ian stewart and josh vittersIan Stewart shared additional thoughts on his demotion from the Cubs with Carrie Muskat, who was in Des Moines recently to take in the Iowa Cubs. The article offers more insight into Stewart’s “time off,” and into his decision to stick with the Cubs even as they demoted him (as we suspected, it was mostly about keeping his $2 million contract (which, I mean, I’d do the same thing)). It’s worth reading if you’re into this story.

The piece I’d like to highlight, however, is one small quote from Stewart, about when he was informed that he was going to be optioned to Iowa.

“I talked to Theo, and he was basically telling me that Vitters is the future at third for them,” Stewart told Muskat. “I understand that …. Josh is young and he’s a good player and has a lot of talent. That part did not surprise me at all.

“It was basically if I wanted to stay with the Cubs and accept my assignment here, they were letting me know I wasn’t going to play a lot here,” Stewart continued. “I don’t know if that was a way to get me to take my free agency, because there’s money involved in all of that.”

There are two pieces there worth discussing, the first of which I’ll dispense with quickly: in that second line, Stewart is implying that the demotion, and the subsequent benching at Iowa, were effectively designed to push Stewart out of the organization (and save the Cubs some money). It’s certainly possible, and it does seem strange that, even with Josh Vitters out with a quad injury, Brent Lillibridge is picking up starts at third, not Stewart. Given everything that’s happened, it’s plausible that the Cubs have simply had enough with Stewart at this point, and even Stewart doesn’t think he’ll play for the Cubs again.

But that Vitters piece of Stewart’s quote is far more interesting.

Now, then. It’s necessary to note up front that we don’t know exactly what Epstein said to Stewart, or what Epstein’s intent was in so saying. We don’t know what motivations are animating Stewart’s comments, and how he decided to frame them.

That is all to say that we don’t know that Epstein actually said, word for word, that the organization expects Vitters to be the future at third base. Indeed, were it so, that statement would fly in the face of various rumblings we’ve heard for the better part of two years, which have all suggested that the higher ups don’t believe Vitters can stick at third long-term.

It’s been easy to lose sight of Vitters. He bombed out in his debut last year with the Cubs, and he missed all of Spring Training with a bum wheel. It was essentially a foregone conclusion that he was going to be moved off of third to a variety of positions, or he was going to be moved out of the organization.

But … is he actually going to get a shot to be the third baseman of the future? I wouldn’t have thought it possible until this statement from Stewart. Not only did Vitters struggle in the bigs, and not only is his defense at third questioned by some, but there are some interesting third base options potentially arriving in short order, including Christian Villanueva, Arismendy Alcantara, Junior Lake … or maybe even Javier Baez or Jeimer Candelario further down the road.

But let’s not forget: Vitters had a great year at Iowa in 2012, all while he was young for the league. There is still plenty of offensive potential there, and maybe there’s a belief that he can do just well enough to handle third base. Many players have struggled in their first appearance in the big leagues, and last year was as much about giving Vitters a taste of what the bigs are like as it was about “testing” him to see if he could take the position and run with it. Vitters is still just 23, after all. Maybe there really is a future for Vitters at third base with the Cubs.

Or maybe the message got changed just enough in the game of telephone, and maybe Epstein was simply trying to impress upon Stewart that, for now, getting Vitters starts at third base at AAA was the priority over getting starts for Stewart. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Vitters is the guy at third base long-term. It just means that he’s slightly more likely to be the guy than Stewart.

And I’d say that sounds about right at this point.

  • Carew

    I don’t blame Stewart for taking the $2 million, he’s got a sweet gig that way. However, he strikes me as kind of a d-bag. Remember that twitter thing last year? Other than that, I don’t see this as a big story.

    The Vitters comment, however, I can get behind. He is only 23, and has performed well in AAA already. We cannot give up on him. Yes, he’s been in the organization for 7 years, but baseball is a hard sport to perfect, or at least play well enough to rise through the ranks.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Vitters has no ability to recognize pitches, and although his contact skills are good, they are not good enough to make up for that deficiency. The Cubs future at 3B is either much deeper in the minors or in another system altogether. (Alternatively, it could be a future of 3Bman de l’année such as we had for over 15 years between Ron Cey and ARam.)

  • Rich H

    My thing about this is very simple. Ian Stewart could have refused the assignment and saved the Cubs money. He accepted the assignment even after being told he was not going to play at AAA. That should tell you all you need to know about the future of Ian Stewart as a Cub. He could hit .800 the rest of the year as a back up and will still never start consistently and the kicker is he doesn’t care. Yep he is done.

  • BABIP (MichCubFan)

    I would let Vitters play in triple-A this year and call him up in September. I would let him get a little bit of work in at LF, RF, and 1B as well as 3rd while he’s in triple-A.

    I would see how this off-season shakes out and how he performs the rest of this season and then let him compete for the 3rd base job next year. Then he can either start at third, be a right handed platoon player, or just a bat off the bench who would be able to play 1st, 3rd, left and right.

    We can just let him play and go from there. For now we just have to hope he can stay on the field and keep developing.

  • another JP

    First of all I’d like to know who initiated the phone call for the Muskat report. Seems to me to be major damage control on the part of Stewie to elevate his reputation with his next potential employer. The part about thinking that his results in AAA not really being important to his return to Chicago or stating that it was akin to playing high school/little league ball are revealing about his perception of what he thinks about the organization. Compare that take to the way Rizzo handled his stint in Iowa last year and it says all you need to know about the make-up of each player. And I don’t buy the narrative that he’s acting as “mentor” for BJax and Vitters for one moment… Stewie’s more like an “example” for other players to point to and say “you don’t wanna be that guy.”

  • Cubs217

    I am still optimistic about Vitter’s future with the organization. I know he has trouble recognizing pitches and flopped last year, but if he was in another organization we would look at a 22 yr old with his production in AAA and be intrigued. Additionally, I dont put a lot of weight into his performance last yr when he got called up. If you remember, Rizzo struggled with the Padres when he first came up. I think Vitters can be at least a serviceable stop-gap until Baez or someone else comes along.