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Baseball Tue Feb 07 2012

Coming & Going: Cubs Third Basemen

It's been a tumultuous offseason for the local nines, with the Cubs and White Sox both saying goodbye to big names who played big roles in recent years. Let's get you up to speed before spring training arrives. (Part of a series.)

    

Goodbye: Aramis Ramirez
Last season: .306 BA, 26 HR, 93 RBI, .871 OPS (.361 OBP, .510 SLG)

Hello: Ian Stewart
Last season: .156 BA, 0 HR, 6 RBI, .464 OPS (.243 OBP, .221 SLG)
Triple-A last season: .275 BA, 14 HR, 42 RBI, .950 OPS (.359 OBP, .591 SLG)

What Happened?

After nine seasons on the North Side, Aramis Ramirez's contract was up. Ramirez was seeking a multi-year deal, and the Cubs seemingly didn't want to offer more years than that. Ramirez turned down arbitration and signed with Milwaukee. The 33-year old third baseman landed a three-year, $36 million deal with the Brewers, including a mutual option for the fourth year. Aramis' departure gave Chicago a compensation draft pick between the first and second round of the 2012 draft.

To replace Ramirez, the Cubs traded Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu to Colorado for relief prospect Casey Weathers and third baseman Ian Stewart. Stewart figures to have the inside track of starting the season at third.

How Will the Cubs Miss Ramirez?

Ramirez had a fine season for Chicago in 2011, and over the last decade he has been one of the best third basemen in the game. Every season was rock solid; other than an injury-plagued 2009 season, Ramirez was good for around 20 to 30 home runs a year and 90 to 100 RBI. Five times he hit over .300 with the Cubs, and five times he had an OPS higher than .900.

Plus, over the last three years, Ramirez had a .313 batting average with runners in scoring position. With the bases empty, he had a .277 average. After the signing, Brewers' GM Doug Melvin said "He's got some pretty impressive credentials. I know when we always played them, he's the one guy that I always feared coming up there in key situations, with men on base."

Naturally, one would assume the Cubs would have loved to have Ramirez back for 2012, but the price tag and commitment was probably too much for a slugger nearing his mid-30s, especially for a rebuilding team. Also, could Ramirez's 2011 season been a typical "contract year"? Is a regression inevitable? The Cubs didn't think bringing Ramirez back was worth the risk, so they let him go.

What Does Stewart Bring to the Cubs?

Judging by his stats, not that much. Stewart hasn't found a groove in the big leagues yet. His best season was in 2009 when he hit 25 home runs, but hit only .228 and struck out 138 times. Last year he had a decent-to-good season for the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox, but wasn't very good at all for the Rockies. In the field, Stewart isn't particularly known for his glove. As a Fan Graphs report says, "Total Zone, UZR/150, and the Fan Scouting Report all agree that Stewart plays third above averagely." So... there's that.

But there is hope yet for a Stewart resurgence at Wrigley. Stewart will be 27 when the season starts, and he was the 10th pick in the 2003 draft. If there is any time for him to make a leap, the time is now.

And then there's the glowing quote from general manager Jed Hoyer. In the Sun-Times report of the Stewart trade, the new GM said this: "'Stewart's the guy we first circled at the beginning of the offseason as a very good fit. Obviously it was a very disappointing 2011 season, but we felt there's a ton of potential in there. He's a left-handed bat, he's the right age, he's affordable, controllable. We expect big things out of Ian."

The Cubs got their guy. The organization has a gut feeling about Stewart having a good year. Perhaps that overrides the statistics that say otherwise.

 
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