(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

When rumors that the Chicago Cubs were targeting Ian Stewart first surfaced back in November (hey, what do you know, some rumors do come true), I wasn’t overly enthused. Thankfully, I didn’t rip the guy, but he was clearly not my first choice:

Stewart has carried the interest of a number of teams for many years, probably on the strength of a dominant minor league career (huge numbers at high levels at young ages), and a solid ML 2008 season as a 23-year-old. Since then, Stewart has been pretty average, bouncing up and down from the bigs to the minors. He’s still just 26, and may come at a cheaper price (in trade) than Headley. My understanding is that Stewart is thought of as about average defensively at third base. The rub with Stewart (if you don’t consider the lackluster performance to date and the average defense a rub): although he’s got three years of arbitration left, he was a Super Two last year, making about $2.3 million. That means, even with average performance, he’s in line to make something like $3 to $3.5 million next year, and increasing in the next two years from there. It may not sound like much, but if he’s truly just average, it’s hard to see him as a better option than the far, far cheaper in-house options (for whom the Cubs wouldn’t have to trade).

At the time, I was still pretty hung up on the similarly-aged, but better-performing Chase Headley. The Cubs discussed Headley with the Padres briefly and shallowly, but, for whatever reason, there wasn’t a match there. So, Stewart was the guy. And, while I wasn’t crazy about losing DJ LeMahieu and Tyler Colvin, it was a pretty fair price for Stewart (and Casey Weathers), and far, far less than Headley would have cost.

From there, I could get on board with Stewart. No, he wasn’t my first choice, and no, I’m not sure that he’s a long-term answer at third base. But his glove appears to be above average, and there are reasons to believe – if he’s healthy – he can put up average offensive numbers at third base this year. I’m actually kind of excited to see the guy get a second chance.

In that way, I’m quite a bit like Stewart, himself. A Rockies lifer, Stewart wasn’t overly enthused to learn he’d be traded. Leaving Colorado was clearly not his first choice:

“That’s tough. It kind of feels like a [slight],” Stewart said [of the Rockies’ effort to change the clubhouse culture by dumping players]. “All the guys that left, we weren’t young or old. We were kind of coming into our prime. That happens in this game and maybe for reasons that will go unsaid. I felt like we had a good clubhouse. I don’t know if they felt like they needed more accountability or guys to step up and kick a guy in the rear now and then. Hopefully it works out for them. It’s kind of like being a head coach too many years and things get too monotonous.”

But, traded he was. Stewart came to the Cubs, perhaps not his first choice, but he’s decided to make the best of it. In fact, now he’s kind of excited to be with the Cubs:

“I never call it a fresh start. I see it more as an opportunity with a great organization that needed an upgrade defensively and a left-handed power hitter. That describes me to a T,” Stewart said. “If I had gone back [to the Rockies], maybe I would have felt uneasy or like there was a short leash. I felt like that when I was playing last year, I had to get four hits every game.”

There certainly won’t be that same pressure here, at least not for several months, as the Cubs are fully committed to giving Stewart a long and fair shake. For what it’s worth, Troy Renck believes that big bounce for Stewart could happen, and says that it was actually a very tough decision to unload Stewart. From his Denver Post article:

Of the homegrown players shipped out — Chris Iannetta, Seth Smith and Stewart — the third baseman was privately dealt with the most trepidation. Iannetta wasn’t going to be re-signed after this season. Smith was typecast as a platoon player whose salary would have become prohibitive.

Stewart is different.

He could hit 25 home runs for the Cubs this season — he’s expected to be a starter — and play Gold Glove defense. That thought kept him in Colorado last year at the trading deadline and nearly prevented a deal over the winter. Arenado’s emergence in the Arizona Fall League, showing he was closer than anyone imagined to being ready for the major leagues, tipped the scale. Even if Stewart rebounds this year, Arenado’s arrival should soothe the pain.

It’s nice to hear that the Rockies weren’t just looking to dump Stewart for the sake of dumping him, as rumors made things sound late last year. It would be unrealistic to hope for a breakout All-Star season, or for Stewart to replicate Aramis Ramirez’s average production. But good defense and average offense for a third baseman seem well within reach – for a fraction of (a) the salary of a guy like Ramirez, or (b) the cost in prospects to acquire a guy like Headley.

