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.
  • Ogyu

    Stewart will hit 25 home runs per year when the Cubs move to a stadium in the Rocky Mountains.

  • Kansas Cubs Fan

    Eh I’m alright with it. People were just bitching because we didn’t sign Fielder or make another big splash(mistake).

  • colocubfan

    I’m still hoping they take Stewart, and a couple of these minor league relief pitchers they’ve picked up and ship them to the Padres for Headley. Wishful thinking probably.

  • JoeyJoJo Junior

    Keith Law gives his take on today’s chat over at ESPN. He agrees with most people that it’s a (mostly) insignificant trade, but likes it from the Cubs point of view.

    • die hard

      insignificant!!! Cubs GM says hes the starting 3B on a team with a long history of good 3B—Ramirez, Madlock, Santo….agrees with whom?….this could be most significant deal over next 5-10 yrs!!! ….yeeesh…unless Law is a Cub shill trying to sugar coat what could be a huge mistake…hope not

    • Brett

      Thanks, JJJJ. Love the name (Mr. Shabbadoo).

  • die hard

    Took Derrick Lee more than 1/2 season to recover from wrist injury…and his power was never the same…..Cubs trainer should ask for raise now …

    • Deer

      that’s a great point die hard, i’ve been saying the same thing. If his wrist injury limits power, he’ll be no better than a #7 or 8 hitter. low avg/obp plus no power = black hole at 3rd

      • hansman1982

        1. It was a broken arm

        2. The only seasons (beside his career year in 2005 in which he put up Pujols type numbers) that he put up an OPS above .900 was in 2007 (the year immediately following the broken arm) and 2009

        3. Before the injury he put up a 124 OPS+ – after the break 120 OPS+ – a negligable difference.

        4. Part of his problem after 2006 was that he walked 15-20 times fewer a year.  Once your BB rate starts dropping pitchers can start to nibble more knowing you are becoming more agressive.

        Basically, outside of 20 homers over a 4 year span, Lee was the same player as before the injury.

  • Kansas Cubs Fan

    This old Cub is on MLB Network right now.

  • MoneyBoy

    I found the most interesting part of this trade was the news it was made Tuesday and the news of it was held up until the physical was completed.  And I’ll bet that was one HELL of a physical !!!   Xrays, MRIs, etc. to make sure the wrist was, in fact, fully healed.  The news he’s already swinging a bat (any idea if it’s off a tee or at pitching?) sounds like a positive.

    • die hard

      too much kool-aid and its only mid-day..slow down or else you will be believing everything

      • BetterNews

        Hell, Brett has’t drank and he is off the “wall”.

  • Captainplanet54

    I’m cool with this trade just patiently waiting for the next move.

    • JulioZuleta

      No way, Captainplanet54 used to be AOL screen name many moons ago. Niiiiceee

  • JP

    As much as I trust the Epstein/Hoyer combo it’s going to be another long year for Cubs baseball if the lineup is really about to shake out as this… RF DeJesus 2B Barney SS Castro CF Byrd 1B Lahair/Whomever??? LF Soriano C Soto 3B Stewart. I know we have some horrendous contracts but their are AAA teams with better lineups. Even worse is that we haven’t been able to shed any of these contracts yet, how have we gotten better?

    • matt3

      maybe by not signing an expensive free agent to another long contract. What else do you expect them to do? To be honest, I think they’re doing great, and I hope they continue to deal in this fashion to free the team up in the future.

    • Brian

      The problem is, there are very few ways the Cubs CAN get better this year. Lets assume the Cubs don’t want to take on one of the massive contract guys (due to contract length, etc). Who’s left? Some talent (whom we’ll likely pick up) but very few game changers.

      So what are they doing? Well….. they are going “Cardinals” on us. In other words, adding defense, more patience at the plate, slightly better base running. If we can throw pitching in there we’ll be spelling out how the Cardinals have played ball for decades. Plus these are traits that work well with the wind blowing out or in.

      Not hiring Sandberg, getting rid of Aramis, firing the manager… these are all ways of changing the team Culture which has been around for decades. It’s less about getting good this year and more about developing a system of winning in years to come. In the mean time, they are signing / developing the long time supporting cast for those future (I hope) championship clubs.

      • Hawkeyegrad

        I completely agree and it is what they should be doing. Theo made a comment that in the end what really will draw people to the team is winning. You can add “sexy” high priced pick-ups for a quick fix but this team is not a Prince Fielder away from consistently competing at a championship level. We need a young core of players at the MLB level and a strong farm system feeding into it.

        • Wilbur

          Agree cubed …

        • BAMF

          Excellent post, I completely agree with this rational. In the end, I will call 2012 a success if they have roughly the same season as last year. There is no free agent on the market that will fix the Cubs. Fix the payroll, build the talent pool, and stay flexible to the extent that you can add talent at anytime if there is an unbelievable, too good to be true deal. If you plant enough talent in the farm system garden, sooner or later you reap what you sow. The front office is doing their jobs by ridding the Cubs of wasteful spending and putting talent in the system. At this point, the Cubs should be concerned with trying to get a positive return on TALENT. Just as the front office is trying to change the Cub’s culture, I think we as fans need to change our culture of hastily analyzing every trade/signing made this early in the JedStein era. The Hendry era had many of those feel good trades that left us proud to be Cubs fans at the end of the day, but disappointed by end of the season. Short term team pride based around large FA acquisitions should not be confused with our long term goals. In the end it’s the long term goals that provide the ultimate source of pride as fans.

