What to do with Starlin Castro? That’s a question I never thought I’d be asking this soon. Most Cub fans realize the attention has turned to the future, and the first question the front office should be asking is if they envision the future with or without Starlin Castro.
Let’s look at what we know. Castro was drafted and developed by the previous regime. Theo and Jed have not shown incredible patience or even acknowledgement of the previous regime’s prospects, a prime example being Andrew Cashner. As a major league ready young pitcher with a plus arm, they traded him without hesitation. While yes they did turn that into Anthony Rizzo, and Cashner himself has been injured, but for an organization devoid of any young pitching talent Theo and Jed didn’t have any hesitation in trading him.
This bring us to the second point about Castro. He doesn’t fit the Epstein player mold. That type of player would consist generally of a high OBP, and play good defense. At this point in his career Castro possesses neither of these skills. A low OBP and or bad defense could be overlooked if he was hitting 25 plus homeruns a year and driving in 100 runs. He will eventually develop 20-25 homerun power, and could improve his defense if he chooses to put the work in, but it is very difficult to change a free-swinger into a pitch taking high on base player this late in the players development cycle. And speaking of putting the work in to improve his defense, Castro has to prove to the front office that his lackadaisical at times attitude is something he will change as he matures. When the new front office took over early this year one of the first things they implemented was The Cubs Way, a system wide top to bottom instructional playbook if you will. Players that don’t fall in line with this structure will not last in this organization going forward which brings us to the last point of why a Castro trade will be at the forefront of the front office’s minds this off season.
The Cubs have organizational depth. As I stated, the Cubs have a serious problem in the minors when it comes to pitching depth, however they do have a pretty good stable of young hitters in the lower levels. At least three of which are shortstops. The obvious one is Javier Baez, a beast of a hitter that has already been promoted twice this year. Baez has hit everywhere he has gone, although he has struggled a bit since being promoted to high-A Daytona. Baez is the best of the bunch, but most scouts seem to think he projects to a third baseman as he gets bigger and his body fills out. Also on the list would be cult-hero Junior Lake. Cubs fans seem to think much more highly of him than some scouts do, especially Kevin Goldstein. Lake is already at AA and is producing a pretty good season there, so the next logical step next year would be AAA. Lake is probably the closest to being in the majors and is already on the 40 man roster. Once again, though, scouts seem to disagree on whether Lake will be a shortstop at the major leagues.
The sleeper here may be 2011 draftee Timothy Saunders. Saunders was picked in the 32nd round in the recently completed draft out of division III Marietta College. He tore up the Arizona League and was recently promoted to high A Daytona, skipping 2 levels. That pretty impressive for a player who began his professional career 2 months ago. Even in the unlikely event Saunders were to remain on that ridiculous fast track, he still would be at least a few years from the Majors. So, who would play shortstop in the short term if Castro is dealt this off season? Well the best option would be already on the Major League roster in Darwin Barney. Many including Steve Stone believe Barney could be a stellar defensive shortstop given the chance. He has proven his defensive abilities with his current error-less streak at second. Barney may not carry the offensive abilities that Starlin Castro does, but his defense and all around instincts would be an improvement over Castro’s. I understand this opens up a hole at second base, but as a less impact position, finding a second baseman either short term or long term is a much easier proposition. Heck, I could even envision taking a chance with Adrian Cardenas as an everyday second baseman. He’s isn’t the highest rated prospect, but neither was Barney and he now sports a higher WAR (wins above replacement) than Ryan Braun. Although, admittedly a flawed stat, Barney’s high WAR value is based almost solely on his defense. That shows you how good he has been defensively. That’s something this front office stresses.
So now that we’ve made the case on why trading Castro needs to be seriously considered, let’s take a look at some options and of course dream trade scenarios that may present themselves this off season. First place we need to look is Epstein’s former employers, the Boston Red Sox. Obviously Theo would know the system and they haven’t been afraid to make trades this season, albeit minor ones involving Marlon Byrd and Justin Germano. Two reasons why Boston would be high on the list; they could use a young shortstop, and more than likely after this disastrous season they will be looking to retool and purge the clubhouse this off season. The first place the Cubs would start would still probably be Daniel Bard, although he has been terrible this year in the minors. He still is a highly rated pitching prospect with a plus arm that may benefit from a change of scenery. The problem is that is not nearly a big enough haul for Castro, and I’m not enamored with much else in Boston’s minor league system.
While I’m sure Boston would love to throw either John Lackey or Josh Beckett the Cubs way, that’s not happening. So what else? A couple of wild cards and or dream scenarios. Boston was rumored to have discussed trading Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester around the trading deadline this year. Now Lester has been bad and Ellsbury is injury prone, but once again a change of scenery would benefit both. When right, Lester is a Cy-Young candidate and would be pitching in a much weaker league and division. Ellsbury is an MVP candidate when healthy, and playing in the smaller Wrigley outfield might be a little easier on the legs. Both our still young enough to be part of a core to build around. Now Boston won’t trade both, and more than likely will keep both Lester and Ellsbury and focus their efforts on ridding players like the aforementioned Beckett, Lackey and Carl Crawford. But there is no reason to think about trading Castro and not think big.
The next place you would look would be San Diego. Jed Hoyer’s former employer, as well as newly hired scouting director Jaron Madison. Together Hoyer and Madison built San Diego’s entire minor league system. Which is one that is very well regarded throughout baseball. San Diego’s system is bit hitter top heavy, but a couple of names the Cubs could be looking at are Robbie Erlin and Adys Portillo, both young starting pitchers. Erlin is one of San Diego’s top prospects and might be ready for the majors sometime next year so he may be hard to pry away even in a Castro trade. Portillo has a huge arm, but hasn’t quite figured out how to be a pitcher and not a thrower. I still see San Diego unlikely. San Diego probably isn’t in the position to be trading away prospects, even for a long term shortstop solution. But bare in mind, the fact that Hoyer and now Madison know every player in San Diego’s system some sort of trade between the two teams will probably happen sometime this off season.
Those are the two obvious Castro trade partners, but if the last off season taught us anything, there is always the mystery team. A team such as Arizona. There was a small rumor, the Cubs discussed Castro in blockbuster deal involving Justin Upton. There could be other deals that pop up as well. This off season will go along way toward building the Cubs into a contender in the next few years. Just by listening to the rumors, we will be able to determine what the Cubs front office thinks of Castro and his future with the organization. Castro seems like a good kid, and is still young enough and is likely to get much better, but this is a new regime in Chicago. We have seen already, this front office likes to work with their own players. Whether that is in the front office or on the field. So take this time to do what you have to do, to prepare yourselves for the inevitable Starlin Castro trade rumors this off season. Regardless, its going to be a very interesting and active off season this year. Should be fun.