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