Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

Cubs reunite with Stewart, wait for Grilli decision

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When a glorified utility infielder like Jeff Keppinger gets a three-year, $12 million contract coming off a season he played only 115 games - and then badly broke his leg during the off-season - maybe Ian Stewart for $2 million is a value.

That's the kind of thought process the Cubs went through when finally agreeing Thursday to the one-year deal with the third baseman they non-tendered just a week ago, according to conversations with several team officials.

Because Stewart has less than six years of service time, the standard big-league contract is non-guaranteed, like other one-year deals for that service level. Once he makes the team in spring training, the full salary is guaranteed. The deal also includes $500,000 in performance incentive clauses.

The Cubs, who pursued Keppinger and Eric Chavez before those free agents signed elsewhere Wednesday, view Stewart as their starting third baseman and plan to keep looking for a right-handed-hitting infielder capable of backing up at third.

Stewart made $2.2 million with the Cubs last season, when he played just 55 games (.201, five homers) before an already troublesome wrist flared up and put him on the disabled list. He eventually had exploratory surgery, which revealed an apparent impingement in the hand that doctors attempted to correct.

The Cubs didn't view Stewart as a worthy $2.3-million gamble when the deadline came for tendering him a contract last week, but a third base market that suddenly has made all-field, no-hit former Cleveland infielder Jack Hannahan a hot commodity changed the math.

The Cubs also went into Thursday night as one of at least three teams awaiting a decision on their offers from veteran reliever Jason Grilli, though sources say the Cubs were not particularly optimistc the right-hander would fall their way.

With reliever Kyuji Fujikawa's introductory press conference coming Friday morning and the finalizing of outfielder Nate Schierholtz' $2.25 million deal expected to follow close behind, more of the Cubs' winter shopping list appears checked off.

Besides another infielder, they're still looking for outfield and pitching depth.

``Sometimes leaving here you feel like this is closer to the end of the off-season than the beginning,'' general manager Jed Hoyer said as the team prepared to leave Nashville Thursday. ``It's actually a lot closer to the beginning. There's a lot of time left. We still have resources left. We'll continue to work hard all winter.''

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on December 6, 2012 9:27 PM.

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