Ian Stewart of the Colorado Rockies looks on from the dugout during a game against the New York Mets at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
The Cubs sent Tyler Colvin to the Rockies over the winter in exchange for Ian Stewart in what can be termed a low-level "challenge trade" -- two players who seriously underachieved in their previous locations, hoping for improvement and a fresh start with new teams.
Stewart was particularly bad for the Rockies last season, hitting zero home runs in 136 plate appearances while batting just .156/.243/.221 (those numbers even make Adam Dunn look good). Part of that, Stewart attributes to a wrist injury he suffered in spring training last year which now is fully healed. When sent to Triple-A Colorado Springs, Stewart hit .275/.359/.591 with 14 HR in 45 games, a similar pace to his previous Triple-A season in 2008, before he became a Rockies regular the following season.
Stewart hit 25 HR and drove in 70 runs as the more-or-less regular 3B for the 2009 Rockies. But his other numbers weren't outstanding; his triple-slash line of .228/.322/.464 produced an OPS+ of just 95, below average.
Stewart, though, was Top 100 Prospect in Baseball America five years in a row (2004-2008). He will turn 27 on Opening Day; maybe the change of scenery can help him fulfill that promise.
What might we expect? I put the following info into baseball-reference's Play Index: find a 3B who, at age 24 (the age Stewart was in the 2009 season), hit at least 25 HR, drove in at least 70 runs, had an OPS of at least .785, and -- just to balance that -- struck out at least 138 times. Results after the jump.
Here are the third basemen who fit the criteria I mentioned above.
That is quite a list of players, anywhere from "solid regular" to "Hall of Fame caliber". Note that I am not in any way suggesting that Stewart could be as good as Mike Schmidt, or even Matt Williams, who had a 17-year career in which he hit 378 home runs.
The best comp on that list is probably Dean Palmer, who had a season much like Stewart's age 24 season when Palmer was 23 (.229/.311/.420, 26 HR, 72 RBI, 154 strikeouts). That age-23 season didn't make the table above because his OPS that year was .731, below the .785 mininum I specified.
Palmer had four 100-RBI seasons, four 30+ HR seasons and had a career triple-slash of .251/.324/.472 with 275 home runs. Palmer, too, had a season ruined by injury when he was about the age Stewart was a year ago, and then came back and had five straight really good years, though oddly, he made the AL All-Star team just once in that span (I confess, I haven't looked to see who the other good 3B in the American League were at the time).
Stewart is apparently going to get the bulk of playing time, including against LHP; he has a .759 career OPS vs. RHP, .726 vs. LHP, so there's not a huge platoon differential. Still, since the Cubs have a backup who rakes vs. LHP (Jeff Baker), it would be useful to rest Stewart from time to time.
I was skeptical of this deal at the time it was made, though it was clear the Cubs' new bosses had little use for Tyler Colvin. Palmer was a righthanded hitter and Stewart hits lefty, but If Stewart becomes anything close to what Dean Palmer was, the Cubs will have solved their third-base problem for the next few seasons.