Tim Dierkes of MLB TradeRumors writes that many agents expect the Cubs to spend money in free agency, but it's not what you might think. According to Dierkes...
(I) have talked to multiple agents who think Cubs will spend good money on FA catcher this winter.
Wait a minute.
Isn't Welington Castillo among the best defensive catchers in baseball? The Fielding Bible, which rated Darwin Barney the highest last year and helped build momentum for his eventual Gold Glove award, has Castillo rated as the best defensive catcher in baseball. And it's not like Castillo is some defensive minded backup. He hit pretty well, especially in the second half when he batted .288/.388/475. That is a well above average .375 wOBA and RC+ of 137. His numbers were solid overall as well despite the slow start at .274/.349/.396 with a .331 wOBA and an RC+ of 106, but those metrics rate as a tick above average. He was the Cubs most valuable position player per WAR at 3.2.
So why trade him?
Well, if you look at the last line of Tim Dierkes tweet you may have the simple answer,
"They are underestimating Welington Castilo"
By "they", I presume he is referring to the agents who think the Cubs need an upgrade. It seems unlikely the Cubs are unaware of what they have in their 26 year old catcher. Agents, however, know that the Cubs have been uncertain at catcher since the sudden decline of Geovany Soto and perhaps were not aware of how strongly Castillo came on, particularly in the second half.
Nevertheless, the tweet started the speculation game on Twitter.
We do know the Cubs want to get more left-handed and we also know they want to increase their OBP, but Castillo's above average walk rate and OBP would seem like an odd place to want to upgrade, especially since it's trending toward well above average and he's just entering his prime years. The most obvious candidate if this rumor is indeed true is Boston switch-hitting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a player with whom this front office is obviously familiar. He hit .273/.338/.466 with 14 HRs (.349 wOBA, 117 RC+), so he's a slight upgrade on offense while rating as a solid to above average defensive catcher, so there's a downgrade there too, but it is not a crippling one. Overall it seems to even out, so why bother?
The answer likely would like in Salty's ability to hit from the left side where he hit .294/.350/.523 with 12 of his 14 HRs, giving the Cubs a legitimate power threat to add to Anthony Rizzo, Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Sweeney, and perhaps Brian Bogusevic. At 28, he is still in his prime so we can expect him to continue to produce. He's a patient hitter, walking in 9.1% of his plate appearances, about a point higher than Castillo, so it's a small upgrade there as well. Of course, the flip side is that he's a 6'4" version of Darwin Barney when batting from the right side last year, posting a .628 OPS and a well below averages RC+ of 71. What's even more scary is that is better than last season and better than his career OPS of .599. There's no way around it, we're talking about a platoon player here.
Brian McCann would be another option but not sure that makes sense because he's older, would be more expensive, and really wasn't any more productive vs. LHP than Salty. All of his damage came vs. RHP as well -- and it wasn't quite as productive as Saltalamacchia. At his expected cost and age, and two consecutive years with a sub .700 OPS vs. LHP, he just doesn't seem to provide much value -- unless you think McCann can rebound and hit lefties the way he did early in his career, which essentially makes him a full-time player.
Welington Castillo is too good to be the short side of a platoon and what's worse, he was far better against RHP than LHP. There is no reason to believe that the front office would be considering a platoon in this situation. However, current backup catcher Dioner Navarro absolutely destroyed lefties to the tune of .361/.451/.672 with a ridiculous .311 ISO, .478 wOBA, and .208 RC+. A platoon of the two switch-hitters would create a potential offensive monster at catcher if they could sign both. That, of course, would mean trading Welington Castillo, essentially the team's most valuable position player in 2013 considering the value of getting production from the catching position.
That in turn, started even more speculation.
Welly could be part of a trade package....to Colorado for Carlos Gonzalez...to Tampa for David Price...to Tampa as compensation for Joe Maddon. None of this is confirmed, just speculation.
In the Colorado scenario, the series of maneuvers would give the Cubs 3 strong LH hitters in CarGo, Rizzo, and Salty or McCann. Those are 3 players in prime or, in the case of Rizzo, pre-prime years, though admittedly we're likely talking late prime with McCann.
Tampa, meanwhile, has been looking for a young, talented, inexpensive defensively oriented catcher for what seems like forever. Surely Castillo would get their attention. I think to give him up for a manager, however, is a gross overpay, even one as good as Maddon. He does become interesting, however, as the centerpiece of a David Price deal, though, for what it's worth, I have heard through sources that the Cubs are unlikely to pursue Price.
Or maybe the simplest answer is the best one. As Dierkes says, it's quite possible that they are just underestimating Welington Castillo. And let's not forget, they are agents after all, and they know the Cubs are a big market team without a proven catcher. Even if the Cubs have no interest in signing a catcher, it certainly doesn't hurt to create the perception that they are.
What do you think?