As we recently outlined in our offseason outlook series, the Cubs are in a fantastic financial position. With the exception of Jon Lester, the best players on their roster are either club controlled or on a team friendly extensions. In fact, only three players (besides Lester) are on substantial, market-rate contracts – Miguel Montero, Jason Hammel, and Starlin Castro.
Castro’s name stands out like a sore thumb. The 25-year-old has six years of major league experience and 11.3 career WAR. He was supposed to be a long-term cog for Chicago, but now the Cubs have a roster crunch in the middle infield. Addison Russell has firmly claimed the starting shortstop job. Next season, second base will likely belong to one of Castro or Javier Baez with Chris Coghlan and Tommy La Stella providing depth.
Given the available internal depth, it’s widely assumed that the Cubs will shop Castro this winter. But what can they get in return? While Castro is young, he’s inked to a four-year, $38MM contract. If he was a free agent, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes thinks Castro could sign for those same four-years and $38MM – if not more. However, he’s hurt his stock significantly with recent struggles.
Castro has looked like two different players throughout his career. In 2013 and 2015, he barely outperformed replacement level. In 2011, 2012, and 2014, he produced three WAR seasons. Overall, he’s a slightly below average defender at shortstop with inconsistent offense.
Which player is he – the above average shortstop or the replacement level depth guy? He’s probably both. Offensively, he’s a slightly aggressive hitter with decent but modest pop (10 to 14 home runs in each of the last five seasons). He keeps his strikeouts to a minimum, but he also doesn’t walk.
Without serious power or on base skills, he leans heavily on a high average to provide value. In his best seasons, he posted a .315 or better BABIP with a league average line drive rate. In his two worst years, his line drive rate dropped while his ground ball rate increased. That could indicate any number of mechanical, mental, or preparation-related issues.
Whoever employs him next season should probably plan to take the good with the bad. At worst, he probably won’t embarrass your club. At best, he’s a solid core performer. But what is that worth? We know consistency can be important to major league clubs. Building a contender depends upon managing both floor and ceiling. Castro’s inconsistency is point against him.
For argument’s sake, let’s say he projects as a two-win player. Teams pay about $12MM to $16MM per season for two-win players. With those assumptions, he’s worth anywhere from $10MM to $26MM more than his current contract (we could get more complicated with the model too). If that’s the case, the Cubs should find somebody willing to offer a relatively high profile prospect. A true top prospect is definitely off the table. Although there isn’t a fit with the Rangers, I could see somebody like Chi Chi Gonzalez as a match in value.
However, we could easily build a lower projection and hence a lower surplus value. Most models usually assume that players will decline pretty consistently from year-to-year, even when they’re young like Castro. Breakouts happen but injuries and other factors tend to sap talent more reliably.
Deciding upon the projection is the hard part. If the Cubs mean to trade Castro, they will have to shop around to find which teams have the rosiest outlook. As you might expect, there aren’t any comparable trades to reference. Young players who sign seemingly team-friendly extensions usually stay with their club until late in the contract. When they’re discarded, it’s usually because they’ve completely cratered.
We’re left to guess how rival clubs may view Castro. Will they see upside related to his youth? Is he valuable due to his position and potential for above average production? Can opposing GMs exploit the Cubs roster crunch by playing coy? These are just some of the factors to consider as you answer today’s poll.