The Chicago Cubs are in the unenviable (yeah, right) position of having three potential All-Star shortstops under the age of 26. Starlin Castro (25), Addison Russell (21), and Javier Baez (22), give the Cubs a glut of talent up the middle. It’s hard to believe that at 25, Castro is already a six-year veteran who has played in three All-Star Games. Russell is entrenched as the starting shortstop, having unseated Castro midway through the 2015 season. That leaves Castro and Baez to battle it out to play second base next year. Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein is not going to hold onto both, so with the offseason starting about a week earlier than most Cubs fans would have hoped, which player should Chicago consider trading? Baez or Castro?
The Cubs signed Castro to a lengthy contract extension at the age of 22. Halfway through the eight-year deal, Castro will make less than $10 MM over the next two years, and then less than $12 MM the final two years. Castro also has a $16 MM option for the 2020 season that comes with a $1 MM buyout.
For just over $10 MM average over the next four years, a team that trades for Castro could acquire a potential All-Star shortstop who is already a veteran at the age of 26 on Opening Day 2016. Castro spent most of 2015 in a funk, and looked terrible on the field at times. That’s the type of player he is, very mercurial. Joe Maddon somehow got through to him, and the results were phenomenal in August and September. When Castro is going right, he’s a .300 hitter with plenty of power. There will be concerns about Castro’s defense, as he’s been a minus when it comes to runs saved in every year of his career. At this point, Castro is probably better off as a starting second baseman than shortstop, but in the right situation, could still continue in his natural position.
Any team trading for Castro will have to realize and accept that the manager is going to have to devote some time to motivating and cajoling Castro. Maddon was able to do it, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. The 2015 season was a tricky one for Castro — trade rumors swirled, and he lost his job at shortstop to a rookie. With that turmoil in the rearview mirror by the end of the season, Castro looked rejuvenated and played some of his best baseball down the stretch. Castro’s attitude should not be a huge concern for a team that trades for him.
Of the two, Baez brings more power potential and considerable upside, but a slightly uncertain future. In 2014, Baez struck out 95 times in 52 games. Look out Mark Reynolds. Major League pitchers feasted on the 21-year-old rookie in his debut season. The Cubs had rushed Baez up to the Majors after he hit a combined 37 home runs across two stops in 2013. Clearly, Baez was not ready for The Show, and the Cubs started him in Triple-A this year.
After starting slowly and battling some personal issues, Baez turned in a .328/.391/.526 line with 13 homers and 62 RBI in 74 minor league games this year. Summoned to the Cubs for a second time, Baez was much better. He struck out only 24 times in 28 games, and batted .289 after batting just .169 last year. Admittedly, 80 plate appearances is still a small sample size, but Baez appears to be on the right track.
As with Castro, defense is going to be a question mark for Baez. He has committed 97 errors, good for a .940 fielding percentage, in 330 minor league games at shortstop. Again, Russell is the shortstop, and Baez’s glove can be somewhat hidden at second base by the Cubs.
Trading either Baez or Castro can be defended. The Cubs have one real hole to fill if they are to unseat the St. Louis Cardinals in the division — starting pitching. If Baez can get you a frontline starter, trade him. If Castro gets the deal done, trade him. The San Diego Padres need a shortstop desperately, and a trade of Castro or Baez for Tyson Ross makes a ton of sense.
Both Baez and Castro have the potential to be All-Stars for the foreseeable future. Despite the rocky first half, Castro showed he still has All-Star abilities. Baez showed huge signs of maturation after his call-up. Both players are valuable trade chips, and could help bring an arm to Chicago. Baez may be viewed as more valuable right now, due to his home run potential and Castro’s perceived attitude issues. Either way, the Cubs are likely to trade Baez or Castro, and the starting pitcher that comes back in the deal could be the piece that helps put the team over the top in 2016.