COMMENTARY | As the Winter Meetings wrapped up in Nashville, the Chicago Cubs left Music City without recording a chart-topping hit. No big-name free-agent signings, no blockbuster trades. But they did make some smaller moves to help improve the club's outlook for 2013.
The biggest addition was outfielder Nate Schierholtz, a career platoon man who figures to be the Cubs' starting right fielder with the recent news David DeJesus is moving to center field.
The upside for Schierholtz is his left-handed bat and solid glove that affords him the ability to play both corner outfield positions. He's also in his prime, 28, and could stay under team control for a second season if all goes well in 2013 (arbitration), or he could be used as a valuable trading chip come July.
Schierholtz's signing (1 year, $2.25 million) adds outfield depth with the likelihood Alfonso Soriano is dealt before opening day, leaving Brett Jackson, Dave Sappelt, Tony Campana, and Bryan Bogusevic to fill in as needed behind him.
ADDRESSING THIRD BASE
With a thin free-agent market at third base the Cubs decided to re-sign Ian Stewart after his disappointing 2012 season was cut short by a nagging wrist injury. He underwent season-ending wrist surgery on June 12 and finished the campaign having played just 55 games and batting .210 with 5 HRs and 17 RBIs.
The Cubs reportedly explored other options to help out at the hot corner, but with the high asking price of Kevin Youkilis (1 year, $12 million) and the White Sox splurging to sign Jeff Keppinger (3 years, $12 million), Stewart ultimately appeared the best and most affordable stopgap player for third base at 1 year, $2 million.
Although many Cubs fans soured on Stewart last season, he still has the potential to be a quality player, if he can overcome the wrist injury. Stewart is well above average defensively and has plenty of pop in his bat to keep him in a regular platoon role with Luis Valbuena.
It's also worth noting Stewart's deal is non-guaranteed, meaning the Cubs can cut Stewart this spring without taking a financial hit. It's not a sexy signing, but it does fill a need and comes at a very low risk.
The Cubs are still desperate for quality relief pitching, which explains why they added two right-handed pitchers who project as bullpen arms.
One is Andrew Carpenter, 27, a former second-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006. He spent the better part of his minor-league career as a starter before breaking into the big leagues as a reliever in 2010. After brief stops with San Diego and Toronto the following two seasons, Carpenter signed a minor-league deal with Chicago with an invitation to spring training.
RULE 5 DRAFT
Hector Rondon, 24, was selected by Chicago from Cleveland in the Rule 5 Draft. He was once a top prospect in the Indians' organization, even earning its Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award in 2009. However, Rondon has suffered two elbow injuries; the first of which required Tommy John surgery in August of 2010, and the second a fractured elbow during his rehab from surgery during the 2011 offseason.
Despite the risk that comes with two significant arm injuries, the Cubs found promise in Rondon's return to the mound with Leones del Caracas in Venezuela. His fastball is reaching the high-90s, and he's holding opponents to a sub-.200 batting average this winter.
As a Rule 5 Draft selection the Cubs must keep Rondon on the big-league roster all of next season (including 90 days active). Otherwise, the Indians can purchase Rondon back for half the $50,000 cost the Cubs paid to select him in the draft.
Meanwhile, the Cubs also lost four players in the Rule 5 Draft. Pitchers Starling Peralta and Alvido Jimenez were selected by Arizona and Toronto. Infielder Matt Cerda was taken by St. Louis, and outfielder Michael Burgess (a first-round pick of the Nationals in 2007 and later acquired by the Cubs in a trade for Tom Gorzelanny) was picked up by Houston.
MARMOL, SORIANO & DEMPSTER
It's been widely assumed the Cubs will deal closer Carlos Marmol this offseason. He was nearly dealt in late November to the Angels for starting pitcher Dan Haren before the deal fell through with the Cubs concerned over Haren's medicals.
Chicago did, however, notify Marmol during the Winter Meetings it will continue to explore trade options for him. He's due $9.8 million in the final year of his contract that expires after next season.
Marmol is said to remain the Cubs' closer despite Chicago signing Kyuji Fujikawa (2 years, $9.5 million), a highly sought after reliever from Japan, prior to the Winter Meetings. Fujikawa, 32, amassed 202 career saves in six seasons with the Hanshin Tigers but is slated as Marmol's setup man for the time being.
The front office also addressed trade scenarios with Alfonso Soriano. It's believed Chicago is willing to eat $26 million of the $36 million remaining on Soriano's contract that runs through 2014. However, the Cubs want a quality prospect in return for the 37-year-old outfielder who has a full no-trade clause in his current contract.
A possible return to Chicago for Ryan Dempster was discussed but appears unlikely given Dempster is holding out for a three-year deal, which means he would be 39 at the end of the contract. Dempster has already turned down two-year offers from Kansas City and Boston and reportedly will sign with the first club to offer a third year.
CUBS' OFFSEASON FAR FROM OVER
Although the Cubs didn't generate much buzz during the Winter Meetings, they did patch some glaring holes and still have plenty of time to tweak their roster before the start of spring training in roughly 60 days.
"There's a long way to go until we get to Mesa. We all have to remind ourselves that. There are still a lot of players out there and still a lot of time. Leaving here, sometimes you feel it's closer to the end of the offseason than the beginning, but it's actually closer to the beginning. There's still a lot of time left, and we have resources left," said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer following the Winter Meetings.
Chicago has remained steadfast in its methodical approach to rebuilding, but perhaps the best of the Cubs' offseason is yet to come?
Brian Corbin is a Chicago-based sports blogger and passionate Chicago Cubs fan. He's covered the Cubs year-round since 2007 on his blog BullpenBrian.com. His posts have been published on the Chicago Sun-Times News Group web sites and numerous baseball blogs.
You can follow Brian on Twitter @bullpenbrian.