The Cubs suspended Ian Stewart without pay for his late night show on Twitter, leaving both sides looking for an exit strategy.
Stewart’s Twitter account had already become a running joke among Cubs people, but the enigmatic third baseman who felt like he was rotting at Triple-A Iowa crossed a line late Monday night into early Tuesday morning, blasting manager Dale Sveum and the front office.
Team president Theo Epstein declined to say how long the suspension will run – “we’re still jumping through some legal hoops” – and the players union will weigh in on the matter. But it’s obvious Stewart has no future inside the Cubs organization.
Though the collective bargaining agreement includes a social media policy, that section doesn’t have sharp teeth. Epstein cited a “loyalty clause” in Stewart’s contract that “requires a certain standard of personal conduct” he did not follow.
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“It’s pretty obvious that it’s not appropriate to criticize your manager and your organization on Twitter,” Epstein said. “I don’t follow him, but I know that he’s pretty active late-night and I know that he’s also frustrated. It didn’t fully surprise me.”
By Tuesday night, the Twitter account had disappeared. Stewart’s stream-of-consciousness rant went viral, forcing him to apologize on Tuesday afternoon in a series of tweets. Stewart had responded to a fan’s question about when he might be heading back to Chicago – “probably never” – and said Sveum “doesn’t like me and he’s running the show.”
“I liked him enough to be in his corner to bring him back,” Sveum said. “Everybody doesn’t like me. That’s the way it is.”
Stewart’s history with the Cubs can’t be condensed into 140 characters or less. The Epstein administration made him the centerpiece of the Tyler Colvin/DJ LeMahieu trade with the Colorado Rockies in December 2011, hoping he could realize the potential that made him the 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft.
Stewart hit .201 in 55 games and went home to North Carolina to rehab last summer after undergoing wrist surgery. The Cubs non-tendered him, saw their other third-base options disappearing and signed him to a one-year, $2 million deal that team officials framed as “non-guaranteed,” even though it was a standard contract for an arbitration-level player.
The Cubs missed their chance to cut Stewart and save some money after he strained a quad muscle during an intrasquad scrimmage in late February and spent the rest of spring training rehabbing.
“Obviously, with the things that Ian’s put on Twitter before, I guess you’re probably not (surprised),” Sveum said. “I was all on board bringing him back and giving him another chance to prove what he could do at the big-league level and with the Cubs and obviously it didn’t work out.”
Stewart had another perception problem last month after he cleared waivers and the Cubs officially optioned him to their Triple-A affiliate. He was already on a rehab assignment with the Iowa club but still used the labor agreement’s 72-hour window before having to report.
“He had the right to elect free agency and decided not to,” Epstein said. “He decided to become a minor-league player with us.”
Or, as Stewart responded to one fan on Twitter: “why would I quit? I'm making 2 mill in AAA like u would give that up by quitting.”
Stewart, 28, felt buried in Des Moines, knowing he wasn’t a priority and understanding prospects like Josh Vitters and Junior Lake would get the majority of the at-bats at third base. He drilled three home runs in one game over the weekend but is still hitting only .168 through 40 games in the Pacific Coast League.
“They might as well release (me) since I have no shot of a call up....let me sign elsewhere,” Stewart tweeted.
Larry Reynolds, Stewart’s agent, has spoken with Epstein and the Cubs executive indicated the two sides can negotiate toward a settlement, which appears to be the most likely endgame.
“Ian is very apologetic for venting his frustrations with his situation in that manner,” Reynolds said in a statement. “He has apologized to the Cubs organization and does not want to be a further distraction. With that being said, if the Cubs don’t have Ian in their future plans, I feel that it is in the best interests of both parties for the Cubs to release him and end this relationship.”
This was a bad marriage from the start. Stewart actually doesn’t seem to mind Iowa, calling it “more fun in aaa than the bigs…no stress no media…it’s way chill.” But nothing good happens after midnight on Twitter.
“I let my frustrations get the best of me and in no way want to be a distraction,” Stewart wrote. “I am focused on getting back to the big leagues and am working everyday to make that happen.”