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Stewart's injury creates third-base quandary for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Dale Sveum said injured third baseman Ian Stewart should have enough time to prepare for the regular season but that the team now will get a look at the other options on the roster.

Both Stewart and third baseman Josh Vitters are sidelined 10 to 14 days with strained left quads. Luis Valbuena, Junior Lake and Christian Villanueva will get most of the playing time at third now.

"It sounds like both [Stewart] and Vitters, at the earliest, will be on the field in two weeks, but realistically three weeks," Sveum said. "It's unfortunate for them. There will still be a fair enough amount of games left after that to get enough at-bats and evaluate."

The Cubs do face some decisions regarding Stewart. His $2 million contract is non-guaranteed, which is not unusual for an arbitration-level player, but there is a March 16 deadline. If the Cubs decide at that date that Stewart isn't ready, they can release him and will be obligated to pay one-sixth of his salary ($333,333). If he's released after that date and before the regular season opener, the Cubs would owe Stewart $500,000.

"The fact of the matter is, three weeks from now puts you basically at March 14, which puts you three weeks before Opening Day," Sveum said. "If he's capable and the leg is fine, it'll be a cram session, that's for sure."

Valbuena, 27, already has secured a spot on the 25-man roster and impressed Sveum with his defensive play. On Saturday, he hit a solo home run in the second inning, his second in as many days if you count Friday's intrasquad game. He batted .306 in Venezuela this winter, taking a more aggressive approach at the plate.

What if he was the Cubs' Opening Day starter at third?

"It's not my decision," Valbuena said. "I'd be so happy if I won that job. That's what I'm trying to do."

Lake, 22, who batted .279 at Double-A Tennessee last season, would be next in the pecking order.

"In the intrasquad games, he's done fine," Sveum said of Lake. "He hasn't been tested. There's some mechanical things. He's very tall and playing tall. He's got to play the position smaller. What I mean by that, he wants to stand straight up after he fields a ground ball, so there's some things we have to tweak.

"He's such a good athlete," Sveum said. "He's going to be one of those third basemen who's not going to look like Scott Rolen but the athleticism will allow him to do a lot of things at that position."

Villanueva, 21, played at Class A Daytona last year. There are no plans to move top prospect Javier Baez from short to third, Sveum said. Right now, it's wait and see.

"We really don't have a whole lot of other third basemen," Sveum said. "They both just went down."