Much has been made of the Mets interested in Starlin Castro or Javier Baez. The teams match up well in that the Mets need hitting and the Cubs need starting pitching. Each has what the other team wants.
But Mets GM Sandy Alderson has proven difficult to extract value from in the past. The Cubs cannot lock themselves into a situation in which they are dealing solely with the Mets. Thankfully they have options. That sort of thing tends to happen when you have 3 of the best young shortstops in the game.
Other teams that could be interested in Castro, Baez, or even Addison Russell are the Nationals, who may lose Ian Desmond after next season; the Mariners, who have shown interest in Castro for some time now; and even the Dodgers, who may lose Hanley Ramirez to free agency.
That competition from the outside alone may motivate Alderson to part with full or even surplus value -- but there could also be some pressure coming from within. As much pressure as there is to win in Chicago, there is even more in New York. The Mets rebuild has been slow in a big market that expects quick results. He has a year head start on the Cubs front office but has not built the same kind of farm system and while his teams have had better regular season records, nobody is under the illusion they are ready to overtake the Nationals or Braves. Even the Marlins are making overtures about improving their team this offseason. Sooner or later, the Mets are going to want to see real progress on the field. They have not won more than 77 games in a season under Alderson and are on pace for another season in that win range.
The Mets seem unwilling to part with Zack Wheeler, which leaves them with higher risk choices to offer. Jacob DeGrom has had shoulder issues. Noah Syndegaard had an elbow strain earlier this year and has pitched well, but not up to his lofty expectations. Rafael Montero was medicore in his brief audition. Meanwhile, Starlin Castro is working on his 3rd 3+ WAR season in 4 years. He has been worth a win more than both Wheeler and DeGrom.
We have heard the Mets say they aren't all that interested in Castro because he doesn't fit their offensive philosophy. Don't believe it. That's just smoke. They need offense and Castro has the 4th highest wOBA and RC+ of any qualified SS in baseball right now. If they want an offensive player at SS who also takes a lot of walks, good luck. Maybe the Rockies will part with Troy Tulowitzki, the only player in baseball who meets their supposed requirements at the SS position.
The Cubs have no incentive to give Castro away at anything less than full value and, in fact, are likely in position to get more than that. Addison Russell is still a year away and even when he is ready, as Castro has stated, "We're all athletes. We can play anywhere."
The Mets aren't going to outlast the Cubs here. The Cubs have the better hand and the Mets are left to try to bluff one of the best poker playing front offices in the game. The Cubs will do well or they won't deal.
The Mariners present another option and they have young pitchers such as Taijuan Walker and LHP James Paxton. The Nationals have Jordan Zimmerman with just one year left on his deal...might the Cubs try to pry him loose if they can get a window to negotiate a long term deal? The Dodgers may struggle to put together the kind of package the Cubs want as far as young MLB starters. Only Hyun-Jin Ryu fits that description for them.
And the Cubs, as we alluded to earlier, ultimately hold the hammer when it comes to options. They don't have to deal this offseason. They have a year to make a decision on how to make the pieces fit and they can easily do so by moving Kris Bryant to the OF and Russell or Castro to 3B. They aren't going to get caught holding the bag here. Their shortstops aren't their only valuable currency. They have the currency of payroll flexibility, so if they can't trade for a pitcher, they can easily sign one and fit it into their budget.
The Cubs are in the catbird's seat right now. They have a valuable commodity that everyone wants -- and time and options as far as to how they are going to use those assets. Alderson can forget about trying to acquire a player for pennies on the dollar, as his been his pattern in the past. He is not dealing with a motivated seller. If anything, the tables may be turned this time. His seat may be getting a little warm and he may not have the luxury of waiting another year. This time it's going to cost him full price -- and possibly even a premium -- to get the player he wants when he wants.
The Cubs aren't building for the distant future anymore. They are building for 2015 and 2016 now. If the Mets or any other team want one of the Cubs shortstops, they are going to have to make a deal that makes the Cubs better for the present and the future. If that doesn't happen (and my guess is that it won't), I fully expect the Cubs to just walk away.