The following is a guest post written by Bradley Woodrum of Cubs Stats. While I might disagree with Bradley on this point (I'll be writing my rebuttal later in the week), I think he's a great writer, and the interwebs seems to agree with me, as his work has appeared on Fangraphs, among other sites. He's bio'd himself up at the end of this post, so give him a few clicks. But for now: take it away, Brad.
It is time to send Starlin Castro to Iowa.
The Cubs will not make the playoffs in 2011. According to Cool Standings, the Cubs have a 0.5% chance of winning the playoffs - and that hope comes largely on the merit of yet another year of the NL Central enjoying the Weakest NL Division title.
So the Cubs need to make changes. Today, Jim Hendry met with his minions to talk about, well, probably the last few months of their employment. They likely were discussing what we fans have been musing about lately: What moves will make this a better Cubs team in 2012?
In his article about potential trade targets, Tim Dierkes of MLBTR lists 10 possible Cubs targets: Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, Jeff Baker, Carlos Pena, Reed Johnson, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Doug Davis, John Grabow, and Kerry Wood.
Trade 'em. Trade 'em all.
The simple truth is that this Cubs team is not one year away from contention. Sure, we could sign Albert Pujols and maybe old age our way into the playoffs in 2012, but long term success for this club is going to come in a much different form. The Cubs need to do what the Tampa Bay Rays did from 2005 through 2007: Boot the season.
In addition to trading those 10 veterans, the Cubs need to strongly consider trading Geovany Soto and even Matt Garza. Soto, 28, and Garza, 27, are in their primes right now. In two or three years, they will both have premium contracts and likely downhill performances. This is a bummer, but trading these two now could net the Cubs the players necessary for a 5- to 7-year dynasty later (and then those players turn into younger players too).
But, even more critically, the Cubs need to strongly consider sending Starlin Castro to Triple-A. Yeah, he may be just about the only fun thing to watch right on Waveland Avenue, but he's adding wins to an 80-win team (at best). In the meantime, he inches ever closer to arbitration. Sure, the Cubs can afford to pay Castro, but the Cubs budget is not unlimited, so keeping him at the majors right now is wasteful.
Consider: Defensively, Castro's been a mess. Since that first game when he cracked a 3-run homer in Cincinnati, Castro has cost the team 8 runs defensively (combined, that's about six and a half runs per season, according to UZR. Granted, he adds it back with his bat and his base running, but this is the future of the franchise.
He can fine tune his defense (or, maybe even better, swap positions with Darwin Barney) in Iowa while the Cubs trot out some also-ran players at the MLB level and get some great draft picks.
Consider the contract of Hanley Ramirez: He reached the majors at age 22, earned near the league minimum for 3 years, then started earning upwards of $5 million annually. He's now earning $11 million in his age-27 year - well beneath the market rate for a shortstop of his talent - and will earn, at most, $16 million when he's 30 in 2014.
At free agent rates, Hanley Ramirez would be worth $30+ million - look familiar? Yeah, that's what Albert Pujols wants.
Here's the deal: The Cubs are not poor. But, their funds are limited. Say we pay Castro something similar to this:
- 2010: $0.4 (age 20)
- 2011: $0.4 (age 21)
- 2012: $0.4 (age 22)
- 2013: $6.0 (age 23) -- sign him to a team-friendly, 4-yr extension, avoid arb. years
- 2014: $7.5 (age 24)
- 2015: $10.0 (age 25)
- 2016: $15.0 (age 26)
In this world, where the Cubs sign Castro to an extension similar to Hanley Ramirez' earnings, the Cubs are paying 1/10th of the payroll to Castro before his peak. And, by 2013 - when the club has a legitimate chance at being competitive again - Castro's already out of his league minimum years. And then, by age 27 - at the peak of his talent - Castro will be earning upwards of $25M (possibly a quarter of the Cubs payroll). In the baseball world, $5.6 million may not sound like much, but consider how expensive it was to fill our first base need this year ($10M) or how expensive it can be to keep a young pitcher around (*cough* Andrew Cashner *cough*).
Yeah, we can keep Castro in the majors and let him do the learning-on-the-job thing, but this would be just yet another inefficient use of talent in a franchise writing the book on the matter.