Now that the Starlin Castro contract is official, its time to do a little dissecting of the deal. I was the one that wrote a whole blog on what the the Cubs might do with Castro in the off-season. No where in that blog did I mention a contract extension as a possibility. So, I will try to remain unbiased, and look at this contract with an open mind.
Just looking at the numbers of the deal, it seems like a good deal for both sides. The Cubs essentially bought out Castro’s arbitration years, and in return afforded long term security to Castro. The contract basically will pay Castro about $8.5 million per season over the next 7 years. The Cubs are over paying now, and in turn will be paying Castro well under market value come year 3 or 4 of the deal.
Unlike the old regime, Theo and company don’t hand out no trade clauses like they’re super sizing a value meal. The Castro contract is no different. Obviously this becomes important if Castro’s development curve doesn’t ramp back up in the next few years. He will be young enough throughout the course of the contract that even an underachieving Castro will still be tradable, as there is always someone willing to take a chance on a talented young player who plays a premium position. The money on the contract will not be a factor if it ever comes to that point.
Even with this somewhat down year, Castro is only 22. Looking at his similarity scores on baseball reference, of the top 10 most similar players at age 22, four are hall of famers. Now take that as it is, because also on that list is former Sox Mike Caruso. However, the most similar player is Gary Templeton. We all hope Castro develops into a better player than Templeton was, but even Templeton in today’s game would be worth more than 8.5 million on the open market. Ideally, Castro develops some power as he matures, and continues to improve his defense. Its few and far between in the history of the Major Leagues where you can find someone as young as Castro is, who has been able to come to the major’s and hit .300 from day one.
Clearly the Cubs wanted to get this done now, as to avoid arbitration. But the clear value to this won’t be realized for a few years when this team is ready to contend. As they look at various contracts coming off the books in the next couple of years, coinciding with hopefully some of the young players blossoming into stars, they will be looking to add that final piece or two through some free agent signings. Trust me, this front office already has a game plan, and idea of what free agents they may be interested in going 2 or 3 years out. With out having signed Castro, it would be very hard to project Castro’s year to year salary going forward. This way, they now have a static figure they can build their budgets around.
The one negative I keep coming up in my mind to this contract is Justin Upton. What does that mean? We all heard the possible rumors of a deal involving Castro and Upton in some way. Upton seemingly has fallen out of favor in Arizona for much the same reason Castro sometimes is vilified for. Maturity issues and lack of focus. Upton is only 3 years older than Castro and Arizona also signed him to an extension that averages out to be about $11 million per season over the next 4 years. The last two years of that contract is heavily back loaded however. So, would I rather have Upton over Castro taking into account the extra 3 million a year? Of course. Upton has shown the ability to hit for high end power since he arrived in Arizona. When Upton was coming up, he was described as a possible 40-40 player, that’s a special talent. Castro, while being a very highly regarded prospect, was never given that kind of projections. To win championships, you need superstars. Upton has the chance to be one, I don’t think Castro does. Hence the Gary Templeton similarity score.
Now in fairness, the Cubs won’t be paying Castro like a superstar and the contract allows them to spend money on acquiring a superstar when they deem necessary. Hopefully Castro outplays this contract and becomes a vital piece of a championship team, although he won’t ever be the best player on a contender. Maybe the likes of Javier Baez, Albert Almora, or Jorge Solar end up being the superstars the Cubs need. Or maybe underpaying Castro allows the Cubs to go out and sign the superstar they need.
Well, while writing this I seem to have convinced myself that this was a good deal for the Cubs. While I’ll never believe Castro will be the best player on a World Series team, this contract allows the Cubs to make sure he isn’t at least paid like one.