COMMENTARY | Even at the time of his offseason re-signing, Chicago Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart was not exactly greeted with open arms. After all, the 27-year-old hit only .201 with five home runs in an injury-shortened season a year ago.
In a young career that has been big on potential and small on production, Stewart was supposed to come into this season finally healthy again. Instead, he has played all of one spring training game. In his absence, Luis Valbuena has played opportunistically, hitting a solid .286.
If the $2 million the Cubs are paying Stewart seemed like too much in December, that perception only increased when ESPN reported that Stewart would start the season on the disabled list. The announcement wasn't exactly a surprise, but it still came with its own bit of sting.
Opening day for the Cubs is on April 1 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Stewart is still trying to recover from a strained left quad. He looked to be progressing but then re-injured the muscle in a minor-league appearance.
Assuming we can trust both Stewart and the Cubs' training staff, there are certainly limiting degrees to which we can really fault an athlete for injury. But there is also the whole business side of baseball, and for all of Stewart's supposed talent, the investment in him has not paid off. Some athletes are just more injury-prone than others.
I'll concede that Stewart is still (relatively) young, and he could definitely prove me wrong, but his leash has to be short at this point. With his injuries combined with a tendency to strike out and under-perform, I have a hard time seeing how he fits in the Cubs' long-term plan. Even Stewart's time in Colorado was riddled with injuries and bouncing back and forth between the minor leagues and the big leagues. His defense doesn't exactly light the world on fire, either.
Valbuena may not be the Cubs' long-term solution, but why not invest in a younger prospect? Could Javier Baez, for example, learn to play third base? Or is there a good third-base prospect the Cubs might be able to pick up in an upcoming trade involving, say, Matt Garza, Carlos Marmol, or Alfonso Soriano?
Whatever the solution, surely the Cubs do not have to continue throwing away money and a potential roster spot to another player who "might be good someday."
Chris Schumerth is a freelance writer who grew up in Northern Indiana following the Cubs. You can follow him on Twitter @schumes22.
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