Last night’s Ian Stewart trade suffered more for its timing – at the very end of a Winter Meetings that saw the Cubs do less than many fans were hoping – than for its actual merits. On the balance, I’m still not crazy about the trade, primarily because I’m not crazy about the idea of counting on Ian Stewart as the Cubs’ third baseman in 2012.
But did the new bosses really deserve outrage over the trade of a couple kids with medium upsides (ones who probably didn’t have a spot on the Cubs) for another couple young players with more upside? Nah.
It’s just one small move among many, and it lines up with what we’ve been told all along – Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are here to rebuild the Cubs from the ground up, and it will take time. Competing in 2012 would be nice, but let’s keep our sights set on the goal. The long term. Theo and Jed are simply doing the things they were brought here to do. The things they’ve done elsewhere. The things that made us so excited to get them in the first place.
Maybe I developed tunnelvision on Chase Headley – someone for whom the asking price may have been nuts – and forgot about what the rest of the third base options look like out there after Stewart. I’ll never know exactly what went on behind the scenes. So, for now, I’m patient. And trusting.
That all said, there were a number of reactions to, and discussions of, the move (mostly from Jed Hoyer), as well as important background tidbits on Stewart, worth reviewing.
- Cubs’ GM Jed Hoyer spoke excitedly about Stewart, and, for now, is unqualifyingly calling Stewart the Cubs’ third baseman. “We wouldn’t have given up the talent that we did if we didn’t think he [would be the starting] third baseman,” said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer. “We are expecting him to come in and he has to bounce back from last year. We are assuming he does. We are looking at him as our starting third baseman.” Frankly, would you expect Hoyer to say anything else? Even if the Cubs were looking to pick up, for example, someone like Headley, they’d do themselves no favors by announcing to the world that they view Stewart as a utility player.
- About that wrist injury that sapped most of Stewart’s power and effectiveness late in the year, Hoyer says Stewart is “ready to go.” Stewart started swinging the bat again last month. For his part, Hoyer says the Cubs observed some things on tape from last year that they believe are correctable, which could lead to a bounce-back. Hoyer also called Stewart a “good defensive third baseman … a very good athletic player and a gifted third baseman.”
- On the defense point: I’ve never had a great grasp as to how Stewart is at third. Some call him average, at best, others say he’s good. Having only seen him a handful of times, I can’t yet judge with my eyes, so I’ll have to turn to the advanced defensive metrics, though I’m not always thrilled to do so. UZR has Stewart vacillating between -2.5 and 2.8 over his time at third with the Rockies, indicating a guy who’s probably just about average. (For what it’s worth, Aramis Ramirez’s UZR has been hugely negative the last two years. We would notice the upgrade defensively, even if Stewart isn’t “good” defensively.)
- Of the Stewart move and the David DeJesus signing, Hoyer offered the kind of justification that would have gotten Jim Hendry crucified: “With our first two significant moves, we’ve attempted to make the team less right-handed than it has been and we’ve attempted to add better defense. We feel very good with both moves that we’ve done that.” Hoyer also talked up Stewart as “affordable.” Good thing you have my trust, Mr. Hoyer.
- Theo Epstein offered his thoughts on trading for Stewart earlier in the week – except that he offered them before the trade had been consummated. Indeed, the quote can only be attached to this move in retrospect: “If you see a good player coming off an unusually bad year, that’s the time you get him.”
- Baseball Prospectus (Kevin Goldstein, whose opinion I’m increasingly drawn to) offers a (free) evaluation of the trade, and the upshot is: “meh” for both teams. On Stewart: “He’s still a solid, if unspectacular defender at third base, and he has the power to hit 20-25 home runs per year, but it’s going to come at a cost, as his career strikeout rate in the big leagues is one per 3.1 at-bats. Since he’ll be 27 in April with nearly 1500 big-league plate appearances behind him, it’s hard to expect a sudden turnaround. He’s Mark Reynolds with more defensive chops, but again, he’s the only third baseman the Cubs have for now.”
- FanGraphs offered a lukewarm take on Stewart’s future when rumors of an impending move popped up two weeks ago.