Much like a bad first date, things are turning sour for the Cubs’ spring training campaign. They’re more sour than the 100 warhead candy challenge while sucking down a couple lemons as a chaser. Nothing hurts more than losing 5 of your last 6 when the first round of cuts are coming on Friday.
That’s essentially the grimace that came across my face when I watched Cubs’ manager Dale Sveum quote this when talking about the 3B starting spot:
"You have to be very productive in those at-bats. Luis Valbuena has been playing and doing a really good job."
Ian Stewart has been sidelined with a quad injury for the duration of spring training and will likely return late in the campaign but won’t see many more than 20-30 total AB. I can’t see the Cubs allowing him to all of a sudden just be the starting third baseman coming off so little time on the field.
You’ll remember that the Cubs brought Stewart back on a 1 year/$2 million deal despite having wrist surgery that ended his 2012 campaign early. In theory, it was a great deal for the Cubs, but this was implied that he stayed healthy and started for the Cubs at 3B in 2013.
February 25, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Luis Valbuena (24) turns the double play while avoiding Los Angeles Dodgers third basemanJerry Hairston
Jr. (6) in the sixth inning during a spring training game at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Right now, all the Cubs blogs and publications are buzzing about this story. What to do about Stewart? Should he be cut? Should they feed him to the dogs?
While it’s easy to jump the gun on this, Stewart will remain a Cub even if he has to spend time in AAA Iowa to regain his health. Saving $1.5 million of his $2 million contract just doesn’t have the same value as his half-injured potential.
Valbuena, a career 2B player who has since made the adjustment to the left infield, has been doing very well in spring training. He’s hitting .417 and his defense looks strong, but I’m still skeptical. Valbuena just isn’t all that strong of a player and likely wont be able to maintain such a high level of performance during the season. 162 games is a marathon, not a sprint and I’d much rather see Stewart manning the hot corner.
This story is much less about who will start at 3B and more about how the banged up Cubs were expected to be healthy, and now aren’t. Many players, including Matt Garza, Scott Baker and Ian Stewart, who were expected to be in game day shape by April 1 are now being sidelined because of nagging petty injuries. It’s probably the most frustrating thing to see as a fan.
Realistically, the Cubs needed to get a jump out of the gate this season to have a sniff at the playoffs, but with all these health issues, it’s looking grim. Hard to swallow that when many analysts had the Cubs winning 77+ games this season.
Baseball is a funny game and the Gods giveth and the Gods taketh away, but you have to wonder how the team will cope.