08/11/08 7:25 PM ET
Blue Jays part ways with Stewart
Facing diminished playing time, veteran outfielder released
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
The move brought an end to Stewart's second tour with the Blue Jays, who signed him after parting ways with fan favorite Reed Johnson at the end of Spring Training. After a disappointing early showing, Stewart used the past two months to recover from a severely sprained right ankle.
Much of that time was spent at Toronto's Minor League complex in Florida, where Stewart worked his way back into playing shape. The Blue Jays activated Stewart from the 15-day disabled list on Monday, but the club had little playing time to offer the outfielder, considering that Adam Lind has captured the starting job in left field.
"I don't think he wanted to be released," Jays assistant general manager Bart Given said. "He'd rather come up and play every day. But with the way Lind has played in left field, we can't give him that opportunity to play every day.
"Under the circumstances, knowing that he wasn't going to get a chance to play every day, he just said that it's probably better off to be released."
It was an unfortunate end to what undoubtedly has been a rough year for the 34-year-old Stewart. Toronto originally tried to sign the outfielder as a free agent early last winter, but Stewart's agent turned down the offer, which was believed to be for a multi-year contract. Spring Training arrived and Stewart was still unemployed.
Stewart changed agents and eventually settled on a Minor League contract with the Blue Jays, for whom he also played from 1995-2003. Toronto gave him the opportunity to fight for a roster spot with Johnson, who was released and signed by the Chicago Cubs after the Jays stuck with Stewart.
Johnson has hit .300 overall and .347 against left-handed pitching through 121 games for the Cubs, while Stewart -- brought in to provide more offense -- managed just a .240 average over 52 games for the Jays. Stewart did hit .294 in May, but he then limped to a 1-for-22 showing in June before suffering the ankle injury.
Toronto manager Cito Gaston said the club considering adding Stewart to the roster again, but only as a part-time player. Stewart might have seen some at-bats as a designated hitter, but the emergence of Lind in left -- not to mention the presence of outfielders Kevin Mench and Brad Wilkerson on the bench -- wouldn't allow for much time in the field.
"He's a good kid," Gaston said. "I've had him around for a long time. But certainly, you always try to keep your best players, and he hasn't played in, what, two months or so? So, I'm not sure how much he could do here anyway for the next month and a half."
Given said that Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi spoke with Stewart's agent, who discussed the situation with the outfielder. In light of the diminished role that was being offered, Given said Stewart -- making $1.5 million this year -- indicated that being released might be the best route.
"It probably works out better for Stew," Given said. "He was going to come up and not get a lot of playing time. In the grand scheme of things, this is probably better off for him and for us, instead of having him sit around not getting a chance to play."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.