For over five months now, the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs have been connected by trade rumors involving the former's young pitching corps and the latter's organizational depth at shortstop. In those five months, the Mets haven't made a serious play to upgrade at shortstop, with Sandy Alderson going so far as to warn against expecting a big move.
Of their bevy of young shortstops, the Cubs seem most willing to part with Starlin Castro, the most experienced of the bunch, in an effort to make room for prospects Javier Baez and Addison Russell. The Cubs are now saying that Castro isn't going anywhere, but that won't stop writers and fans from speculating about his landing in New York eventually. Let's review what Castro could bring to the Mets, what he leaves off the table, and what Alderson should be willing to relinquish in order to land the young infielder.
Castro's got a lot going on for him. Particularly, abilities that the Mets haven't seen from a shortstop in years.
First, and, for this team at least, most importantly: he's durable. Since 2011, Castro has appeared in 158, 162, 161, and 134 games, respectively. And it's worth noting that Castro likely could have returned from his high-ankle sprain last year if the Cubs weren't comfortably out of the playoffs and auditioning Baez at short. The Mets haven't had a shortstop appear in more than 140 games since Jose Reyes in 2008.
Second, his bat. In his five-year career, Castro has hit .284/.325/.410 with a .735 OPS. Last season, he was having his most productive year at the plate until his injury, hitting .293/.339/.438 with a .777 OPS, and tying his career high in homers (14) despite playing only 134 games. These numbers wouldn't blow observers away if Castro were a first baseman, but they put him in the conversation as a top-five offensive shortstop.
Third, his age. Despite 2015 being his sixth year in the big leagues, Castro will turn just 25 two weeks before the season starts. With some time, it's not unreasonable to expect Castro to produce 20+ homers per year over the coming seasons.
Lastly, his contract. Castro is owed $43 million over the next five years in addition to a $16 million team option in 2020. This is no small fee for his services, but for a shortstop Castro's age with an already-proven track record of success, it is still well under market value.
Like any player, Castro isn't without flaws.
First, his contract. I know, I know. It was also listed under "The Good" above. Despite the annual value, the Mets are reluctant to allocate $43 million to anyone, no matter how many years that figure is spread out over. Alderson wouldn't be wrong to cite this as a reason for standing pat. After years of being hampered by bad, long-term contracts, this one should make any fan nervous.
Second, for an accurate assessment of Castro's defense, I got in touch with Rob Huff of SB Nation Cubs site Bleed Cubbie Blue. Here's what he had to say:
There's no beating around the bush: Starlin was raw in the field when he first came up and it showed in his results. That's not the same shortstop we have today. He has always had plenty of arm at short, probably something like a 5+ on the 2-to-8 scale. Starlin doesn't have a massive arm like Javy Baez does, but it's more than enough for average-or-better play at short.
The real growth has been with his positioning and even his focus. Starlin used to make tons of poor plays because he'd stop once he got to a position where he could reach the ball instead of getting into the best position possible to make the play. He's gotten smarter about taking that extra lateral step or waiting back on a bounding ball so he can make the strongest throw possible while minimizing the likelihood of having to force a throw.
Unfortunately, his range leaves a bit to be desired. Starlin is a fine athlete, but he lacks the raw physicality of the top shortstop glovemen around the game. As such, his range will never be better than MLB average and it's likely below-average among shortstops.Put it all together and you've got an above-average arm, average-or-better positioning, and below-average range. That's one way to make an average MLB defender at the six-hole. He has avoided bad weight, so he should be able to stick as an average shortstop glove at least through his 20s. Among MLB shortstops, he's not a premier defender. Then again, when you self-select the talent pool to "MLB caliber shortstops," you're talking about an elite bunch. A defensive profile that is average among the elite is nothing to sneeze at.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of someone owed $43 million. While Castro's bat certainly makes up for what he may lack in the field, his poor range makes pairing him up the middle with Daniel Murphy or even Flores an issue defensively.
The Mets are hoping that the Cubs, feeling pressure to start the season without a logjam in the infield, are forced to move Castro for something like Rafael Montero. Without many other offers, Alderson might be best suited to sit back and wait Chicago out. If that doesn't work, he'll have to be a bit more aggressive.
In July, one baseball executive told John Harper that the Cubs were seeking Noah Syndergaard from the Mets for Castro, and that while they like Zack Wheeler, he alone may not be enough. My proposition is somewhere in the middle: Wheeler and Steven Matz, the highly regarded lefty still a little short of cracking the bigs.
As a result, the Cubs satisfy their desire for immediate help and strengthen the future of their pitching depth, and the Mets finally have an impact bat at a position they've struggled to fill since letting Jose Reyes walk. At the same time, the Amazin's cut their number of deserving starters to the appropriate five, but don't sacrifice their youth on the mound, with Syndergaard and Montero untouched and waiting in the wings.
Although Mets fans won't like seeing Wheeler go, the team's own Matt Harvey is testament that the health of a pitcher is fickle. It's what makes good ones like Wheeler so valuable while still being unreliable. What is reliable, on the other hand, is Starlin Castro's continued production.