As Cubs fans endure yet another report of third baseman Ian Stewart still not being ready for action after suffering a quad injury and starting the season on the disabled list, I am humorously reminded of former Cubs’ left-hander Steve Barber. As a member of the 1969 Seattle Pilots, Barber was immortalized in Jim Bouton’s groundbreaking 1970 novel Ball Four. Barber pitched in 25 games for the Pilots, but was constantly battling injuries and telling management he would be ready “in a few days”. In a 1980 update of the book, Bouton poked fun at Barber in a “Where are they now” section, saying “His arm is feeling better than it has in a long while – but it’s still a little stiff.”
On a more serious note, the saga that is Ian Stewart continues to compound one of the biggest mistakes under President Theo Epstein’s watch. Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer not only traded OF Tyler Colvin and IF D.J. LeMahieu for Stewart, they also lost LHP Jeff Beliveau after designating him for assignment in order to clear room on the 40-man roster for Stewart after he was re-signed this off-season. Moreover, it closely resembles probably the second biggest mistake made by the duo, the re-signing of IF/OF Blake DeWitt.
To back things up a bit, Blake DeWitt was acquired by former Cubs’ GM Jim Hendry on July 31, 2010, along with pitchers Brett Wallach and Kyle Smit from the Los Angeles Dodgers for LHP Ted Lilly, IF Ryan Theriot and cash. In 2011, DeWitt hit .265/.305/.413/.718 with five home runs and 26 RBI in 121 games, rotating between second base, third base and the outfield. With his lackluster results, along with the progress of infielders such as LeMahieu, Ryan Flaherty, Marwin Gonzalez, and Josh Vitters, as well as a new management team, it seemed as if DeWitt’s days with the Cubs were numbered.
But on December 8, 2011, both Flaherty and Gonzalez were selected in the Rule 5 Draft despite there being room on the 40-man roster to protect them. Later that day, LeMahieu and Colvin were traded to the Colorado Rockies for Stewart and RHP Casey Weathers. Four days later, both IF/OF Jeff Baker and DeWitt were tendered contracts and avoided arbitration. While chronologically appearing to be a reaction to what had preceded, rumors persisted that the decision to tender Baker and DeWitt was made prior to the Rule 5 Draft and the trade. Those rumors sprouted legs when Colvin, Flaherty, Gonzalez, and LeMahieu were becoming important parts of their new clubs, and were further fueled by a massive purge by the Cubs of their minor league executives late last year. In the off-season, the front office admitted that mistakes were made.
After signing, Blake DeWitt was designated for assignment in order for the club to claim IF Adrian Cardenas on waivers. After passing through waivers, DeWitt was given a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, and broke camp with the parent club to begin the season. DeWitt would go on to hit .138/.133/.172/.306 with only one RBI in 18 games before being designated for assignment again, and once again for Cardenas to take his place. Upon finally reporting to Iowa, he then played in 30 games and hit .127/.246/.157/.403 with five RBI before being placed on the disabled list. Once there, DeWitt faded into oblivion until the club announced his release following the 2012 season.
That brings us back to Ian Stewart. With his balky leg, and, as some would suggest, his balky attitude, he is not going to be ready to open the season on the active roster. The Cubs seem prepared to move on without him, with Luis Valbuena, Brent Lillibridge, and Steve Clevenger odds-on favorite to fill at third base. It appears that the best solution for Stewart is to use his remaining minor league option to send him back to Iowa, placing him on the disabled list with the I-Cubs. In any instance of desperation, Stewart can be summoned back to Chicago to finish out his contract. Hopefully, it will never come to that, and Stewart will become nothing more than a distant, painful memory. Just like Blake DeWitt.