These role players make things interesting

In a perfect world, Mike Olt will seize the Cubs' third-base job this spring. That would allow a lot of other pieces to fall into desirable places for the team and manager Rick Renteria.

Perfect worlds don't exist, not even for the best of teams - let alone the Cubs.

But if Olt's injury luck changes for the better this spring and he's able to win the starting job at third, that would allow Renteria to make the best use of players such as Luis Valbuena, Donnie Murphy and nonroster man Emilio Bonifacio.

Each of those three players is probably best suited to play backup roles with the occasional start.

Valbuena has been the main beneficiary of the Cubs' unstable situation at third base the past two years. After getting 303 plate appearances in 2012, he got 391 last year and put up a line of .218/.331/.378 with 12 home runs, 37 RBI and 53 walks.

The stats gurus at Baseball Prospectus like him, to a degree.

"Always patient at the plate, Valbuena waits for his pitch and then swings from his heels, producing lots of flyballs, occasional home runs and a minuscule batting average," the book states. "He draws enough walks to keep his OBP above sea level and hangs in well against lefties, but if he's your everyday third baseman, you're settling."

Murphy, a career journeyman, came up from Class AAA Iowa early last August and went .255/.319/.530 with 11 homers and 23 RBI. He was a bright spot in the clubhouse as the Cubs played out the string.

Bonifacio is an interesting player. He brings the Cubs something they're sorely lacking: speed. He has 138 stolen bases in his career (with five teams) while being caught only 36 times. After beginning last yer with the Blue Jays, Bonifacio finished with the Royals and had a line of .285/.352/.348 with 16 steals while being caught twice.

The Cubs signed him to a minor-league contract, but don't rule him out making the team. If he gets the occasional start, he'll likely lead off to use his legs.

According to reports out of spring training, Bonifacio also is popular in the clubhouse.

"Even though you don't know them, you feel like you do, so when they come in the clubhouse, they have a certain presence that demands respect and since they are the way they are, so outgoing with the boys, they know everybody," pitcher Carlos Villanueva told regarding Bonifacio and new closer Jose Veras.

It's always important for backup players to be happy in their roles, and Bonifacio seems to get that.

"I'm always laughing," he told the website. "I try to give my energy to everyone here."

Cubs pinch hitters last year batted .216. Backup catcher Dioner Navarro, who now is with Toronto, batted .286 as a pinch hitter with 2 homers. Nate Schierholtz, who starts most days in right field, batted .375 with a homer in the pinch.

The Cubs should be able to match up well at the plate in pinch-hitting situations. Bonifacio is a switch hitter while Valbuena and backup catcher George Kottaras bat left-handed. The Cubs will go with a left-right platoon of Ryan Sweeney and Justin Ruggiano in center field, so whoever doesn't play on a given day can come off the bench and pinch hit.

Three long years later, Dunn nearly done here

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