Theo Epstein Mid Season Report Card: Ian Stewart


The calendar now reads July, and the word that comes to mind for all baseball fans is “trades”. Regardless of whether your team is up or down, there is always trade speculation involving your team. That includes our beloved Cubs. While all of the talk revolves around which veterans from the list of Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, and Carlos Marmol will be dealt, as we approach the halfway point of the 2012 season, it also is a good time to review some of the moves Theo Epstein and Company have already made so far.

Even Epstein wondered out loud to reporters at Spring Training when his honeymoon period with the media and fans would be up. Two years? Two months? Or two weeks? Although the Cubs may be on pace for a record losing season, I for one will not jump the gun on the Epstein era just yet. And I am sure most reasonable Cubs fans feel the same way. So with that in mind I kick of this series of reviews with the more than just the 2012 season in mind.

Today we continue the series with the trade that sent Tyler Colvin to Colorado for third baseman Ian Stewart. At the time of the deal in early December of 2011, the Cubs were trading away a young outfielder that was struggling to stick at the Major League level for a corner infielder in Stewart with struggles of his own coming off injury. The Cubs were dealing from a position of depth in the outfield to try to cover the hole left by the free agent departure of Aramis Ramirez. Stewart fit the mold of the low risk, high reward the front office was seeking as they rebuilt the team from the farm system up.

The lack of any home runs despite a shortened season in 2011 caused some concern as to whether Stewart would ever display the power he use to have prior to the injury. His low batting average and OBP was also of concern, but those categories figured to bounce back more towards his career norms than the power. The selling points of the deal included the fact that Stewart would be another lefty bat in the Cubs line up, and the trusty glove he would provide at third base, the latter being a quality that was a bit lacking in the recent years Ramirez patrolled the hot corner.

Stewart got his Cubs career off to a decent start, collecting eight hits over the first two weeks of the season, leading to his peak of a .308 batting average and a .379 OBP. Those eight hits also included a home run, his first since 2010. He would go on to hit five homers before being shut down in June, but his batting average and OBP took a dive as the season went along before settling around the .200/.290 marks respectively.

Jordan first mentioned Stewart leaning towards wrist surgery at the start of this month, and doing so would most likely bring the third baseman’s 2012 to an early close.

Meanwhile, Colvin has revived his career with the Rockies. The young outfielder ended the first half of the season with a solid line of .305 BA/.335 OBP with 13 home runs and 40 RBI. The lack of walks has hurt his OBP, but Colvin has had a nice bounce back year after being mishandled by the prior Cubs front office (a topic that was thoroughly discussed last year here on Cubbies Crib).

Stewart’s season ending injury and Colvin’s stats so far this season figures to mark this trade as a loss for Epstein and Company at this point. But the final determination of who won the trade will probably require a little more time. The trading away of Colvin did open up a spot for Bryan LaHair to finally get a chance to prove himself at the Major League level. That leap of faith from Epstein and Jed Hoyer led to LaHair posting comparable numbers to Colvin (.286 BA/.364 OBP/14 HR/30 RBI) and a selection to the 2012 NL All Star team. Had Epstein held onto Colvin, who knows how the hole at third base would have been plugged, as all in house options not named a still developing Josh Vitters would have been temporary band aid solutions.

In addition, it is difficult to see Colvin putting up the same numbers he has so far this year if he had remained with the Cubs. The outfield would have remained clogged as it did in 2011, and just as LaHair was bumped off of first base by Anthony Rizzo, Colvin would have suffered the same position change had the Cubs continued to use him at first. The lack of regular playing time would have most likely resulted in a repeat of his 2011 numbers and for the same reasons we may have never seen LaHair do what he has done so far, effectively hurting the progress of two players instead of just one.

Since Colvin is under Rockies control through the 2016 season, and Stewart under Cubs control through 2015, there is still some ways to go before the long term impact of the trade can be determined. All this does not even factor in the other two players in the trade, DJ LeMahieu

and Casey Weathers. Until then, the scale is tipped in favor of the Rockies on this one.

2012 Grade: D

2013 and Beyond Grade: Incomplete