And, first choice or not, I can get excited about that.

  • Kyle

    Very nice roundup! He’s a great bounceback candidate and I look forward to him being our starting 3b this year.

    • DocWimsey

      um, Kyle: have you taken your meds yet today? :-)

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Haha. Love it.

  • Dan

    I’m excited. I hope this kid pans out. If he doesn’t, then the organization has a hole at 3rd base. Maybe Josh Vitters will fill that hole? It’s too early to tell. Lets hope Theo’s dice roll is above average.

    • Sam

      Id like to see Vitters at 3B and Stewart at 2B…

      • CubFan Paul

        i don’t know about Vitters at 3B but having Stewart’s 25HRs at 2B would be a plus if he could handle the position defensively.

      • Noah

        LaHair at 1B, Stewart at 2B, Vitters at 3B and Castro at SS would probably be the worst defensive infield in baseball. We’d be competing with the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera at 3B experiment.

        • CubFan Paul

          1B Rizzo, 2B Stewart, SS Castro, 3B Vitters/Lake/? ..that’s power at 1st, 2nd, & short for sure

  • http://www.fightoutsider.com Ryan

    Maybe knowing that he will be given the opportunity to be the everyday third baseman will help Stewart turn the corner quicker in Chicago than Colorado. You know – the whole “change of scenery” thing. Either way, I’m anxious to see if he can bounce back and help the team. His defense is already better than Ramirez which is a plus. 25 HR’s would be fine with me.

  • Sam

    I think Stewart could have a productive year. He didn’t really have consistent playing time with the Rockies and I think that being a full time starter at 3B may benefit him. Also he doesn’t really hit for average (or at least he didn’t hit for a high average when he got playing time) but when he did get playing time he showed that he has homer run power. And with Wrigley being a ball park that can be beneficial to left handed hitters I think we could see his numbers go up.

  • http://punshouse.com Nate Corbitt

    Here in Asheville, NC we have the Rockies’ Class A team (the Asheville Tourists). Stewart married the manager’s daughter when he was playing for them, and they still live in Asheville in the off-season. It would be nice to see him do well, because, as a transplanted Cub fan, I love the idea of being able to just bump into a player from my favorite team in the off-season. (Asheville isn’t that big.)

  • Troy

    I was kind of excited to learn that we got Stewart. I’m probably one of the only people that was though. lol

    I’ve been high on him for awhile. I didn’t like what we gave up but there was no room for Colvin and I didn’t see him getting any better. LeMahieu was a tougher pill to swallow. Hopefully it works out for all involved.

  • King Jeff

    I like Stewart and I think he was a good fit to fill a big hole on the Cubs roster, but I really think Colvin is going to turn out to be a pretty good player, so I was reluctant to see him leave.

  • Cheryl

    Wonder how much Sveum is into trying players at different positions? That would seem to fall with minor leagues, but since he’s experimenting with the batting order he might dit with fielding.

  • die hard

    Stewart’s range should take some pressure off of Castro or whoever is playing SS. Ramirez’s cement shoes weighs on the SS who feels he must get everything to the right that is not right at the 3B. Wont be long for the Brewers SS to ask for a part of Ramirez’s salary.

    • Ron

      That is an interesting point. Something to watch, it may be a wash though the “errors” saved at third may be lost at first with LaHair.

  • Tim Mo

    If he is was missing motivation in his last few years as a Rockie, he sure has it now. I hope he uses the “chip on the shoulder” to get out of the rut. Still a little worried about his wrist but he will play good defense. I won’t lie, I am extremely bias when it comes to Stewart, hell already bought a #2 jersey . I understand the “haters” and I hope he proves them wrong. There is still something there and I hope Rudy get’s it out of him.

  • Big Joe

    Interesting to hear Stewart label himself a power hitter. I don’t see it. Good defensively, with, at most, an average bat. I’m not sure of his best year, as far as power goes…but, I’m going to take a look online. I would be very suprised (pleasantly, of course) to see him approach 20 HRs. Gold Glove (not my words) fielding, and “power-hitting” 3rd basemen, at his age, aren’t regularly discarded. With that said, perhaps, he’s the guy he showed Colorado last year. He got hurt…blah, blah, blah…I know. My feeling is that the Cubs will be looking for answers at 3rd base, right about this time next year.

