The news of the evening appears to be that Dioner Navarro is getting close to a deal, and the tone suggests that he’s not coming back to the Cubs:
Told Dioner Navarro is moving to resolution, Boston not in pursuit
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) November 25, 2013
This means that the Cubs are going to have to look elsewhere for a backup catcher. We’ll keep an eye on that one because there’s a nonzero chance the Cubs may be the team moving to resolution, but I doubt it. Meanwhile, let’s turn our focus to the shortstop market. We know that Jhonny Peralta, he of the funkily-spelled name, has signed with St. Louis to be their better-than-Pete Kozma shortstop. Peralta signed for four years and $53MM, which is probably more than most people expected (including myself). Also in the mix is Stephen Drew, who is decent defensively but doesn’t actually have that hot of a bat. However, with shortstop being as thin of a position as it is, the Red Sox felt comfortable giving Drew the qualifying offer, which was rejected, so Drew will bring back a draft pick whenever he’s signed. That’s $14.1MM for one year that was rejected because Drew is banking on the fact that he will make much more than that. Finally, we have this little bit of news via HardballTalk:
That is a guy entering his age-36 season who hasn’t played since 2012 getting tons of interest from EIGHT teams. Now this might be the agent blowing smoke, but this does speak to the thin crop of shortstops available. Most of the good ones, like Elvis Andrus or Troy Tulowitzki, are locked in with their respective teams and might be difficult to move (though there were rumors of the Cardinals trying to trade for Tulo). This is a market where Jhonny Peralta, who was suspended for 50 games for PEDs, commanded a pretty sizable but ultimately fair contract given the dearth of talent available at the position.
Sorting the shortstops (minimum 400 PA) by wOBA, we find only 24 individuals and most of them suck with the bat. Shortstop is the toughest position to play defensively other than catcher, so a competent shortstop with a good glove can still survive with a subpar bat. The question now is how badly teams want to upgrade at the position. Look at all those guys with sub-.330 wOBA, which means they’re likely below average (in regards to the entire pool of position players, but they’re probably on par for shortstops). So you can see why guys like Peralta and Drew would get paid more than they probably would otherwise.
This brings us to the Cubs’ own shortstop, Starlin Castro. Once upon a time, Dabynsky broached the idea of turning Castro into Justin Upton, an idea that was shared by Packle among other trade possibilities. Like Packle also notes, Castro was signed to a very team-friendly extension. Our old pal, Mauricio, wrote this during Spring Training before Castro had the worst season of his young career. In all honesty, I don’t think a non-Mike Trout or non-Bryce Harper player has ever been scrutinized quite as much as Starlin Castro…and Castro is still only going to be 24 next season.
He’ll never have a ton of pop in his bat, but despite a terrible season, Castro hit double-digit dingers in three straight campaigns. Castro also has (or had) an uncanny ability to put the ball in play, which helped his average and his on-base percentage a wee bit. What I’m looking for is a guy who still hasn’t hit his prime but can get to an OPS north of .750, which would easily put him in the upper third of all shortstops in the majors. I believe that last year was an aberration and he can return to his previous form. As Anno said previously, it may just take a good teacher (like Rick Renteria and his new staff) to bring Castro back from the abyss.
I want to look at it from the angle of using Castro as a trade asset for teams that may be looking to upgrade at shortstop without worrying about losing him to free agency after a rental period. Castro’s deal does not include no-trade protection so there is plenty of flexibility for the Cubs front office if they choose to go this route. The deal is also incredibly team-friendly and the Cubs could conceivably just take the sunk cost and pay for better prospects. With a depth of infield prospects in the minors including Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, if the Cubs believe they can handle the MLB job, Castro might be expendable, but that is quite the gamble.
I believe that the possibility of trading Castro will always be there because of the type of player that he is likely to be–solid, but not a superstar. Starlin Castro certainly has the potential to become a superstar if the bat heats up and stays hot as it did when he first came up and snagged two straight All-Star berths, but more likely he’s just an above-average shortstop and that’s okay. That still carries value, and while I am not saying that the Cubs will definitely trade Castro during the first half of his contract, we should not rule out the possibility. The Cubs still have a valuable asset despite the down year, and the other 29 teams know it too. It just depends on which one wants that upgrade, and how much they are willing to pony up for said upgrade. If the Jeff Samardzija rumors are any indication, the Cubs will want an arm and a leg for anyone who gambles on a Castro trade.