We all knew the Chicago Cubs would eventually come to this crossroads. After spending the last few seasons stockpiling young position players, it’s no surprise the Cubs are preparing to consider shopping some of these excess pieces –specifically on the infield— for some shiny new pitching prospects. The “problem” is that the Cubs have a group of exceptional talents, which leads to the actual problem of figuring out who is the safest bet to send out of town.
The answer right now points to Starlin Castro.
Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant aren’t going anywhere, so that leaves Castro, Addison Russell, and the Triple-A housed, current black sheep of Cubs fandom, Javier Baez. All are fair propositions, I suppose, but it’s hard to see Russell as being the odd man out here. He’s holding his own at just 21 (.252/.292/.441), while playing a position (second base) that he had little experience at prior –a position at which he has shown alarming missteps and electric virtuosity, often in the same breath. That isn’t to say Russell is a guaranteed perennial All-Star in the making, but he doesn’t look like a prospect who couldn’t be.
Baez is a little different.
While the same uncertainty looms in light of his semi-disastrous debut last season, until he shows resurgence at the major league level, what Baez can garner in the form of trade value is probably less than it was. Not only that, but following some supposed swing adjustments, Baez is starting to show intrigue and patience at the plate.
For the month of May, he slashed .314/.392/.505. Perhaps more importantly, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is about 3 to 1 –down from 4 to 1 last season in Triple-A (it was a terrifying 6 to 1 in the majors in 2014). Against right handed pitchers, that rate improves a little more, pushing 2 to 1. Small sample sizes to be sure, but it signals a huge improvement that he’s walking at all. And at only 22, it feels like a kneejerk reaction to presume bust status because of his lackluster first impression. And with a light possibly going on, it doesn’t feel like the right time to let Baez walk in what would surely be a sell-low trade environment.
Then there’s Castro.
By far, he’s the most major league seasoned of the players mentioned. He has results (.283/.323/.405) from over five seasons of work, will probably crack 1000 career hits late this season at only 25 years old, and is the only truly known commodity among the upper tiered middle infielders in the organization
. To this writer, having watched Castro almost every game of his career, the numbers feel misleading. His defensive struggles are well documented, along with his reluctance to take walks, which means he has to really make up ground in other areas –something he just isn’t doing.
Hitting .265 isn’t the end of the world; he’s two good games away from being right at his career average. But he’s also churning out a .300 OBP, which just isn’t good enough for someone normally hitting in the middle of the order.
Further still, his OPS is down almost 100 points in 2015, which also means he’s not slugging much, either. Despite being just 25, Castro is at a point when you’d like to see upward trends in several areas, but we’re largely seeing the same player we have for the past couple of years – sometimes looking lost, overmatched, or both – all the while he continues to seemingly get slower on the basepaths, and failing to parlay that change into more power.
It’s not a totally convincing argument to say that the Cubs could get top-end pitching prospects for Castro on his own in his current state, but rather as part of a larger deal. Baez is horrifying as a reliable placeholder given the uncertainty, but consider this the Cubs’ first truly tough decision on the road to contention. If they have to trade someone to ride that road, Castro should be the guy.