Cubs, Rockies Swap Ian Stewart and Tyler Colvin

Artist rendering of Ian Stewart in a Chicago Cubs uniform.

Yesterday evening, as the last of the winter meetings expired, the Chicago Cubs and the Colorado Rockies finalized a four-player swap, sending OF Tyler Colvin and INF DJ LeMahieu for 3B Ian Stewart and minor league RP Casey Weathers.

As my colleague Eric Seidman said to me in great confidence: “Cubs acquire Ian Stewart in the most boring four-player trade ever conceived.”

Humorous, but debatable. There is indeed a bit of intrigue in this trade — especially if you are a Cubs or Rockies fan or just high draft picks who fall on hard times.

First of all: The biggest name: Ian Stewart.

Stew-dog burst into the spotlight in 2008 when a rare Todd Helton injury created more playing time for Stewart, who then proceeded to clap 10 homers and finished with a respectable .347 wOBA (good for a 100 wRC+). Stewart followed his early showing with an underwhelming pair of seasons in 2009 and 2010, earning a combined 2.7 WAR while splitting time between third and second base.

So, in 2011, he found himself with one foot in the majors, one in the minors. In the majors, he looked lost; in the minors, he looked found; in both, he struggled with injuries. All told, Stewart has compiled an 87 wRC+ through 1400+ PAs. Essentially, in 2 ? seasons, he’s compiled 3.3 MLB wins — that comes to about 1.23 wins per season, or somewhere between replacement level and average starting MLB player.

Still, Stewart, who figures to take the full-time third base duties in 2012, has upside. At age 27, Stewart has time, his pedigree (No. 10 overall pick in the 2003 draft), and his minor league stats working in his favor. He probably has at least two seasons to prove he’s a capable defender and hitter before the Cubs have someone else — Josh Vitters, mayhaps? — asking for his spot.

The Cubs have declared defense a priority for their rebuild of the team, and Stewart fits that mold, within reason. At second, he was pretty atrocious, but Total Zone, UZR/150, and the Fan Scouting Report all agree that Stewart plays third above averagely.

The corresponding big piece for the Rockies is outfielder Tyler Colvin, the power hitting, walk-refusing dynamo who also split time in Triple-A and the majors in 2011. Colvin, who was the 13th overall pick in the 2006 draft, has every bit the power one might want from an outfielder, but he walks about as much as Alfonso Soriano and strikes out as much as Carlos Pena — a surefire recipe for OBP disaster.

Colvin appears to be a decent defender in the outfield, though it is hard to be certain given his limited chances, but overall he appears to be an upside candidate quite similar to Stewart — he’s coming off a rough year, but is still young enough to turn things around. Colvin, however, lacks the minor league wow that Stewart brings. And, more frighteningly, Colvin compares incredibly favorably to another outfielder who has power, hates walks, and defends well: Jeff Francoeur.

The other characters of this trade — DJ LeMahieu and Casey Weathers — add a bit of color to the whole affair. LeMahieu plays both second and third base, and — from what I observed in 2011 — he plays them both well.

The 23-year-old DJLM hit exceptionally as he missiled through the minors, stumbling only when he reached Triple-A this past season. He does not walk, nor does he strike out. It would appear he relies on a .350ish BABIP for success, so there always is a chance his early minor league success is just the ephemeral illusion of fortunes (his Triple-A BABIP, .303, arrived coupled with a 65 wRC+).

Nonetheless, LeMahieu — if I’m the Rockies — intrigues me most. For the Cubs, Casey Weathers may be intriguing, but only in a limited sense. Few great prospects are relievers, and fewer still are Tommy Johns surgery veterans. Weathers is both.

After losing the 2009 season to TJ surgery, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2007 draft has begun his slow climb back into prospect status. Slow, like still sitting at the foot of the mountain slow.

In 2010, Weathers dominated Low-A ball, only to get crushed in High-A ball through a combined 40 or so innings. This season, Double-A hitters relished facing Weathers during his 45+ innings as he posted an ERA and FIP in excess of 5.00. In 2011, Weather walked a whopping 48 hitters and struck out — get this — 48 hitters. That’s exactly a 1-to-1 ratio of trouble.

Ultimately, when taken in context of both franchises, the trade seems to fit, though it’s not a killer win, per se.

The Cubs needed a third baseman and wanted defense to be a priority this off-season; Ian Stewart fits that bill. They are also hurting for pitching depth, though chances are Weathers may not even be in baseball much longer if he cannot reign in the walks.