    • hardtop

      i thought the same thing…. you hit more than 20 hr’s once in 4+ years in the majors and you’re a power hitter? i think not Ian. Just because you strike out a lot does not mean you are a power hitter. yes, power hitters do often strike out a lot but they also do something else with frequency: hit for power. My preference for Stewart would be not to be aggressive, dont attempt to be the power hitter you are not, and just get on base dude! If this is what Rudy is telling him, Im not sure I like Rudy (never really have liked his approach)

      • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

        Well, he’s got a .192 career ISO, and nearly 20% of all his hits went over the fence….that’s kinda powerful

        • Joe

          Well, he was in Colorado. Hard to hit homers in the rarified air… uh.

        • hardtop

          true… kinda…

    • ferrets_bueller

      You guys really must not know much about Ian Stewart besides his stats, at all.

      • Joe


      • hardtop

        well i live in denver, season ticket holder to the rockies for 3 of his 5 years, ive seen him play maybe 150 – 200 games live and on television…. but other than that, i dont know much, other than stats of course.

        • ferrets_bueller

          There is one offensive tool that Ian Stewart most undeniably possesses: Power.  To say that he is not a power hitter is ludicrous.  His power tool is near the top of the ratings scale, and always has been.

          • hardtop

            i guess its all a matter of definition. i wasn’t really addressing his power tool, more his self proclaimed status as a power hitter. i was thinking of it more in terms of elite quarterback: a status that one achieves through accomplishments. when you aren’t hitting, you obviously aren’t hitting for power. because Stewart hasn’t been able to hit for power, or otherwise, consistently, i was stripping him of that title.

            But, i’ll concede, technically, your definition is correct. someone who has an above average power tool, who may not hit for average, but will send many balls a long way, would fall under the classification “power hitter” whether they were good or terrible at it.

            I still would like Stewart to focus on getting on base. I believe pitch recognition can be learned to a certain degree. The path to a bounce back year cant possibly be swinging for the fences every time. Plate discipline is something ian and the cubs have both been lacking.

  • ogyu

    So how do we get from “about average defensively at third base” to could play gold glove defense? Which is it?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      We get there by starting with an uninformed, far-distanced opinion based on conflicting reports back in November (i.e., mine), and then evolving that opinion over the course of the next four months.

      But I wouldn’t go so far as Gold Glove-caliber – that was Renck saying that.

  • Rick Vaughn

    Ian Stewart and Brian Lahair have to be the two biggest question marks going into this season. I’m so stoked to watch them. Along with the starting pitching. After Garza and Dempster, we have so many options to fill out the rotation. I really feel that Volstad, Wood, Maholm, Wells and the Shark can all be productive starters.

    If the bullpen is at least average, Geo bounces back, and Soriano goes on a couple extra hot streaks, I honestly feel this team will greatly exceed expectations.

    27 more days gentlemen. Get your popcorn ready.

  • Tommy Truther

    Ian Stewart may be the best defensive 3rd baseman the Cubs have seen since Santo! He is excellent at the hot corner- glove and arm. His downfall may be hitting- it seems the scouting reports have him nailed. Fastballs in and breaking balls down. He also may lack toughness, seems kinda wimpy. If Ian can hit .240 he’ll help the Cubs with some power and Gold Glove 3rd.
    Meanwhile, Colvin may be supplanting Dexter Fowler as Rox starting outfielder- he’s been on fire in AZ.

    • ty

      nailed it Tommy. Wrist factor is real scary though.

  • ferrets_bueller

    To be honest, I much rather would have had Headley. Both are GREAT on defense, but I love Headley’s career away splits. Michael Young.
    However, Stewart still does have the higher ceiling, though. If he turns into the .270 30 to 35 HR guy he has the potential to be, with that D…goddamn.

  • Ivy Walls

    Why Cubs probably will not trade Baker as he is the best insurance for Stewart. BTW look at Stewart’s splits RH versus LH, 2010 his OPS was .811, 2009 it was .823, while Baker in 2011 had a OPS vs LH pitching .812, 2010 .945 and 2009 .782

    This combo is All Star reserve status, though neither would qualify if a platoon emerges.