Cubs can't afford to cut Stewart

MESA, Ariz. -- The theories about Ian Stewart's injury affecting his viability as the Chicago Cubs third baseman seem a bit overhyped.

Stewart, though injured most of the spring, is really the only true third baseman in camp who can be projected as the every day starter.

The media speculation suggests that Stewart’s lack of playing time and manager Dale Sveum’s concern with a black hole at one of the power positions in baseball may result in Stewart not making the roster. But the thought that he might be cut does not hold true, due to the team’s obvious lack of alternatives at the hot corner.

Stewart, who has maintained he isn’t concerned about his job, was optimistic he could be in a Cactus League game as early as the end of next week after a productive rehab session on Sunday.

“It may be even earlier than (Friday),” Stewart said Sunday. “ Yesterday we tried running and there was a little tightness at around 80 percent. I basically did everything I need to do to prepare for a game. Now it is just the running part of it .”

With opening day just three weeks away there are only so many options for the Cubs beyond Stewart. Luis Valbuena has done a nice job of filling in for Stewart, who missed 107 games with a wrist injury in 2012. In an ideal situation, Valbuena is the backup infielder at three positions if Stewart is healthy on opening day . At 28 Stewart is hardly over the hill, but injuries since 2010 have taken some of the luster off what was a promising career.

From a business perspective, the Cubs owe Stewart $2 million if he is on the roster April 1. The club has one minor league option on Stewart, or they can start the season with him on the DL. The other option of releasing Stewart does not seem plausible at this point. The team could pay him 20 percent of the contract on March 15 or 25 percent of the money on March 31 and let him go. Releasing Stewart makes little sense since the contract is minimal if the Cubs get any production out of the player at all.

The Cubs did their best to acquire a third baseman via the trade route this off season. The top brass pursued the Indians’ Lonnie Chisenhall and Texas Rangers prospect Mike Olt, but couldn’t find a match with either team.

Stewart is confident that the job is his come opening day.

“If am healthy, I feel like I will be playing third everyday,” he said.