Originally written on Pirates Prospects  |  Last updated 11/15/14

Colorado Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart bats against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Coors Field in Denver on June 21. 2009. Colorado beat Pittsburgh 5-4. The Rockies have won 16 of their last 17 games. (UPI Photo/Gary C. Caskey) Photo via Newscom

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Throughout the 2011-2012 off-season, Kevin Creagh will be looking at players that have been rumored to be non-tender or trade candidates, based primarily off of rumors and reports from MLB Trade Rumors.  The review isn’t to suggest that the players are being pursued by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The purpose of the series is to explore the potential options on the market to see who might be a good fit for the 2012 roster.

On Monday, MLB Trade Rumors published their most recent list of players who could be non-tendered.  The list had 50 possible players on it, broken down by Hitters and Pitchers.  In recent weeks, we’ve examined the possibility of Mike Aviles and Chris Volstad on this site.

After checking this most recent comprehensive list out, the name that caught my eye was Ian Stewart from the Colorado Rockies.  Let me preface this article by saying that I would be surprised if the Rockies non-tendered Stewart, although he seems to have definitely fallen out of favor with the Rockies.  Stewart’s OPS in his preceding 3 years were 804, 785, and 781 from 2008-2010.

2011 was pretty much a nightmare of a season for Ian Stewart.  Think about Pedro Alvarez’s season and then increase that by 25%.  For the year, Stewart batted .156/.243/.221 (464 OPS) with only a .208 wOBA.  He was demoted to AAA in April and recalled in late May, only to continue to struggle and then hurt his wrist in August while at AAA again.  To date, he has not resumed swinging a bat.

So why be interested in picking him up, right?  Stewart is going to be 27 in 2012 and hit 25 HR in 2009 and 18 in 2010, all while providing slightly above-average defense at 3B (career 2.3/150 UZR).  Perhaps the Rockies are just tired of him or perhaps they can’t wait around for Stewart if they want to contend in the NL West this year, but if a team is willing to give up on a 3B entering his physical peak years, then the Pirates should consider trading to acquire his rights before he reaches the open market.  Stewart is a Super 2 player and MLBTR has forecast his 2012 salary to be $2 million in his 2nd year of 4 under arbitration.  A team would potentially have control of Stewart for 3 more years.

Stewart is not a Coors Field creation, either.  For his career, his home and road splits are fairly even.  At home, his triple slash line is .243/.337/.430 (767 OPS) and his road line is .229/.309/.427 (736 OPS).  As you can see, he’s not a superstar, but his bat is at least league-average for 3B.  The other facet of Stewart is that he does not have a pronounced lefty-righty split.  Stewart is a left-handed batter, but his line against LHP is .223/.320/.406 (726 OPS) while it is .240/.324/.435 (759 OPS) against RHP.

Of course the Pirates have their own 3B to worry about in Alvarez, so pairing 2 bounce-back candidates and hoping that one will work out is not a typical recipe for success.  However, due to his relative success against LHP, Stewart could have value as a platoon partner for Alvarez if he continues to struggle against LHP and act as a possible defensive replacement in late innings due to his better defensive numbers.

That last sentence is more of an indictment on Alvarez’s career to this point, than it is an endorsement of Stewart’s.  No one hoped that Alvarez would be part of a platoon and a defensive liability when he was drafted in 2008.  However, as we stand in November 2011 that is what the Pirates have to consider.

Ian Stewart could very well have a severely damaged wrist internally.  He could be a player that peaked at age 25 and will be out of the league before age 30.  However, of all the Non-Tender position player candidates out there, he is the one that would have the most upside if he rebounds.

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