Washington has signed third baseman Ian Stewart to a minor-league contract.
Stewart posted some solid, Coors Field-inflated numbers with the Rockies early in his career, but he’s had trouble staying healthy and producing in recent years.
He spent most of this past season at Triple-A and also got into 24 games for the Angels, hitting just .176. Despite seemingly being around forever Stewart is still just 30 years old, but he’s even struggled at Triple-A recently and seems like a long shot to win a bench job with the Nationals.
Earlier, D.J. Short wrote that Angels third baseman David Freese was hoping to avoid a stint on the disabled list after suffering a non-displaced fracture on his right index finger suffered when he was hit by a Colby Lewis pitch on Friday night. Freese will be disappointed, as the Angels have indeed placed him on the 15-day DL according to the team’s official Twitter.
It’s unfortunate timing for Freese. He opened the season about as cold as a hitter can get, but was starting to turn things around, carrying a six-game hitting streak into Saturday night’s game against the Rangers. In 28 plate appearances since April 23, Freese was slashing .360/.429/.520.
Luis Jimenez will start at third base against the Rangers in Freese’s absence tonight. MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez writes that the Angels will play the match-ups and platoon Jimenez with Ian Stewart at the hot corner.
I wrote yesterday about how Ian Stewart wasn’t making any friends with the Cubs by basically taking a 72-hour vacation from the Triple-A team and today they outrighted the third baseman off the 40-man roster.
That means Stewart went unclaimed on waivers by the other 29 teams and will remain Cubs property at Triple-A, minus the 40-man roster spot. That makes a call-up even less likely, because they’d have to create a roster spot first.
It’s a non-issue for now because Stewart has hit .091 in 13 games so far and his $2 million contract made clearing waivers a no-brainer.
While on the disabled list with a quadriceps injury Ian Stewart had been playing at Triple-A as part of a minor-league rehab assignment. He hit just .091 in 13 games, so when Stewart was deemed healthy the Cubs activated him from the DL and optioned him to Triple-A.
And then he decided to leave the team for a few days.
Technically when a player is optioned to the minors he has the collectively bargained right to report any time within 72 hours, and players often take that full amount of time to do so. However, in this case Stewart was already playing for the team to which he was optioned, so the 72-hour rule is sort of a loophole.
Here’s what general manager Jed Hoyer told Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago about the situation:
We had a lot of discussions with him about it, in the end that was the decision. He has the right, it’s the given right the players have and that was the decision.
Rogers described Hoyer as speaking “cryptically” and it’s not very difficult to read between the lines there. And as Rogers notes, Stewart ruffled some feathers last season when he chose to go home instead of rehabbing a wrist injury with the team (although not enough to stop the Cubs from signing him to a $2 million deal).
All things considered taking a weekend off from work isn’t exactly an earth-shattering controversy, but the way Stewart’s career has deteriorated in recent years it’s definitely curious.
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Chicago Cubs.
The Big Question: Is Theo Epstein pushing the Cubs any closer to contention?
He most definitely is, but it’s doubtful to show up in the standings this year because the other teams in the National League Central are — on paper — quite clearly superior. Epstein has helped breath life into the Cubs’ minor league system since taking over as team president in October 2011 and he has been making incremental roster improvements in free agency with the help of talented general manager Jed Hoyer. But the lovable losers are not built for championships yet.
Starlin Castro is entering his age-23 season and has already tallied 529 hits in 445 career major league games, but he had a .323 on-base percentage in 2012 and his defense rates poorly at shortstop. He may become a superstar one of these years, but he’s not there now. Though you probably don’t want to tell him that. Castro will bat second in the Cubs’ lineup this year behind 33-year-old center fielder David DeJesus, who registered an underwhelming .263/.350/.403 batting line last season. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo does pretty much everything well and should hit third for Chicago for many years to come, but he still has some developing to do. Alfonso Soriano is the Cubs’ cleanup man and made plenty of noise in 2012 with his 32 home runs and 108 RBI. But he’s a liability in the outfield and he turned 37 years old this winter.
And the batting order takes a sharp dive from there. Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston will share time in right field. Luis Valbuena will start at third base until Ian Stewart recovers from a quad injury. Welington Castillo will start behind the plate, and Darwin Barney and his .654 career OPS will man second base.
This is not a good offense, and it looks especially poor when stacked against the lineups of the Reds, Cardinals, Brewers and Pirates. With the Astros gone, the National League Central is no longer a breeze.
What Else Is Going On?
- The rotation is fine right now and could actually be pretty good once all the pieces are in place. Jeff Samardzija, who will serve as this year’s Opening Day starter, posted a cool 3.81 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 180/56 K/BB ratio across 174 2/3 innings in 2012. It was his first full season in the starting rotation and he absolutely flourished. Edwin Jackson was signed to a four-year, $52 million free agent contract this winter and Scott Feldman was brought in on what could be a bargain one-year, $6 million deal. Matt Garza should return from his lat strain by early May and Scott Baker should be recovered from Tommy John surgery by the end of April. Travis Wood and Carlos Villanueva are solid fill-ins.
- The Cubs have been trying to trade closer Carlos Marmol since last summer but have been unable to work anything out. The wild 30-year-old right-hander had a 1.54 WHIP in 2012, yielding 45 walks in 55 1/3 innings. If the Cubs do figure out a way to part with Marmol this season, newcomer Kyuji Fujikawa will likely slide into the ninth-inning role. The 32-year-old from Kochi, Japan had a 1.77 ERA and 11.8 K/9 in 12 years of Nippon Professional Baseball before deciding to head overseas this offseason.
- About that rejuventated minor league system. The Cubs signed Cuban defector Jorge Soler to a nine-year, $30 million contract last June and then watched the 21-year-old outfielder bat .338/.398/.513 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 20 games at Low-A Peoria. Albert Almora was the sixth overall pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft and carries high upside as a center fielder. Javier Baez, the ninth overall pick in 2011, hit .294 with an .888 OPS, 16 home runs and 24 stolen bases last year between two different classifications of Single-A. The 20-year-old shortstop could eventually push Castro to third base.
- There’s no better atmosphere for a midsummer baseball game than Wrigley Field, but the structure needs some care. Which is why the new Cubs ownership group — led by chairman Tom Ricketts — is hoping to break ground on a massive $300 million renovation as soon as the 2013 regular season comes to a close. All of the logistics are still being worked out, but the plans look really great.
Prediction: Last place in the new-look, five-team National League Central.