Ian Stewart feels he owes the Cubs something

Ian Stewart feels he owes the Cubs something
February 15, 2013, 7:15 pm
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MESA, Ariz. – Sure, Ian Stewart has something to prove, but he also has enough self-awareness to realize: “I feel like I’ve been saying that the last few years.”

Leaving the team after having wrist surgery last summer created a perception issue, but Stewart’s getting the benefit of the doubt now. The Cubs third baseman hashed it out with manager Dale Sveum and team president Theo Epstein, who personally recruited the free agent after non-tendering him.   

Stewart spent the offseason flying cross-country to work with Hall of Famer Rod Carew in California. He reported to Fitch Park on Friday looking noticeably more compact, his biceps popping out of his sleeveless shirt, feeling pain-free with his “brand-new” left wrist.  

Stewart went off the grid in the middle of a 101-loss season and returned home to North Carolina to be with his pregnant wife, bringing back some of the questions about his commitment that used to follow him with the Colorado Rockies.

“It was just a trying time,” Stewart said. “I talked it over with management. It wasn’t something where I was like: ‘Yeah, I want to go home. I want to get away from here.’ I explained to them the situation our family was in (and) I had their backing 100 percent.”

To get an idea of the third-base market this winter, remember that the White Sox essentially gave a guy with a broken leg (Jeff Keppinger) a three-year, $12 million deal.

Stewart had multiple offers after hitting .201 with five homers and 17 RBI in 55 games. The Cubs settled on a one-year, $2 million deal, plus $500,000 in incentives.

“It was basically directly between me and Theo,” Stewart said. “I really wanted to give the Cubs a chance. I feel like I owe the organization something for the way they stuck with me and they allowed me to do these great things, by supporting me and my family, supporting me through the injury, sticking with me through the surgery and providing the rehab for me.”

The circumstances aren’t identical, but Matt Garza made a point to travel with the team after being shut down last season. (Though in a candid interview last September, Garza essentially admitted that he would have gone home to rehab his right elbow if Mike Quade still managed the team and the clubhouse atmosphere remained the same as 2011.)

During a pregame media briefing last September, Sveum was asked about Stewart and said he had “lost track” of his third baseman. The two cleared the air this offseason.

“He could have been around the team a little more, yeah, and I told him that,” Sveum said. “It’s nothing he doesn’t know (already). Nobody told him he had to be anywhere or anything. He was rehabbing a surgery-related thing. It wasn’t a major issue.”

Stewart still fits into Sveum’s vision of a “two-way player.” That drove the Cubs to shop Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu at the 2011 winter meetings and make Stewart the centerpiece of that trade with Colorado.

“For the price we were able to get him at, we had to bring him back,” Sveum said. “Two million dollars for a guy that is capable of hitting 15-to-25 (homers) and driving in 70-to-100 (runs with) that kind of power and ability from the left side of the plate.

“Even if he doesn’t reach those expectations, he can really catch the ball at third base, but we need him to do well.”

The last time Stewart put up those numbers in the big leagues was 2009. Now that he’s finally healthy, he wants to pay back the Cubs.   

“I feel like I couldn’t just walk away (and) say: ‘Thanks but no thanks,’” Stewart said. “I really feel like I owed the organization and the fans and everybody my time here.”