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Time still on Cubs' side as Meetings come to close

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer didn't walk out of the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center with any hunting trophies, but he does have a third baseman.

Hoyer and Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, left their suite Thursday with several unfinished projects and eager to eat something other than room service.

"There's a long way to go until we get to Mesa [Ariz.]," Hoyer said on the last day of the Winter Meetings. "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."

The Cubs used some of those resources on third baseman Ian Stewart, who will return to the North Side on a one-year deal worth $2 million and includes $500,000 in incentives, according to USA Today. The move came less than a week after the Cubs non-tendered Stewart.

Hoyer and Epstein were aggressive in their pursuit of targeted players, even if they weren't the big names on the market. The Cubs were among the teams interested in free agent infielder Jeff Keppinger, who signed with the White Sox, and also reportedly talked to reliever Jason Grilli, who appears close to re-signing with the Pirates.

On Wednesday, Hoyer said he didn't have to walk out of the Opryland resort with deer antlers to prove they had a successful trip. Hunting seemed to be the theme. The biggest news for the Cubs -- until Stewart agreed to return to the club -- came Wednesday, when manager Dale Sveum revealed he survived a freak accident in which he was shot in the ear by Hall of Famer and good friend Robin Yount while quail hunting in Arizona three weeks ago.

"I'm hopeful some of the things we've been working on the last couple days will lead to things in the next days or weeks," Hoyer said. "I joked the other day, you don't have to walk out of here with antler horns or anything, but I think we did a lot of good things, and hopefully that will be shown in the next days or weeks."

Deals done: Besides Stewart, the Cubs are close to adding another outfielder, as free agent Nate Schierholtz has reportedly agreed to a one-year contract worth $2.25 million, with up to $500,000 in incentives. The deal is contingent upon him passing a physical.

Rule 5 Draft activity: With the second overall pick, the Cubs selected right-handed reliever Hector Rondon, who was the Indians' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2009. He's been limited the last three seasons following right elbow UCL reconstruction surgery in August 2010. He fractured the same joint during winter ball in 2011. Rondon was pitching in Venezuela this winter and had a 3.71 ERA in 19 games. Said player development director Jason McLeod: "You take the risk with the elbow, but if he comes in healthy, he's got a chance to not only make the team, but help the team."

The Cubs also lost four players in the Rule 5 Draft, including right-handed pitcher Starling Peralta, who was taken by the D-backs 14th overall in the Major League portion. In the Triple-A phase of the Draft, the Astros selected outfielder Michael Burgess with the first pick, the Cardinals took infielder Matt Cerda and the Blue Jays selected right-handed pitcher Alvido Jimenez.

Goals accomplished: The Cubs did some of their shopping early, signing free agent pitchers Scott Baker and Scott Feldman and catcher Dioner Navarro before the Winter Meetings began. That takes care of the rotation and the backup catcher's job. Schierholtz could give them a good defensive outfielder in right. On Friday at 11:30 a.m. CT at Wrigley Field, the Cubs will introduce the newest member of the bullpen, Japanese pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa.

Unfinished business: Third base looked to be still vacant before the Stewart deal. Said Hoyer: "I feel that's probably the market that's been the most active here at the Meetings." They also have to finalize Schierholtz's deal.

Team's bottom line: "When you lose 100 games, you better go into [the season] with a little more optimism." -- Sveum

Chicago Cubs, Hector Rondon, Nate Schierholtz, Ian Stewart