While pitching will always be baseball's most precious commodity, young shortstops aren't far behind. The Cubs have one of the very best in Starlin Castro, who didn't turn 21 until two weeks ago. Since being called up last May, he's hit .304/.350/.418 in 538 plate appearances, including .367/.406/.567 in the early goings of 2011.
When it comes to long-term contracts for young shortstops, three names jump to mind (in recent years): Jose Reyes, Troy Tulowitzki, and Hanley Ramirez. Let's compare their stats through the first 132 or so games of their careers, the number Castro has played to date…
Castro: .304/.350/.418, 33 2B, 7 3B, 3 HR, 10 SB
Reyes: .283/.307/.407, 28 2B, 6 3B, 7 HR, 32 SB
Tulowitzki: .271/.349/.410, 19 2B, 3 3B, 15 HR, 8 SB
Ramirez: .279/.345/.447, 32 2B, 9 3B, 12 HR, 43 SB
Castro's early career peformance ranks right up there with the other three, though Reyes was the only other guy playing full-time in the show at age 20. The Mets' shortstop gave up his three arbitration years for $12.25MM (total) plus one free agent year at $9MM. Tulo's first extension bought out his three arb years for $17.25MM plus one free agent year for $10MM. Ramirez's contract was the biggest of them all, buying out his three arb years for $23.5MM plus three free agent years for an average of $15.5MM per season. Both Reyes and Tulo had options for a second free agent year at similar money to the first.
Castro could qualify as a Super Two after the 2012 season since he spent 150 days in the Major Leagues last season, meaning he'd be arbitration-eligible four times instead of three. The three above contracts aren't a perfect comparison in that case, but it's clear that if the Cubs want to lock-up their franchise cornerstone, they'll need to spend $20MM or so for his arbitration years plus something like $12-15MM per free agent year.
The Cubs have a ton of money coming off the books after the season in the form of Aramis Ramirez ($14.6MM), Kosuke Fukudome ($14.5MM), Carlos Silva ($11.5MM), Carlos Pena ($10MM), and John Grabow ($4.8MM), but they also have to prepare for sizable arbitration raises to Matt Garza, Geovany Soto, and Randy Wells. Locking up Castro will give them not only some cost certaintly going forward, but also peace of mind that one of the game's top young talents will be in Chicago's north side well into the future.