Wednesday Rockpile: Why Starting Ian Stewart at 3B in 2012 is a Good Idea

Stop me if you've heard this story before: Ian Stewart has million dollar talent but a ten cent head. At the very least, Stewart's attitude and motivation have been assailed from all sides. His plate approach is elementary, he isn't interested in improving his swing, he hasn't slopped enough hogs, whatever. We've heard all of these things and more about Ian Stewart. He had one of the worst years we've ever seen (.156/.243/.221) from a supposed Major League regular. And yet...he's still the best option for Colorado in 2012 at 3rd base.

There are a number of reasons why this is so. Let's walk through them briefly:

1. The free agent market is Aramis Ramirez and...Greg Dobbs? Wilson Betemit? Nick Punto? Really?

As this Fangraphs article elaborates, Ramirez is the only impact 3B on the market, and he'll be too expensive and too old for Colorado's tastes. Dipping into the bargain bin at 3B these days is the kind of thing that leads to you waking up and reading in the newspaper that you just signed Ty Wigginton for two years and $8 million.

And a related reason...

2. Do we really want to pay 2-3 top prospects for the privilege of paying David Wright $15 million next year?

While Wright is a great player who will almost certainly provide above average value at the position next year, do you really believe that having him on the team will be the difference between the playoffs and another cold bleak winter?  It's my firm belief that the core of the starting offense is sufficient to contend for the postseason as is, so adding Wright would add to a strength...but the prospects used to acquire Wright would probably need to include at least one of our top pitching prospects -- and major league starting pitching is the Rockies' big weakness, make no doubt about that. That's filling a small hole with the dirt that should be filling the much larger hole.

Basically...

3. Shouldn't we be spending our cash on pitching anyways?

My position is that Colorado is better off spending what payroll flexibility it has this off-season shoring up what is looking like a disastrous pitching staff for 2012. I know that Alex White was still somewhat injured during his late season call-up with Colorado, but do we really want that guy as our 3 or 4 starter next spring? Drew Pomeranz looked better than White, but he is hardly someone I feel comfortable labeling as anything but a back of the rotation starter in 2012. Will they be something more than that down the road? I really hope so...but to expect MLB-caliber performances from both of them in 2012 is unrealistic. Time to see if Tampa Bay will have an extra pitcher to trade.

Besides...

4. Stewart can't be as bad as he was in 2011, can he?

For as talented as he is, paying Stewart $2.5 million or so in 2012 is actually a pretty good bet that he will at the least be a 1 WAR player next season. He'll be (knock on wood) healthy, he's flashed MLB-caliber power and, call me crazy, but I feel like 2011 will act as a wake-up call to Ian. I'm not saying that Stewart will suddenly be a star or even an average player (though I think that both are still distinct possibilities)-- my argument is primarily that he's the incumbent, he's relatively cheap, and that he's not going to be a black hole in 2012. With the rest of the lineup Colorado will be putting out, this will be acceptable. If they want to platoon him with Jordan Pacheco, Chris Nelson, or (ugh) Wigginton, I certainly won't object.

This could be Stewart's final chance as a full-time guy, because...

5. The future is coming, and his name is Nolan Arenado. But he shouldn't be here this year.

Look, I'm a huge Nolan Arenado fan. He's the top hitting prospect in the system by far, he tore up High A ball at age 20, and he's turned into a wrecking ball at the Arizona Fall League. In the AFL, he's hitting .422 with 19 RBIs in only 10 games played. He's also inherited Charlie Blackmon's old spot near the top of Carson Cistulli's AFL SCOUT leaderboard -- and that was before his 4-5 game yesterday.

But let's be honest, Arenado probably shouldn't be in the big leagues next year. As I've mentioned above, I don't believe that Colorado will need to rush Arenado to prop up their offense -- let the kid experience the Texas League, and if he continues to rip the cover off the ball, give him some September exposure and the inside track to the 2013 job. Only a very select group of players are ready or talented enough for MLB by their 21st birthday -- and while I believe that he's a great talent with excellent make-up, Arenado needs another year of full-time minor league seasoning. In any case, it should be a summer decision rather than a spring battle.

Please allow me to summarize

Ian Stewart is cheap, he has the potential to break out, the 3B sinkhole isn't as big of a hole as you might think due to the strength of the rest of the lineup, pitching is a bigger need, and Nolan Arenado is coming soon, so if he fails there isn't too much damage done.

Baseball-Reference Nugget of the Week (brought to you by the NBA Lockout)

Innings Pitched per Appearance (Colorado bullpen, min 20 innings thrown, no starts):

7. Matt Reynolds -- 0.69 IP/appearance

6. Rex Brothers -- 0.85 IP/appearance

5. Matt Lindstrom -- 0.86 IP/appearance

4. Rafael Betancourt -- 0.92 IP/appearance

3. Huston Street -- 0.94 IP/appearance

2. Matt Belisle -- 0.97 IP/appearance

1. Edgmer Escalona -- 1.84 IP/appearance

Lesson learned: Every left-handed person secretly thinks that they could be a LOOGY

Other

Apparently there's this thing called a "World Series" starting tonight. You might want to check it out. Here's Grant Brisbee's humorous World Series Power Rankings.

Off-Topic. 

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