I'm not the biggest fan of Bob Nightengale of USA Today. I think he's a rumor monger who throws a lot of stuff out there to get readers and most of the time, it misses the mark. I also don't think he, of all people, would have access to the Cubs front office. That being said, he wrote an article saying that everyone except Jeff Samardzija is available. That includes Starlin Castro, whom he says is available for two impact prospects.
That isn't exactly news. I don't think anyone is untouchable, but as I've maintained for a long time, it's going to take a heckuva deal to pry Starlin Castro loose.
But saying nobody is untouchable and anyone can be traded for the right group of players is not news either. You could say that about any player in baseball.
Now, apart from receiving a ridiculous offer, I think there's only one reason to trade a 22 year old, all-star SS who's cost-controlled for the next several years. It's if you don't think he can stay at SS long term. He can play SS now, as his 11.6 UZR suggests, but will he outgrow the position and have to move to 3B where he'll need to develop power and his lower OBP becomes an issue? That would be the gamble the Cubs would have to take and it's a huge one. Despite the low walk total, he's already an above average offensive player now at age 22. Given that he's doing it while playing a good defensive SS makes him a valuable player already. ZiPS projects him to be a 4+ WAR player and he's nowhere near his peak years. That's the kind of player you want to keep, not trade -- unless you're utterly blown away to the point where you think the other team has lost their collective mind. So speculate away on who those impact players would be, but don't hold your breath on that one.
The presence of Javier Baez may also be a factor, but do you really gamble trading an impact SS to count on a 19 year old who just started low Class A ball -- and whom many think won't stay at SS long term anyway?
It's going to take several things for a Castro trade to happen:
- The Cubs don't think he'll be able to stay at SS long term
- The Cubs would have to believe that his approach will not improve as he matures and that he won't develop the power to be an asset at another position.
- Another team who badly needs a young SS
- That team has to believe he'll stay at SS for the long haul. Not just think, they need to believe strongly enough to think about dealing multiple impact prospects.
- That team has to have multiple impact prospects to begin with -- and ones with a good chance of making the majors soon.
That's an extreme longshot in my book, so much so that it's almost certainly not something that's even being considered.
UPDATE:Multiple reports now denying Castro is available. (Gee, another B.S. rumor from Bob Nightengale, who whoulda thunk?)
It's also interesting as to how far Jeff Samardzija has come. His career looked to be at a crossroads after two consecutive horrendous season. Many scoffed at the idea that he could become a starter (we didn't). That it would even be suggested that he would be the only untouchable on the team would have seemed laughable not too long ago. Now some scouts have compared him to Florida Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson, who was a #1 starter entering his prime years before his injury. Even we didn't think he'd be that good.
The other name that might raise some eyebrows is 1B Bryan LaHair. Like Castro, he's been one of the Cubs top offensive players and is cost-controlled well into the years where the Cubs should be competitive. The differences with LaHair is that a younger, perhaps better version is waiting in Anthony Rizzo and 2) LaHair is already 29, so he'll be cost-controlled but he'll be well past his prime by the end of his contract. He may be a better fit for a team set to win in the next 2-3 years, especially since it's questionable how long he can be viable in the OF as he ages and gets slower. Will a team be willing to give up much for a career minor league player who has had basically one great month in his MLB career? It's more likely the Cubs would try and find a taker for Alfonso Soriano, but as we know, that really isn't going to be easy unless the Cubs eat about 80% of that remaining contract (about $38M)
Then, of course, there's Matt Garza. Garza is right on the edge of what the Cubs want. On one hand, he's young (28), relatively cheap as compared to his production, and should still be in his prime/peak years by the time the Cubs become relevant. The concern is that he will become a free agent after next season and the Cubs will have to decide whether they should sign him to an extension or pick up younger players that will be cost-controlled. That would allow the Cubs to funnel financial resources to other areas. The Cubs will probably have to scale back their asking price a bit to be able to trade Garza, but they should still get at least one impact prospect and another 2 or 3 good young players. The Cubs may feel less pressure to recoup what they've lost as Hak Ju Lee now has a less than .300 OBP and slugging, while Chris Archer continues to walk nearly a batter per inning and seems destined for the bullpen long term. It should also serve as a lesson learned. Just because you trade a pitcher for a good package of prospects, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get impact major leaguers out of such a deal. Everyone thought the Cubs gave up too much at the time, and while it's early, it's difficult to project Tampa getting even one above average starter out of the deal.
Ryan Dempster is the most likely big name to be traded. He seems amenable to waiving his 5 and 10 rights to help the team. I think he'll be in demand, but the Cubs would be doing very well to get a top 100 prospect out of the deal, perhaps it's more likely they can pick up multiple young players with potential, as they did for Sean Marshall.
Other possibilities include recent acquisitions Ian Stewart and David DeJesus. DeJesus in particular, could bring a worthhile return and may be an easier path to open up a spot for LaHair in the OF. It may be contingent on whether the Cubs think Brett Jackson could be ready soon, but even if he isn't, we've seen that Tony Campana can be productive in short bursts. The Cubs will also likely find takers for solid reserves such as Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker. Once he gets healthy, Geovany Soto becomes a possibility as well.
So even if Nightengale is just blowing smoke, it is a topic worth discussing since the Cubs will be making changes starting next month. While a trade of Castro is not going to happen, nobody is truly untouchable and the Cubs will at listen on anybody, if nothing else to open up some dialogue about other players. But then again, we probably already knew that.
UPDATE 2: Epstein shot down that speculation, according to ESPNChicago.com, by saying that "Starlin Castro is the type of player we're looking to build around. There has been no trade consideration with him, whatsoever."
"I never understood why there would ever be an untouchable," Epstein said on Monday. "All you're doing is limiting your opportunity. That said, there are core pieces that it's almost impossible to foresee moving. You would have to be completely blown away to even contemplate it."
"I think everybody knows what we're trying to do. We're trying to build a nucleus of talented young players who can form a core of being an annual contender. If you have a piece like that, the only way you contemplate ever moving him would be to get multiple back of that same caliber and those deals are hard to make. I think we're looking to identify the core, continue to add to it and build around it."
I'd have to say I agree with Theo 100% here. But somehow I don't think this will end the speculation.
Filed under: Cubs Rumors