Chicago Cubs fans eagerly await the arrival of top infield prospect Javier Baez. That debut probably won’t come until 2014, maybe 2015. Until then, fans must exude patience with whoever plays third base for the next two seasons. At the same time, this isn’t fantasy baseball; punting categories is not an option. Management must find stopgap solutions to these short-term problems. For fans and management, this is an annoying part of any rebuild.
Did any team get less production from their third basemen? Playing time was shared among three players: Ian Stewart, Luis Valbuena and Josh Vitters. Before season-ending wrist surgery, Stewart had a .292 on-base percentage (OBP) with a .201 batting average and five home runs. His replacement, Valbuena, had a .310 OBP with a .219 batting average and four home runs. Vitters had a .193 OBP with a .121 batting average and two home runs.
There’s no guarantee that Stewart will fully recover from his wrist injury. Even if he recovers, Stewart’s last productive season came in 2010. His numbers were inflated from playing at hitter-friendly Coors Field. Vitters will start the season at Triple-A Iowa.
At best, Valbuena is a utility infielder for a minor league club. Is he truly going to start the season as an everyday third baseman? Does management believe that Valbuena and Stewart are good enough for a platoon role?
Outside options are limited. The two most-notable options include Kevin Youkilis and Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger has reportedly drawn the most interest from three teams: Tampa Bay Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks and Cubs. That was before Keppinger broke his fibula in a fall at home. He’s expected at 100-percent health for spring training.
Keppinger has reportedly received offers in the range of two-year, $10 million. That’s exactly what the Cubs need. At age 32, Keppinger is a versatile infielder who is a career .288 hitter. He has a career .337 OBP. In 2012, Keppinger had a .325 batting average with nine home runs and an .806 on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS). He’s a career .333 hitter against left-handed pitching.
In 2012, Keppinger was mostly used as a No. 5 and No. 6 hitter. However, he has the versatility to hit almost anywhere in a lineup. Let’s assume that Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano are the No.3 and No. 4 hitters. If Starlin Castro stays as the No. 5 hitter, then David DeJesus and Keppinger could fill the first two slots. If DeJesus and Castro fill the first two slots, then Keppinger is more than capable as a No. 5 or No. 6 hitter.
Keppinger isn’t an All Star player. He’s still a nice upgrade over what’s currently on the roster. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer should make every effort to bring this guy to Chicago. Even if another third baseman emerges in 2013, Keppinger is valuable because he’s a utility infielder. If needed, Keppinger could probably play left field.
Projected Lineup (With Keppinger)
RF David DeJesus
SS Starlin Castro
1B Anthony Rizzo
LF Alfonso Soriano
3B Jeff Keppinger
C Welington Castillo
2B Darwin Barney
Joshua Huffman grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as a Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs enthusiast. He immediately gained an admiration for Cubs fans after watching numerous games on WGN during the mid-90s. His favorite Cubs moment was Kerry Wood’s(notes) 1-hitter, 20K extravaganza that was only denied of a no-hitter by Kevin Orie’s defensive blunder. As a Packers and Cubs fan, he suffered through Steve Bartman and “4th & 26” in a span of three months. HERE is his Twitter.
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