Meanwhile, the Rockies were looking to trade Stewart, and Colvin and LeMahieu offer high-ish upside young guys; so, hey, why not? Both teams benefit, and with the new second Wild Card, the trade brings the Cubs closer to a possible playoff run while not removing the possibility of the Rockies’ own October magic.

Well done fellas. Not exciting, but not boring either.

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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

29 Responses to “Cubs, Rockies Swap Ian Stewart and Tyler Colvin”

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  1. Norm says:

    I think DJ ends up with the most career WAR with a Mark Grudzielanek type line.

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  2. Keith says:

    I’m not a fan. I liked LeMahieu more than Stewart, to be honest, and I give no care for Weathers. I thought Colvin-for-Stewart was a somewhat fair idea, but adding LeMahieu-for-Weathers kills it in my eyes. It shoudl have been DeWitt or Baker, two older guys who have shown their ability to not belong on the roster.

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    • Brian says:

      I think both can be pretty valuable on a roster, although finding room for both may be tough. Dewitt is still only 26 going into next season and Baker is a good option against LHP. You at least have some flexibility and good defensive options at 3B with a Dewitt, Baker, Stewart, Castro, Barney infield. Without someone mashing at 1B, though, it looks a bit empty.

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  3. Daniel says:

    The DJ-love is baffling me. He looks like Darwin Barney without the ability to play 2B to me. He’s not going to take that minor league baBIP into the majors. Upside is clearly with Stewart. When the reality for them all is likely big fat zeros in the Win column, the upside is what you go with.

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    • Jack Nugent says:

      Spot on Daniel. Some Cub fans have a seriously irrational appreciation for LeMahieu, and I honestly don’t know why. I mean, he’s basically devoid of secondary skills– guy never walks, and has just 7 home runs in his entire professional career. He’s too big and long for 2B, and the bat has a ways to go before it profiles at 3B.

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    • Keith says:

      People are mistaking interest for love. LeMaHieu is OBVIOUSLY not going to be as good in the majors, but I’d rather have him over DeWitt or Baker.

      Even if he doesn’t walk, he rarely strikeous out as well, and he hit near .290 with a .303 BABIP in AAA. I’m fully aware of the fact that the guy is likely a AAAA player or a career backup, but seeing as we’re talking about a trade that started with mentioning Blake DeWitt, I would have rather kept LeMahieu, saced about a million bucks, and let him try to be a backup.

      I’m not mad about the trade, but considering Stewart-for-Colvin’s pretty fair, that a guy who has shown some decent skills handling the bat was then swapped for someone with a career-low walk rate around 4 and got punished mercilessly in AA, I think this trade could have gone better for the Cubs.

      That Stewart’s getting a noticeable amount of money ($2 million+) and the Cubs took a hit in terms of age and previous production, that Stewart can play third seems to be the only redeeming quality of this trade.

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      • prospectslol says:

        the anti-baker sentiment is insane. The guy rakes against lhp and plays all over the infield… maybe he’s not an everyday player but he’s a valuable utility guy and ph off the bench – which is far more than LeMahieu will ever be.

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  4. fang2415 says:

    Reign in —> rein in

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  5. Oscar says:

    I don’t get the DJ love either. The guy doesn’t walk, has no power (not even ‘doubles power’), no base stealing speed, and is completely reliant on an unsustainable high BABIP. And I like DJ … I watched him at LSU and would love to see him succeed.

    Ian Stewart is hands down the best player in this deal so I’d be pretty happy if I were a Cubs fan.

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  6. Jack Nugent says:

    The Cubs traded two guys who never walk, for one who does. There’s obviously more to baseball than drawing walks, but this is the biggest reason to be down on Colvin/DJLM, and the least bit optimistic about Ian Stewart.

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  7. gaweenbob says:

    Hahaha the picture at the top made me laugh for several minutes. It really captures Ian Stewart’s essence.

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  8. Paulie L. says:

    The DeJesus signing and this trade just highlight how barren the upper minors are for the Cubs. Both DeJesus and Stewart appear to be little more than roster filler and I don’t see how this gets them closer to the playoffs. They have a mediocre pitching staff and will probably lose both Ramirez, their best hitter last year and Pena to FA. I don’t see where the offense is going to come from.

    Don’t they still owe Boston compensation? Whatever happened with that?

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    • Sour Bob says:

      DeJesus has been worth 8.5 WAR over the past three seasons. Would that we really *could* fill our roster with guys like that.

