Are the Chicago Cubs Overpaying for the Starlin Castro Extension?

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Are the Chicago Cubs Overpaying for the Starlin Castro Extension?

Chicago Cubs

Although the extension has not yet been finalized – it could take another week or two – the prognostication has already started on whether the reported seven year, $60 million (plus an option year at the end) deal is a steal for the Cubs, a fair price, or an overpayment. For me, I’m going to wait until we see the particulars before digging in my heels too aggressively.

Until then, Dave Cameron at FanGraphs has an interesting take on the reported deal, comparing Castro to other young stars who’ve signed extensions that covered a portion of their arbitration years. Specifically, FanGraphs focused on other players who had reached Super Two status, and would thus qualify for four years of arbitration, rather than the usual three.

By looking at each player’s pro-rated WAR (how much WAR they would have accumulated in the average season before the extension), we can compare each to Castro’s reported deal, and get a sense of whether it falls in line, or is an outlier in either direction. From Dave Cameron at FanGraphs:

The entire article is well worth a read, but the salient points about the chart:

Among those who did sign away free agent years, though, it is interesting that there’s a nearly perfect linear increase in terms of years and dollars with each each extension. Cano got 4/30, Gonzalez got 5/40, Bruce got 6/50, and Castro has got 7/60 – in each case, the guaranteed dollar amount went up by $10 million for each additional year added on. And, note the relationship between length of deal and age – including the team options, the contracts for Bruce, Cano, and Castro all end after their age 30 season despite the fact that they signed them at different ages. Bruce and Cano were coming off better seasons than what Castro has posted this year, but he had youth on his side, which is why (along with inflation, anyway) he got more guaranteed money than either one.

The other notable takeaway from these contracts? You probably don’t want your best young players qualifying for Super-Two status. For comparison, both Justin Upton and Andrew McCutchen also signed long term extension for $51 million over six guaranteed years with a little over two years of service time under their belts when they signed the deal, and both were coming off substantially better seasons than what Castro has put up this year. Castro got more guaranteed money than either one despite being an inferior player because of that extra year of arbitration eligibility.

Had Castro been called up a couple of months later in 2010, he would have been looking at another year of near-minimum salary, and would have been negotiating from a significantly reduced amount of leverage. If you look at the deals signed by the like of Alexei Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia, you’ll notice that Castro’s Super-Two status probably got him an extra $10 to $20 million over the life of the deal.

A few thoughts.

(1.) The dynamics for extensions seem to have changed considerably since the announcement of the new CBA, with teams allocating more resources to the big league payroll, and to ensure that they keep their own young talent. I think comparing this extension to those that came before the CBA is, well, it’s not quite an apples/oranges thing, but it’s close. For the Cubs to have inked a deal that is largely in line with similar players from as far back as three, four years ago seems like a nice get.

(2.) Starlin Castro is a shortstop – who’s become an above average defensive shortstop this year – whose bat projects to get almost as good as a number of the compared hitters, including those in the article who were not Super Twos. Yes, the Cubs are absolutely paying for the projection rather than the production, but again, we’re talking about a good defensive shortstop with a possibly big bat. Those guys are always going to get a premium because there are extraordinarily few of them.

(3.) FanGraphs is absolutely right that the Super Two status is a killer to the tune of as much as $10 million over the course of Castro’s four arbitration years (and perhaps even more, when considering the full life of the deal). Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry gets a lot of grief for calling up Castro when he did in 2010, rather than waiting another month or two and staving off Super Two status. Some of that criticism is fair, but let’s not lose historical perspective: in early May 2010, when Castro was called up, the Chicago Cubs were but five games out in the NL Central (just two games under .500), a race they were expected to compete in. They had serious issues in the middle infield, and Castro was raking in the minors. The call-up was not only not panned at the time, it was mostly lauded. And the Cubs waited long enough to ensure he didn’t reach free agency a year early, so at least there was that.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.