Shortstops like Starlin Castro don't come along very often. He's still only 22 years old, and he's already established himself as a star in the making at the big-league level.
So why on earth would the Chicago Cubs even think about trading him?
They actually have a few darn good reasons to trade him. ESPN's Buster Olney was kind enough to break them down in a column posted on Tuesday (insider access required).
The problem with Castro, in a nutshell, is that he's overrated. He can hit, but he's not the kind of guy who's capable of posting a high on-base percentage because of his poor approach at the plate. And despite the fact advanced defensive stats like UZR (ultimate zone rating) and DRS (defensive runs saved) reveal Castro to be an above-average fielder this season, there's no excusing the 64 errors he's made since he broke into the big leagues in 2010.
Despite his imperfections, Castro is a guy with a lot of trade value. Because the Cubs are a few years away from contention, and because they need to stock their farm system with talent, it actually makes quite a bit of sense for them to dangle Castro as trade bait.
Let's say they do. What then?
These seven teams would probably come calling.
Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson and GM Kevin Towers.
Stephen Drew is damaged goods who doesn't have a long-term future with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Down on the farm, Arizona does not have a shortstop prospect who promises to be anything special anytime soon (Chris Owings needs a lot of work).
The good news for the D-Backs is that they have no excuse to go into rebuilding mode any time soon. Their big league club is strong, and their farm system is among the strongest in baseball. They are particularly well-stocked with talented young pitchers.
That's a reality that should appeal to the Cubs, who very much need to find some good young arms for their farm system. I have a hard time imagining them convincing the D-Backs to surrender Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs or Archie Bradley, but goodness knows the D-Backs have other young pitchers they could send to the Cubs in a deal for Castro.
The incentive for the D-Backs to trade for Castro is simple: Their window to contend is open, and it's likely to stay open for a few more seasons. Acquiring a talented shortstop like Castro could help push them to another level, and his free-swinging ways wouldn't be a major problem given the organization's tendency to employ free swingers.
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington.
I'll admit, this one is a bit of a stretch. The Red Sox don't have a ton of incentive to make a deal for Castro.
The key issue is that the Red Sox have two high-profile shortstop prospects in their system. Jose Iglesias is a defensive wizard who's going to be ready for the majors very soon, and Xander Bogaerts has an outstanding bat.
At the major-league level, Mike Aviles is proving to be a very pleasant surprise, as he's already up to eight home runs on the season with close to 30 RBI.
So all things considered, why would the Red Sox go out of their way to make a deal for Castro?
Put simply, because it's a chance for the Red Sox to finally find a concrete answer for their revolving door at shortstop. They've been looking for an answer ever since Nomar Garciaparra left town, and that was nearly a decade ago. A young star with a bright future like Castro is exactly the kind of guy they're looking for.
In exchange for Castro, the Red Sox could send the Cubs one of their own shortstop prospects (most likely Iglesias) and some young pitching. Theo Epstein is plenty familiar with Boston's system, so he could pick and choose guys he wants.
Royals GM Dayton Moore.
The Royals are going with Alcides Escobar at shortstop this season, and they have to be encouraged with what they've seen.
So far, the 25-year-old Escobar is hitting .300 with a .340 on-base percentage. In his third full major-league season, he seems to be figuring things out.
Nevertheless, Escobar's moderately warm start shouldn't deter the Royals from exploring a trade for Castro. Escobar could be good, but he doesn't have a ceiling nearly as high as Castro's.
Even after the promotions of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, the Royals still have a couple high-profile prospects in the pipeline, and their system is pretty deep even beyond those guys. The only issue is that they don't have a potential franchise shortstop waiting in the wings at any level.
What the Royals could do is offer the Cubs some second-level prospects (i.e. guys other than Wil Myers and Bubba Starling) for Castro. No doubt the Cubs' brass would find some of Kansas City's young arms to be particularly appealing.
The Royals are going to be ready to contend in a couple years, and Castro is a guy who could very much fit into the team's plans to start winning in the near future.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson.
The Mets lost their franchise shortstop this past offseason, as Jose Reyes left the Big Apple to sign with the Miami Marlins.
Partially due to his absence, the Mets were supposed to be awful this year. They haven't been. In fact, they've been pretty darn good, and a lot of fun to watch to boot.
Better yet, the Mets have put together a pretty healthy farm system in recent months. The organization as a whole is moving in the right direction after hitting rock bottom in 2011.
If the Mets are looking to find a potential franchise shortstop to replace Reyes, they're not going to be able to do better than Castro. To get him, all they'd have to do is dangle some of the talented pitching they have down on the farm.
This, however, is where things get a little dicey. The Mets conceivably could trade prospects for Castro, but they're still in what I like to call "acquire prospects mode." They have their farm system headed in the right direction, so why would they set it back now when they're still a couple years away from being serious contenders?
Why indeed. The Mets could make a trade for Castro, but I'd consider them to be the biggest longshot on this list.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman.
How much longer can the Yankees afford to wait before they go out and get an heir apparent for Derek Jeter?
Answer: Not long.
Jeter is showing this year that he can still hit, but he's an even bigger problem on defense than Castro. He's not cut out for everyday shortstop duties at this stage of his career, which will be over in a matter of years.
Castro is everything the Yankees could want in an heir apparent to Jeter. He's young, he's exciting, he can hit and he's going to be a very good fielder once he solves his error problems. The notion of trading for Castro should appeal to the Bombers.
The Yankees don't have a deep farm system, but they do have some guys at the upper levels of their system they could send to the Cubs, chief among them being Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances. If the Cubs want bats instead, the Yankees have a few of those they can part with.
Admittedly, the odds of the Yankees dealing for Castro are slim. If they've proven anything in the last couple years, it's that they're not going to mess with Jeter. There have been words, sure, but little action.
If the Yankees wanted to do the best thing for the team, though, they'd deal for Castro and move Jeter to a full-time DH role. Just sayin'.
A photo of Padres GM Josh Byrnes from 2009.
The Padres are in full-on rebuilding mode. The good news for them is that they have arguably the deepest farm system in Major League Baseball.
As deep as San Diego's system is, however, the one thing it lacks is a marquee shortstop prospect. The club is going with Everth Cabrera now, but he doesn't project to be anything special as a player. His presence would not deter the Padres from talking to the Cubs about Castro.
The Padres definitely have the assets to make a deal for Castro, and it's certainly worth noting that the Padres and Cubs made a rather significant trade not too long ago (see Rizzo, Anthony). The Padres still have plenty of prospects that should appeal to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, including former Red Sox farmhand Casey Kelly.
In the long-term, Castro's potential could help deliver a World Series to the Padres. In the short-term, his star power would help bring people out to the ballpark. The Padres desperately need a player like that.
The Blue Jays are building something pretty special north of the border. They have some great young arms on their pitching staff, and their lineup is stocked with power hitters who promise to be productive for years to come.
Castro is a fit for the Jays for a couple of reasons. His aggressive approach at the plate wouldn't be a huge problem in Toronto. They have a lot of aggressive hitters, yet the team's relatively low on-base percentage hasn't kept them from scoring runs. They have an old-school lineup, and Castro would look good at the top of it.
The Jays are using Yunel Escobar at short now, and he's a decent player. However, the Jays are not committed to him long-term, and he has a contract that is very tradeable.
He could go to Chicago in a deal for Castro, and the Jays could further sweeten the pot by offering the Cubs a couple prospects from their farm system, which is nearly as deep as San Diego's.
The Cubs would therefore get a temporary answer at shortstop, and prospects who could help the team down the line. Everybody wins.
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