  • The Omnipresent Mystery Team

    I was kicking around BA’s 2006 Top Prospect List (where Stewart comes in 16th) and compared him to two of the prospects just ahead of him – Howie Kendrick and Alex Gordon. All three have similar wOBAs in their ages 23-25 seasons. Each took a step back in their age 26 season (Stewart’s by far the biggest step back of all). Kendrick and Gordon then both broke out in their age 27 season. Ian Stewart is about to embark on his age 27 season.

    On the other hand, hopefully we won’t be comparing Stewart to two of the other 3B close to him on that list – Andy Marte and Andy LaRoche.

    • BetterNews

      Keep kicking!

  • john

    Stewart is hitting off a Tee
    Remember 1 thing We have 2 hitting coaches Jaramillo and Sveum

  • matt3

    To be honest, I like these type of deals more than getting big name free agents at long lengths. Really, I think this is pretty cool, and I hope they continue to deal in this fashion.

  • Dumpman

    Your 4th paragraph is spot on Brett. The Pads could have been askign for Marshall, Cashner, Wells and Jackson for Headley.. We have no idea. While LeMahieu was interesting, Colvin is more then likely fodder at this point. Weathers could prove to be interesting as well. Its not so much that I’m in love with Stewart.. its just… Colvin and LeMahieu.. These guys are hardly irreplaceable.

    • BetterNews

      I said Colvin was done ! A year ago, and people laughed.

      • matt3

        Years back I told a couple friends I wouldn’t give up Murton for Sizemore and they laughed. Now Murton has a batting record in Japan.

        • BetterNews

          Your point?

          • Cubbie Blues

            I guess that is supposed to be sarcastic as well?

            • BetterNews

              I guess i being “black balled”?

  • Luke

    Cubs claim infield Jeff Bianchi off waivers from Kansas City. Heading into 2011, BA had him as the Royals #21 prospect. He’s had an injury plagued career, but if he can stay healthy still has plenty of potential.

  • Tim Mo

    I will admit I am a Stewart “homer” and was quite happy with the trade. I was tired of Colvin (like the Rox fans were of Stewart) and LeMahieu impressed me but so did Colvin at one time. With prospects it’s to hard figure out sometimes. Jaramillo will earn his money with Stewart.

    I just got this feeling that Theo is not throwing away the 2012 season and something bigger is on the horizon. Just a gut feeling. Some of you are projectiong the 2012 lineup and no matter the way you look at it is currenly UGLY. We will see, I guess. I might be ticked off in February like some of you are now, who knows?

    Funny, the talk in Denver is they are trying to package Colvin for some starting pitching. Should be an interesting few weeks.

    • BetterNews

      Colvin once had promise, and then he hit the Major. Pretty simple. Could not cope.

      • ferrets_bueller

        There were pretty telling signs of this through the minors, too. He just got away with it in the minors. Always low obp and ops. Horrible approach.

  • clark addison

    Headley is about all the Padres have to sell this year. His price would have been unreasonably high.

    I’ll be surprised if Stewart is the Cubs’ third baseman all season. Look for Baker and/or DeWitt to take over if/when he flops. If Vitters has a good year at Iowa, he’ll be playing third come September.

    • MC2

      Look for Baker and/or Dewitt to get dealt, and Vitters to end up somewhere in the American League as a DH/1B. Don’t think Vitters has long term future with the Cubbies and that’s why the experimentation at other positions. Baez and Castro will rule the right side of the infield in a couple of years… …

  • Cubbie Blues

    Cubs claim infielder Jeff Bianchi off waivers from the Royals. Career MiBL #’s .281 avg. 31 HR, 251 RBI and 76 SB 490 games. Spent last 2 years in AA.

  • ISU Birds

    DeJesus, Castro, Stewart, and Fielder. Sounds like a solid infield to me.

    • Tim Mo

      DeJesus is an outfielder, but I do feel good abut the bats.

  • Coal

    My grandmother, who lived into her mid-90’s, used to say about ivy, that when you plant it, the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps. If you think about that in the context of this regime, it makes sense. Give them some time and patience to set themselves, build strong roots, etc. By doing “nothing” they showed they are patient (or at least disciplined, given the deals that got done). The prior ownership and GM would have felt the pressure from fans, media, etc. to “do something.” I like that Theo/Jed don’t appear willing to go “knee jerk” on us. Give it time. That’s the only way it gets better consistently. There is no overnight fix.

    • Toosh

      Agreed. 103 years is not enough time.

  • Coal

    Don’t blame Theo/Jed for 103. We can, and will, start a new clock for them.

    • Toosh

      Then the next GM, then the next owner.

  • eager

    Listen, if it takes some crazy “angel like spending” to get us out of the 104 year skid. So be it, just make sure to sign young, eager talent like fielder. Keep starting pitchers like garza, cashner.

    Developing your farm system is something that shoud have NOTHING to do with your major league roster, until September. With the future brett jackson, Castro, lake, vitters, you need some big bats that WILL get the job done when these kids are flying around the bases and we will score our way to a championship, and hopefully be built for many more of the same

  • Brian Peters

    Um, Brett, I think some of the above comments require your attention.

    • Brett

      Thanks, Brian.

  • Bails17

    [Edit – you’re all good, Bails, but I’m just going to remove all references to the comments.]

  • Katie

    I must have missed out on some fun around these parts.