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    • JayBandit says:

      They said compensation talks would take a break until after the Rule 5 draft. I imagine we’ll hear something more about this soon since both teams now know who they have on their rosters.

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  9. Hans says:

    DeJesus is NOT roster filler… not an all-star either, but better than your initial suggestion.

    I’m a Cub fan, and I never got the DJ love either. He’s Barney without the defense. I don’t really care for Barney, so I definitely don’t like DJ. All the best to him, but I agree that the Cubs got the highest upside guy, and in a crap for crap trade, upside wins.

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  10. Xeifrank says:

    So who is penciled in as the Rockies 3B?

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    • Dudermensch says:

      Nobody, yet. But Nolan Arenado, who just earned the MVP of the Arizona Fall League, sounds like the early favorite for the hot-corner, come April.

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      • Xeifrank says:

        He played in A+ ball this year, so I doubt it.

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      • Andrew says:

        As dumb as it sounds, Arenado might actually start. The FO loves him, and frankly there isn’t a whole lot else at 3rd. Jordan Pacheco will likely get some ABs at 3rd, a few at 2nd and behind the plate. Then there will be LeMahieu, Chris Nelson, Jon Herrera, and Tommy Field fighting it out at 2nd and 3rd.

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    • J.Ro says:

      Jon Herrera / Chris Nelson then? (One at 3rd, one at 2nd). One leaps with excitement.

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  11. shel says:

    the essesnce of Moneyball is, you lose a lot of offense in one player (Ramirez), you don’t have to get it all back in another player, you can pick it up in 3 or 4 different lesser players, and in run prevention defense. But the Cubs have only so many roster spots where they can (could have) made that happen – RF, 3B, 1B. Unless Soriano is shipped out, which creates an offensive hole of its own. The RF acquisition isn’t going to go a long way to replacing Ramirez’s 26 HRs and .306 average. Cubs don’t seem to be players in any major 1B deals, and they are apparently losing another 28 HRs in Pena. This deal does absolutely nothing to address their lack of offense. With the pitching staff they project to have, they’ll have to count on a lot of wins by an 8-7 score – so where is the offense going to come from? If you’re going to lose DJ and Colvin, I’d have preferred seeing them go in a package for Hedley (throw in Vitters if a 3-way works out).
    I’m not one of those Cub fans that overvalues our lousy minor league players, I’m just waiting for a signing that tells me the line-up isn’t going to be half made of AAAA players.

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  12. Joe says:

    Colvin is a platoon-4th OF’er, at best. DJLM is nothing more than a utility infielder. How could you not make this trade? Maybe Stewart becomes nothing and Weathers almost certainly is nothing, but at least they have some upside. We’ve seen what Colvin can do. I’d much rather have Stewart than Colvin. Stewart is a classic buy-low, sell-high guy. Maybe he turns it around a nets a few prospects in July. Maybe he hits well enough to be the Cubs long-term answer at third. I think the odds are against that, but you’re only giving up two marginal major league players to find out. I love this trade.

    The Cubs are more than likely not going to compete this year, so wondering where the offense is going to come from is not exactly a pressing issue. Theo and Jed are going to load up the system, unload a few bloated contracts, and try to maximize their resources to rebuild quickly. Colvin and DJLM were not going to be part of the next (first?) great Cubs team, so they used them to take a chance on a guy who might be. I’m more confident than ever before that the Cubs have a plan in place. Until I’m proven wrong, “In Theo and Jed I Trust”.

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  13. KJOK says:

    Weathers at this point has almost zero control. He throws at least 1 warm up pitch a week to the backstop, and averaged a walk per appearance. He does throw 95 mph however.

    Stewart had a good minor league track record, but perhaps tried too hard to hit HR’s in the Colorado park environment. He’s also average to above-average defensively.

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  14. kimalanus says:

    Just because I keep seeing this error not being corrected all over the freakin’ place including in national freakin’ news media:

    A king ‘reigns’ over his kingdom. A ‘rein’ is used to slow down a horse.

    Your spell checkers can not be relied upon when using homophones. Please resume your normal lives now. Thank you.

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  15. Bob says:

    You had me until the Vitters comment. Great swing, won’t take a walk. May never sniff the majors.

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  16. Cub fans have themselves some love for French named middle infield slap hitters with no OBP that played at LSU.

    Ex: Theriot, Fontenot, DJLM.

    Well they love them until they don’t.

    Just making a joke.

    How long are we going to be hearing about Josh Vitters?

    Just am

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