Cubs

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.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

Luke Stuckmeyer sits down with Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg for a wide-ranging conversation centered around the infamous "Sandberg Game."

Ryne gives insight into his feelings upon being traded to the Cubs (2:00), and discusses the reason he ended up with the No. 23 (5:00). Plus, how the 1984 season changed everything and raised his personal expectations sky-high (9:00) and the "Daily Double" dynamic between him and Bob Dernier (16:00).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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'He belongs here': What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

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USA Today

'He belongs here': What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

A big part of the Cubs’ MO during the Epstein Era has been the team’s reliance on veteran pitchers. Whether it’s Jon Lester’s cutter, Cole Hamels’ changeup, or Jose Quintana’s sinker, it’s been a while since other teams have had to step into the box against a Cubs starter without much of a scouting report. On the surface, uncertainty from a starting pitcher may sound like a bad thing, but it’s that same apprehension that makes Cubs’ prospect Adbert Alzolay’s first major league start so exciting. 

“There’s energy when you know the guy’s good,” Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s game. “There’s absolutely energy to be derived. But there’s also curiosity. Let’s see if this is real or not. I think he answered that call.” 

The good news for Alzolay and the Cubs is that much of the usual baggage that comes with one’s first major league start is already out of the way. All of the milestones that can get into a young pitchers head -- first strikeout, first hit, first home run allowed, etc -- took place during Alzolay’s four-inning relief appearance back against the Mets on June 20th. 

“I want to believe that that would help,” Maddon added. “It was probably one of the best ways you could break in someone like that. We had just the ability to do it because of the way our pitching was set up, and I think going into tonight’s game, there’s less unknown for him.”

It also helps that Alzolay will have fellow Venezuelan countryman Willson Contreras behind the plate calling his first game. There’s even a sense of novelty from Contreras’ end too. 

“[Catching someone’s debut] is really fun for me,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s a big challenge for me today. I’m looking forward to it. I’m really proud of Alzolay, and I know where he comes from - I know him from Venezuela. It’s going to be fun.”

Tuesday's plan for Alzolay doesn’t involve a specific innings limit. Maddon plans to let the rookie go as long as he can before he “gets extended, or comes out of his delivery,” as the manager put it. On the mound, he’s a flyball pitcher with good control that works quickly. Expect to see a healthy dosage of 4-seamers that sit in the mid-90’s alongside a curveball and changeup that have both seen improvements this year. 

Against the Mets, it was his changeup was the most effective strikeout pitch he had going, with three of his five K’s coming that way. It’s typically not considered his best offspeed offering, but as Theo Epstein put it on Monday afternoon, “[Alzolay] was probably too amped and throwing right through the break,” of his curveball that day.  

It’s obviously good news for the Cubs if he continues to flash three plus pitches, long the barometer of a major league starter versus a bullpen guy. Even if he doesn’t quite have the feel for all three yet, it’s his beyond-the-years demeanor that has those within the organization raving. 

“The confidence he showed during his first time on the mound, as a young pitcher, that’s a lot,” Contreras said. “That’s who he can be, and the command that he has of his pitches is good, especially when he’s able to go to his third pitch.”