Cubs get 3B Stewart in four-player trade

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Cubs get 3B Stewart in four-player trade

Apart from several rumors, the Cubs were quiet during this weeks MLB winter meetings in Dallas and headed back to Chicago without any new additions to the club.

But just as the weeks events wrapped up, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer pulled off their first trade.

The Cubs sent Tyler Colvin and D.J. LeMahieu to the Colorado Rockies for third baseman Ian Stewart and pitcher Casey Weathers.

Were really excited for both of these guys, Hoyer said in a conference call after the move was made official. Stewart is the first guy we circled at the beginning of the offseason. He had a disappointing 2011 season, but has a ton of potential, provides a left-handed bat at third base and is affordable. We expect big things out of Ian.

Its a classic change-of-scenery move for two former first-round picks as both Colvin and Stewart suffered through dismal 2011 seasons.

Stewart volleyed between the Rockies and their Triple-A affiliate all season while Colvin spent his share of time at Triple-A Iowa and struggled to find his groove after an impressive rookie season.

Both players hit in the .150s last season (Colvin hit .150 while Stewart didnt fare much better at .156). Stewart did not hit a home run and Colvin managed just six in 222 big-league plate appearances.

At 26, the Cubs expect a rebound from Stewart.

A change of scenery can make a big difference, Hoyer said. I read a couple quotes from Stewart at the end of the year saying he did need a change of scenery but that he wanted to see things through in Colorado. I really respect that attitude that he felt like he wanted to make it work there.

I do think a change of scenery can work and were certainly hopeful it does.

Stewart, who was taken as the 10th overall pick of the 2003 draft by the Rockies, showed promise earlier in his career, slugging 25 homers and 70 RBI in just 425 at-bats in 2009.

The deal has been in the works for a few days, but was held up until Stewart could get checked out by the Cubs doctors after finishing last season with a wrist injury.

Our doctors were very thorough, Hoyer said. We consummated deal on Tuesday evening and we ended up flying Ian into Chicago to have him checked out. Everything looks very good. Hes been hitting off tees and hes been working out. The wrist injury that bothered him at the end of the year is cleared up and hes ready to go.

The Cubs project Stewart as the starting third baseman next year and are counting on a return to form. Hoyer cannot point to anything specific as to what plagued Stewart last season, but believes the young slugger was constantly changing his stance and pressing at the plate, something he also attributes to Colvins struggles with the Cubs.

With a guy like Stewart, we control him for 3 years, Hoyer said. Hes affordable. Hell play next year at 27. Well get three years at his prime when a lot of players come into their own. Theres plenty of examples of players like this -- like Stewart, like Colvin -- who have struggled in their 20s, had a poor season and bounced back. And were hopeful Ian is one of them.

The Cubs drafted LeMahieu in the second round of the 2009 draft and hes shown a good glove all over the infield as well as a career .317 minor-league batting average.

Weathers is another former first-round pick who turned in a solid 2008 season with Colorados Double-A affiliate (3.05 ERA, 11.0 K9) but had Tommy John surgery after the season and sat out all of 2009. Hes struggled since, posting a 5.32 ERA and 48 walks in 45.2 innings at Double-A last year.

Were hoping hes a change of scenery guy as well, Hoyer said. Hes shown glimpses of his talent, but he hasnt put it together. Were hopeful that our coaches and our staff can bring it out of him.

Including the David DeJesus signing last week, this marks the second move of the Theo era at Wrigley, providing a glance at the thought process the new front office has in trying to turn this franchise around.

With our first two moves, weve attempted to make the team less right-handed than it has been and weve attempted to add better defense, Hoyer said. \We feel pretty good with both the moves that weve made.

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

MESA, Ariz. – One minute into the media scrum outside the West Wing, a Washington reporter asked Theo Epstein if this season would be considered a disappointment if the Cubs don't win the World Series.

"Oof, I hadn't thought too much about 2017 yet today," Epstein said after President Barack Obama's final official White House event. "But, yeah, I mean, that's our goal. I think the organization has come such a long way and we have this talented young core. We're clearly in a very competitive phase where I think if we do our jobs, we could be as good, if not better, than any team in baseball.

"So if you're going to compete, you set your sights for the world championship. It doesn't always work out that way. But we see it as our jobs to do everything we can to be back at the White House next year."

Whether or not Epstein would actually go through with a Donald Trump photo op is a different story. But with the Cubs signaling their Opening Night roster – keeping outfielder Matt Szczur and infielder Tommy La Stella while lefty reliever Brian Duensing begins the season on the disabled list – you could make the case that the team breaking camp on Wednesday looks better on paper than last year's World Series winner.

