In tandem with – and possibly directly related to – his rumor report on James Shields last night, Dave Kaplan also mentioned a couple known Chicago Cubs trade pieces that I thought best discussed separately.
First, here’s the report:
I expect Cubs to have deal done for Welington Castillo and possibly Travis Wood before they head to AZ. Phillies + a few others interested.
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) February 5, 2015
We’ve discussed Castillo at length in recent weeks, as his status went from super-duper-obvious trade to this market is tricky to maybe it’s plausible that the Cubs would carry three catchers. Although the latter sounds like window draping for an asset that the Cubs are having trouble moving, it was, for me, more about the Dexter Fowler trade:
I will admit that swapping Luis Valbuena for Dexter Fowler this week made it slightly more possible, given that Arismendy Alcantara can now be an infield AND outfield backup, and one of the other “bench” guys is now the starting third baseman. That creates a plausible bench of Alcantara, Denorfia, Castillo, Ross, and one of Olt/Sweeney/Lake (with La Stella being the “starting” third baseman for counting purposes). In this kind of scenario, the Cubs would then have a few more weeks to deal Castillo, because he could be the guy bumped whenever Kris Bryant is called up. In the interim, he can catch some, and pinch hit. (And this would give Joe Maddon the ability to do the rare in-game catching platoon, switching out Miguel Montero for a righty if and when a lefty reliever enters the game – you can’t do that if you have only two catchers on the roster).
I still don’t think that affords quite enough flexibility on the roster when you’re trying to maximize early-season wins, but, as I said, it’s now plausible.
Kaplan’s report is still fair, though, because the expectation should still be for a trade. Three catchers to start the season = plausible. Trading Castillo = more likely.
The timing, though, is interesting, given that pitchers and catchers are due to report for most teams in just two weeks. Unless the Cubs are already in advanced talks on Castillo – and his market is not clear at this point – that’s a relatively short window if the Cubs are going to deal Castillo before Spring Training starts. Maybe talks are advanced, however, and maybe Castillo’s prospective new team wants to have him in the fold to report on day one. We’ll see.
The Phillies, by the way, have always made some sense for Castillo, given their aging starter (Carlos Ruiz), their presumed preference for a one or two-year rebuild (not three or four – Castillo is under control for three years), and their, um, possible lack of significant weight given to pitch-framing analysis.
Although I wouldn’t expect a significant return for Castillo, it does seem like he should be able to net the Cubs a notable piece.
As for Wood, he is presently locked into a competition for the 4/5 spots in the Cubs’ rotation with a large host of other pitchers, though only he and Edwin Jackson carry a significant salary, which makes them the most expendable. Wood is due to make $5.685 million in 2015, his second year of arbitration. He should have a bit more value in trade than a mere salary dump, but, as we’ve seen, it’s a crowded pitching market out there.
It has always seemed like the Cubs would move Castillo and at least one back-end starter before Spring Training, but, the relative quiet in recent weeks took it off our radar a bit. Kaplan’s report squares with our expectations, and brings the topic back to the fore. So maybe we’ll see some action on these items in the coming days and weeks.
And now you start speculating about whether dealing $7.785 million in combined salary for 2015 – when the Cubs’ payroll seeems to be about maxed out – could mean other things for the Cubs. The fact that Kaplan’s report came in tandem with the Shields rumor is possibly not a coincidence, though I’d caution you against presuming the two must be related. The Cubs already were interested in exploring deals for Castillo and Wood (and/or Edwin Jackson), regardless of any salary-related implications.