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Stewart’s Long Road to Recovery May Hinder Cubs’ Plans


This is far from the 2012 that Ian Stewart had envisioned for himself….

And while a nagging wrist injury has always been in the back of the 27 year old thrid baseman’s mind, I’m certain this is not the impression he wanted to make to the Cubs or their restless fans.

Stewart made his Cubs debut this season after a 4 man trade that sent OF Tyler Colvin and IF DJ LeMahieu to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Stewart and relief prospect Casey Weathers.

The Cubs clearly saw value in Stewart, the once first round draft pick in 2003, as they were willing to part ways with Colvin who himself was a first round draft choice back in 2006. Originally, the Cubs never wanted to include LeMahieu in the deal, but a source close to the rockies said that a straight Stewart-Colvin exchange “wasn’t going to be enough”. Weathers and LeMahieu were then thrown in to the mix.

The Cubs decided to make a deal work despite knowing that Weathers could be a flop and Stewart had a lingering wrist injury that dates to a botched slide in to 2nd base back in 2005. This in itself was not a bad move considering Stewart’s outstanding play and supreme power he had shown in the past.

His minor league numbers were very good, even batting over .400 at one point in spring training – but his play was highlighted by streaks and slumps that had no rational reason for occurring. Stewart was simply hot and cold.

The idea was to have Stewart come to a new city and a new stadium to shake the cobwebs from his head. A change of scenery often brings major league potential out of certain players (take Jose Bautista for example, who was relatively ineffective in the Pirate’s system for a long time before being sent to Toronto)

Stewart’s wrist has never really been 100% this season. He’s complained of soreness in it before despite being cleared by team doctors who said there was no permanent damage. He was even just recently issued a cortisone shot in order to help speed his recovery along. Stewart’s wrist is vital to his game as he’s a “power hitter” who needs to be able to strike the ball with force, which obviously reverberates up the hands to the wrist.

His numbers are showing the pain he’s feeling.

Stewart has a very average triple slash right now, posting a .201/.292/.335 with only 5 2B and 5 HR in 179 AB. These are far from a power hitter’s numbers, and barely break the surface of “effective” at the major league level.

Theo and Jed shook hands with the Devil and rolled the dice on this deal. So far? It looks like they drew snake eyes at the Craps table.

That’s not to say he’s not without his value. Stewart has always been touted as a great defensive player and his metrics with the Cubs reflect that. His fielding percentage at 3B is .955 in 2012, which does not stray far from his MLB career total .958F%. This type of solid defense is what the Cubs were relying on at the hot corner to help them leg through what was otherwise projected to be a woeful season.

To put in perspective Stewart’s recovery? He’s been successfully hitting balls in at practice…. off a tee-ball stand.

Stewart was quoted as saying:

"I’m not sure if the cortisone shot gave it much relief. We’ll keep taking it slow."

While I’m not a doctor, from the sounds of that? It sounds like the Cubs may be without Stewart for a very long time.

So assuming that the Cubs can no longer reliably dress Stewart’s sure hand at 3B, who is left to pick up the slack?

Bring in Luis Valbuena, who has arguably the most fun name to say on the entire Cubs roster. Valbuena has made his career as a second baseman but was deemed the most worthy replacement for Stewart as of right now.

Yes Cubs fans… Valbuena is a second baseman playing third. I just about cried when I heard that too.

There’s a sharp difference in the style of play between the hot corner and the number 4 position and I could go on for hours explaining why third base requires a ton of skill to play, but we both have things to do and I don’t care to waste your time like that.

And while Valbuena has only 164.2 total innings of experience in the majors playing the hot corner, its easy to draw a simple conclusion: He’s not Ian Stewart. Not by a long shot.

Valbuena has already posted 7 errors this season, which rips his 2012 F% down to an abysmal .853. Starting to miss Stewart yet? So am I.

However its not time to get the pitch forks out, Cubs fans (I know you’re all itching to assemble a lynch mob). Valbuena has been what the Cubs are lacking at the plate this year: consistent.

His spits vs LHP (.222 AVG) and vs RHP (.231 AVG) have been steady, and shows that he has the raw talent to put the barrel of the bat to the ball. Hitting any sort of LHP has been a struggle for Chicago this season, so that’s a small victory you can take away from all this.

As much as I’d like to his him draw a few more walks, I wont get greedy. What would you have? Valbuena’s ok-yet-consistent bat or Stewart’s D with sub par hitting? It’s a double edged sword.

What does this mean for Theo and Jed in the Cubs’ front office? Likely nothing. The Cubs will not jump to the third baseman market any time soon to try and plug any holes. This season is far from a winning one for this team and there’s likely more value in allowing guys like Valbuena to get some innings in the MLB. There are plenty of other guys waiting in the minors that could see action, like Josh Vitters for example.

The only real implications that it will have is that Vitters may be slightly rushed (but I highly doubt that a rookie mistake like that will be made by Hoyer and Epstein) and we might just have to endure watching Valbuena boot a few more balls.

Frankly, it can’t hurt anymore than it has so whats the harm in it….

Want more? You can always follow me on twitter @Denny_CubsCrib for Cubs analysis, news, humor and updates.