It was a logical talking point after the Chicago Cubs picked up another top shortstop prospect this weekend: will the Cubs consider trading Starlin Castro?
Hell, I’ll concede that it was a reasonable talking point even before the Cubs added Addison Russell, a top six prospect in baseball, whom many see as a clear future shortstop. That’s because Javier Baez, 21, is getting better every day at AAA, and his highest value is clearly at shortstop (where he could possibly be a better defensive player than Castro).
I also think it’s reasonable to point out, before engaging in any trade speculation, that the Cubs could – and have laid out how – accommodate all of their top young infield prospects, should the need arise in the near-term. For example, Baez could go to second, while Russell goes to third. Kris Bryant could go to the outfield, and Arismendy Alcantara could play out in center (as he has been intermittently at Iowa). In that scenario, Castro stays at shortstop, and the Cubs still have another outfield spot for guys like Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber, Billy McKinney or Albert Almora, should one of them move quickly.
In reality, not all of those guys will pan out/stay healthy, so it’s not really worth debating the precise position of each player. The important point is: the Cubs don’t have to trade anyone.
That said, of course I thought it, too, when the Samardzija/Hammel deal crossed the wire: the Cubs are going to trade from a position of strength. Eventually.
Castro’s bounce-back season has made him all the more attractive to potential suitors, especially given his age (24) and team-friendly contract ($44 million over the next five years, with a team option in 2020). Of course, those are the very same reasons that Castro remains attractive to the Cubs.
In recent days, specifically, the New York Mets have come up heavily in whispers, rumors, and speculation. Like the Cubs, they are a rebuilding major-market team dealing with financial issues, but expecting to turn the corner – both in talent and money – within the next couple of years. Unlike the Cubs, the Mets are strong in young pitching talent, but weak on the positional side. They have no obvious long-term answer at shortstop, and Castro must look mighty appetizing – and realistic, given the pitching talent.
John Harper wrote about these Mets-Castro rumors/whispers/speculations/whatever today, saying that this presented a perfect opportunity for the Mets. Indeed, one Mets official told Harper it was “a perfect match.” Harper speaks to other sources who indicate that a deal would make sense, though all stop short of saying that this is something the Mets are actively pursuing – at least right now.
Ones of the names mentioned in the piece is top Mets pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard, a 21-year-old righty at AAA (peripherals are still solid, even as he gets hit around – most do – in Las Vegas). He’s considered by all to be one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Others who come up are Zack Wheeler, a 24-year-old righty with a bright future who is already pitching all right in the bigs, and Jacob deGrom, a 26-year-old righty with a low ceiling, but who is also pitching acceptably in the bigs right now. Harper suggests the Mets wouldn’t give up Syndergaard for Castro, and also wouldn’t give up Wheeler/deGrom. I don’t think the Cubs would do either of those deals, either, for what it’s worth. If these two teams actually spoke, frankly, I’d be shocked if Matt Harvey – currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery – wasn’t one of the first names the Cubs mentioned. I’m not saying that’s a deal that gets done, I’m just say that for a 24-year-old, established big league shortstop on a team-friendly contract (and currently the third or fourth best offensive shortstop in the game), the price would be far steeper than it sounds like Harper is imagining.
David Lennon cautions that the Mets aren’t going to be in a hurry to deal for Castro, hearing from those in the organization that they’d prefer to see what happens internally over the next few months before committing to anything long-term. Further, Castro’s low-OBP tendencies – this is Lennon’s point, not mine – doesn’t fit the organizational ethos. (My quibble? Castro’s .332 OBP this year bests the NL average OBP by 20 points. He may not get it the way you want him to get it, but he’s getting it.)
A parting thought on these Castro rumors, which aren’t likely to abate any time soon: it’s highly unlikely that the Cubs would deal Castro during this season. Instead, it seems more likely that they’d let everyone play things out this year, and regroup in the offseason, when (1) they have a better idea of what they have in Castro/Baez/Russell, (2) a full range of suitors would be available to bid, and (3) there’s a little more time to put together what could be a complicated, risky, and franchise-altering move.
That said, if the Cubs did shop Castro this month, they would stand to benefit from the dramatic value increase that comes with dealing a guy to a team that already knows it is in contention. Such teams know they are “buying” critical incremental wins in a July trade (unlike teams in the offseason, that merely hope they are buying them). In other words, while the market for Castro might be reduced right now, the value might never be higher.
… but even that leaves me unconvinced that we’ll see the Cubs seriously entertain a Castro trade right now. First of all, the front office went out of its way to assure the media, the public, and Castro, himself, that acquiring Russell had nothing to do with their Castro plans. Posturing? Maybe. But it might also be true. Secondly, the fact that Castro is under control for so long at such reasonable terms makes the difference between his value today and after the season much smaller than it would be if he were, for example, a free agent after next season. Even after the year, he can still provide a new team with years and years of value.
So, we’ll see if stuff pops up this month. I do think the Cubs will be best served eventually exploring the value of their positional surplus. Sure, you can accommodate them all if you have to, but at some point, you have to ask whether you can improve the total value to your organization by flipping surplus for need.