Buster Olney reports that the Cubs would be a fit for the Diamondbacks to trade struggling slugging RF Justin Upton. The catch is that the price would certainly include Starlin Castro. This is a deal that has to be at least considered if not actively explored by the Cubs front office, and one that I will try to lay out the case for the Cubs making this unconventional deal.
The Diamondbacks are willing to listen to offers as the supremely talented outfielder struggles with his worst season and slump of his major league career. Arizona is looking on the outside of the playoff picture currently after a surprise run last year. Kevin Towers has been willing to listen to offers for Upton as the Diamondbacks biggest trade chip. The Diamondbacks lineup has been particularly good this season getting above average production at every lineup spot except shortstop, third base and centerfield.
Starlin Castro as the centerpiece of a deal would give the Diamondbacks a shortstop that the team controls for four more seasons. Current Arizona shortstop Stephen Drew was accused of worrying more about his next contract than the team by the team owner.
The package that I have in my mind is Starlin Castro and Josh Vitters. The deal would certainly have to be for more than just Starlin Castro, and the resurgence of Josh Vitters could not be better timed from the Cubs perspective. The Cubs might have to throw in something else along with it to make the Diamondbacks bite, but I think the possibility of adding two young left side of the diamond infielders would intrigue Arizona.
Now that is a huge price to pay for a player, and certainly the argument could be made that this team needs to be adding more pieces than losing pieces. The deal making the Cubs older is another concern, and that is the opposite direction on the spectrum the Cubs want to move at this point. Justin Upton, however, is a unique talent. Upton is just 24 years old and is signed through 2015. He broke into the majors as a starting position player at the age of 19, and players that do that are a very special class of baseball players.
The reason the Cubs need to make this deal is because Justin Upton is a better offensive player already than Starlin Castro’s peak. Upton best season saw him hit .289/.369/.529 with 31 homeruns. We hope that Castro might turn into a guy that puts up a line like .300/.350/.500 with 20 homeruns. Of course there is a difference between a RF and a SS putting up those numbers, but is the positional difference worth 50 OPS? This little thought experiment also assumes that Justin Upton has no potential to grow and that Castro will reach his peak.
Both players are suffering through perhaps their worst campaigns to date, and Upton at his lowest point has put up an OBP 6 points higher than Castro’s highest OBP. Castro’s walk rate has declined every season, and his best rate is over 3% lower than Justin Upton’s lowest rate in his career and nearly 5% lower than his career average. Upton’s power potential and batting eye make him the more valuable baseball player, and the opportunity to add that cannot be passed up lightly.
The Cubs do have a plethora of outfield prospects, and trading Castro does create a hole at shortstop. Prospects are far from a guarantee though, and if every one of them made it would give the Cubs premium trade chips. Cost controlled talent will always be the most prized commodity in baseball, and could be used to fill gaping holes in the system like top of the rotation pitching. Castro would certainly be a loss, but the offense gained by Upton should make up for the loss. The Cubs also have a number of second base prospects that could allow the Cubs to shift Barney to shortstop for now. Junior Lake and Javier Baez are also possibilities to fill the void of Castro. Ultimately, the point is that the Cubs need to add elite level talent, and Justin Upton is a middle of the order bat that we hope that Castro might become.
There are concerns surrounding Justin Upton, and many are wondering why a team would deal a 24 year old with Upton’s skills and production on a team friendly deal. Some baseball people have openly wondered if Upton’s shoulder is still hurt sapping his power. The Cubs would have to double and triple check Upton’s medical records to see if there is a larger issue. But Upton is a better offensive player than Castro is capable of being, and the Cubs have to at least consider making this deal. I at least am watching this series imagining what an Upton/Rizzo third and fourth hitter combo might look like for the next decade.