Cubs legend-in-the-making third baseman Luis Valbuena has been hitting the snot out of the ball since spring training. It’s about time to give up on the Ian Stewart dream, given that Stewart is probably emo and can’t stay healthy, and when healthy, can’t even hit a pinata. We’ve been waiting for a while for the shoe to drop, but Valbuena is actually heating up a bit. He’s still only at 99 plate appearances for the year so we are definitely still in “small sample size” land, but with good defense (last night’s garbage-time error notwithstanding) and a keen eye for the plate when he decides to take a few pitches, Valbuena’s doing what we would hope the 3B position would do when we put our eggs into the Ian Stewart basket.
This isn’t to say that we were necessarily wrong to hope for Ian Stewart to kick ass. Stewart still had some track record and was still young and cost-controlled, and with only $2MM invested, he was one of those low-risk/high-reward deals. However, maybe it’s true that he didn’t have the attitude (he’s been MIA for a couple days now) and sometimes, players just lose “it” and never get “it” back.
On the other hand, this year represents the first arbitration-eligible season for Valbuena, where he’s being paid only $930K. He is Super Two eligible, which means he gets three more arb seasons after this one. As of this posting, he has a line of .271/.374/.494, good for a 135 OPS+ and on this 2013 Cubs squad is tied with Nate Schierholtz for third in runs driven in if you care about that stuff. And for whatever reason (good home cooking?) he’s also second behind Anthony Rizzo in home runs with five on the season. Pretty productive for the money.
You can’t predict baseball, and Valbuena’s track record was such that you don’t really see him doing this consistently. Here’s hoping it will last, especially since Valbuena can also play second base (where Darwin Barney is great defensively but can’t hit for shit). With another three years of control after this one, this is a great value find considering he was a last-minute waiver claim just last season. Imagine what could happen if Valbuena keeps up this torrid pace and the Cubs can actually splurge to trade for Chase Headley…but hey, that’s another story for another time.