Shannon Stewart had his first taste of the big leagues back in 1995 at the age of 21 with his original organization, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Cincinnati native who grew up in Florida had been the Jays' first round pick, 19th overall, in the June 1992 free agent draft.
Stewart stuck for good in the majors in 1998 and began a nearly-six year reign as one of the better outfielders in the American League. He finished fourth in the AL Most Valuable Player Award balloting in 2003, a year during which he moved from the Jays to the Twins in a midseason trade.
The lifetime .300 hitter has finished in the AL top ten in hits, plus batting average and stolen bases twice, triples three times and doubles over four different seasons. Stewart's career on-base percentage is a very solid .364. Over his career, he has primarily been a lead-off man, but also hit third for a time back in Toronto.
The right-handed batter and thrower is on his third and final year of an $18 million contract signed with Minnesota prior to the 2004 season. The combination of his age, contract status and the fact that the Twins have some young outfield talent knocking on the door may make Stewart expendable.
Not unlike Reggie Sanders, who will most likely never appear in more than 140 games in any season, Stewart's main bugaboo is remaining healthy. Having played his entire career on turf, first in Toronto, then on the rug in the Metrodome has surely contributed to Stewart's long history of hamstring and foot injuries.
Over the last four seasons, Stewart has played as few as 92 games (2004) and as many as 141 (2002), averaging 125 games played. He has suited up for just 37 games here in 2006, missing time with a heel injury familiar to Albert Pujols, plantar faascitis. Stewart missed time in 2004 due to his right heel and his current problem is a slight tear to his left plantar fascia, which sidelined him starting in mid-May.
Stewart's recovery has been slower than expected with the latest news out of the Twin Cities is that his rehab assignment may not begin for another week. With no further problems, Stewart's return would likely be sometime in July.
However, even that is far from a sure thing. Says our injury expert, Rick Wilton of The Baseball Injury Report: "Stewart's torn tendon of the plantar fascia tissue in his left foot is the type of ailment that could linger off and on the rest of the season."
While his good speed has been blunted by the injuries, Stewart can still cover a lot of ground in the outfield. However, his throwing shoulder is weak due to an old football injury. That requires him to get good jumps and unload the ball quickly.
The main concern with Stewart, his health, is a risk the Cardinals have accepted in other imported players in recent years. In another comparison point besides Sanders, over the last four years of his career, including his time in St. Louis, Larry Walker averaged 115 games played.
Bottom line, Shannon Stewart is a solid, yet unspectacular player and if he could remain healthy, could prove to be most valuable to the Cardinals in their stretch drive in 2006. Beyond this year would remain to be seen.
Likely the Cardinals, as well as several other teams looking for outfield help, will be closely monitoring Stewart's upcoming rehab assignment.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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