As expected, the New York media has ramped up its “Cubs are totes gonna give the Mets a shortstop” coverage this week with the two teams squaring off in New York, but, to their credit, the rumors have been relatively mild in volume and tone, and irrational trade package proposals have been limited to Mets fans.
Generally speaking, the media reports have focused on understandable discussions around baseball – not just in New York or Chicago – that some kind of marriage between the Mets and Cubs makes sense, given the Cubs’ abundance of young positional talent (but lack of young, impact pitching talent), and given the Mets’ abundance of young pitching talent (but lack of young, impact positional talent). Specifically, these kinds of discussions focus on the Cubs’ shortstops.
For my part, that kind of speculative connection makes superficial sense, and I do find the conversations worth having PROVIDED all involved understand that the Cubs’ “need” to trade for pitching is probably overstated at the national level, there would be many teams other than the Mets involved if the Cubs decided to shop a shortstop, and the Cubs can accommodate all of Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, and Addison Russell at the big league level if they choose to do so.
I do find some of the “well, the Mets may actually prefer Baez,” or “they’d rather have Russell” comments humorous, however. As though the Cubs are just having a rummage sale of shortstops, with no opinion whatsoever on which players they keep. Want a shortstop? Step right up! Pick the one you like and we’ll throw in a ShamWow!
Highlighting a couple reasonable Cubs/Mets/shortstop/pitching takes, and offering some thoughts:
- Joel Sherman writes about the possible marriage between the Mets and Cubs, generally, hearing around the game that a match does make sense. Each side, however, is reticent to part with its theoretical reserves (the Cubs because they see how much value offense has these days; the Mets because they see how quickly pitching depth can disappear these days). To Sherman’s credit, he acknowledges that just one of Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard, for example, would not be enough to get one of the Cubs’ three shortstops. For that reason, he surmises that the Mets may ultimately try to acquire a lesser shortstop using their lesser pitching depth.
- John Harper takes on a variety of angles, reporting that the Mets prefer Addison Russell to Starlin Castro (for whom he says the Mets would be reluctant to deal one of their young pitchers – to which I say, then I’ve got good news: the Cubs wouldn’t trade Castro for one of Syndergaard or Wheeler anyway). The Mets may like Baez, but Harper says they believe the Cubs won’t deal him for a young pitcher. Harper expects the two sides to speak about these things in the offseason.
- One beef with Harper’s piece: “But [Castro] doesn’t walk much, making for a relatively low .332 on-base percentage …. ” That “relatively low” .332 OBP is 17 points higher than the current league average, and 24 points higher than the average for all shortstops. Know how many starting shortstops have a higher OBP right now? Five. (Incidentally, one of those is Ruben Tejada (.348), who is a walk machine, and he doesn’t even start anymore for the Mets. Talk about mixed signals.)
- I’ve mentioned it before, but I think it’s worth additional theoretical discussion: would the Cubs consider a Castro for Matt Harvey swap? Would the Mets? It may be a trickier discussion than you think. Although Harvey has top 5 pitcher upside, as he’s flashed already in his career, he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery. Castro’s contract is team-friendly through 2019 (team option for 2020), and Harvey is under control through 2018. Castro is just 24, with quite a bit of upside remaining (and what looks to be about a 2.5/3.0 WAR floor if he can keep playing shortstop). The possibility of what Harvey can be is tantalizing, but it feels like a deal that’s more risky for the Cubs than the Mets.
- In the end, this is all just for the sake of discussion. Where things stand, it still looks like the Cubs’ best bet is to stand pat on their positional talent for now, and explore free agency for their immediate pitching needs. That’s one thing the Cubs would have going for them in any actual trade talks: the free agent market is comparatively fruitful in talent when you stack it up against the positional market.