"This is a crazy talented group," All-Star closer Wade Davis said. "There's 10 or 12 players on this team that are some of the best players in baseball."

That doesn't mean the Cubs will develop the same chemistry or sense of purpose, but this team is completely used to the national spotlight, hanging out with celebrity fans and being followed around like rock stars on the road. 

Epstein compared this camp in Arizona with what the Boston Red Sox faced after ending the 86-year drought. 

"I will never forget in '05 spring training, we had 5,000 people the first day, 3,000 fans every day," Epstein said. "I was expecting it to be as nuts. But it's been refreshingly normal, reflecting the personality of our players, taking everything in stride."   

This doesn't mean the Cubs will stay as healthy as they did last year, when the projected rotation made 152 starts combined. But four-fifths of that group returns with Brett Anderson – given his natural ability, pitching IQ and extensive medical file – appearing to have a higher ceiling and lower floor than Jason Hammel.

As Anderson said: "It's not too often that you have a salty veteran with multiple rings (John Lackey) in front of you and a guy (Kyle Hendricks) that led the league in ERA behind you."

The 2016 Cubs won 103 games and scored 800-plus runs: without Kyle Schwarber contributing a single hit during the regular season; and with Jason Heyward finishing with a .631 OPS (or 103 points below the league average).

Manager Joe Maddon said Geek Department projections have this lineup generating even more offense with Schwarber as the new leadoff guy (even with a brace on his left leg), continued growth from young players like Addison Russell and Willson Contreras and Heyward not being one of the worst hitters in the majors.

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The Cubs are also counting on a full season from Davis, instead of a half-season rental like Aroldis Chapman. Where last year's Opening Night bullpen featured three guys who would get DFA'd or traded by midseason (Neil Ramirez, Clayton Richard, Adam Warren), this version features three guys who've already notched the final out in a World Series (Davis, Koji Uehara, Mike Montgomery).

"All the additions are wonderful complements to what this team was already," Schwarber said. "Upgrades. It's going to be really cool to see how it all plays out this season with more guys getting another year of experience under their belt."

Ian Happ raising his profile and hitting around .400 in the Cactus League should help his trade value if the Cubs need to deal for pitching at the trade deadline. The combination of Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in center field should be an improvement over Dexter Fowler for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency last year.

As someone with fresh eyes – and the perspective from being on Los Angeles Dodgers teams that won back-to-back National League West titles – Anderson hasn't see any signs of complacency.

"Not at all," Anderson said. "The young guys are still hungry. And the handful of guys that weren't here last year makes you that much more hungry and itchy to get back where they were last year.

"It's a really good mix – if not a perfect mix – of young guys, veteran guys and a couple fresh faces that are eager to get back to what these guys accomplished last year."

Cubs finalize Opening Day 25-man roster

Cubs finalize Opening Day 25-man roster

Matt Szczur or Tommy La Stella on the Cubs Opening Day roster?

How about both?

Theo Epstein told reporters Wednesday morning the Cubs plan to keep both Szczur and La Stella on the Opening Day 25-man roster with relief pitcher Brian Duensing headed to the disabled list.

Duensing, 34, has been hampered by a back issue this spring.

Szczur is out of minor-league options, meaning the Cubs would have had to either keep him on the 25-man roster or place him on waivers, which would almost assuredly mean they'd lose him to another team.

La Stella has options left and already told manager Joe Maddon this spring he would head down to the minors if asked (something La Stella was unwilling to do in August last year when he refused assignment).

The move makes the most sense for the Cubs, as the need for eight relief pitchers is not as imperative in April when the team has five off-days in the first month of the season.

Of course, the Cubs still have four days left of exhibition action, but assuming nothing else changes, here's how the Cubs roster will look Opening Night in St. Louis Sunday:

Catchers

Willson Contreras
Miguel Montero

Infielders

Anthony Rizzo
Ben Zobrist
Javy Baez
Addison Russell
Kris Bryant
Tommy La Stella

Outfielders

Jason Heyward
Albert Almora
Jon Jay
Kyle Schwarber
Matt Szczur

Starting pitchers

Jon Lester
Jake Arrieta
John Lackey
Brett Anderson
Kyle Hendricks

Relief pitchers

Mike Montgomery
Justin Grimm
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Hector Rondon
Koji Uehara
Wade Davis

The Cubs figure to eventually make room for Duensing on the roster as the bullpen could use another left-handed pitcher, but those decisions often take care of themselves with either health problems or trade options, etc.

Remember, there is a 10-day disabled list this year in the MLB, so placing a guy on the DL doesn't guarantee losing him for more than two weeks anymore.