Stewart would not be retained by the Cubs for the 2013 season.
From Stewart, and a few months of Luis Valbuena, the Cubs opted to promote third baseman Josh Vitters to the Major Leagues in early August. The plan was for Vitters to slowly acclimate himself with the Major League lifestyle and that would lead to the third baseman eventually being in the starting lineup on an everyday basis before the season concluded. Needless to say, by the time the season had concluded, Vitters definitely proved that he will be in a starting lineup for the 2013 season. That starting lineup will be for the Iowa Cubs. Vitters looked overwhelmed in every facet of being a Major League Baseball player. Before Vitters made his Major League debut with the Cubs this season, his future with the organization was unclear. That status remains unchanged as we head into the 2013 season.
The Chicago Cubs will be in the market for a third baseman this winter. The only free agent third baseman that would be worth any consideration is former Red Sox and White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis has showed signs of slowing down this past season, and a 34 year old third baseman may not be the right fit for the team that is currently in the middle of a rebuilding project. If that is what Epstein and the Cubs’ front office determine, then it would appear that the team will try to trade for a young third baseman. That was something the the Cubs were targeting in any trade that they made before the July 31 trade deadline this past season.
If the Cubs are looking to trade for a third baseman this winter, Hoyer may look no further than his former employer–the San Diego Padres. The Padres will likely make third baseman Chase Headley available this winter, and the Cubs may have interest. Headley provided quite the power for the Padres this season as the third baseman hit .286/.376/.498/.875 to go along with 31 home runs and a National League leading 115 RBIs. If the Padres are going to trade Headley this winter, the 28 year old certainly is not going to come cheap. I saw one fan ask the question if the Cubs would be willing to trade top infield prospect Javier Baez for a young third baseman like Headley, My answer to that question would be no. Baez is going to be a great player, and in all honesty, he could very well be the Cubs’ third baseman of the future. So while the Cubs will be interested in Headley and theoretically could trade for the Padres’ third baseman, it is a move that does not seem likely.