Starlin Castro To Triple-A, Please

Starlin Castro To Triple-A, Please
Castro throwing woes undoubtedly caused by overly moist hands

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.

Bradley Woodrum is a writer for Cubs Stats, FanGraphs, DRaysBay, and Homebody and Woman.


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  • Basically, this makes no sense. Castro (and Pena, but he is on a one year deal) are the only ones who are hitting. The rest of the people you mention aren't producing, but if you want to talk about wasteful, compare what Soriano is getting now and for the next couple of years.

    In the meantime, what are the Cubs going to put into Wrigley Field, the best of Class A Daytona and A Peoria? The usual Cub fans woofing down their Old Styles and Buds (and looking for cleavage on the Bud Fan Cam) might not care, and Brenley may like reporting on his son, who would be the default catcher if Soto is traded, but who is going to watch that on WGN, WGN America (soitenly) or even CSN?

    In effect, you have given a formula for making the Cubs another Pirates or Royals. While the Pirates can beat the Cubs, it is going to be another 103 years for the Cubs if the object is to save some money on Castro and lose the franchise.

  • In reply to jack:

    This gets right at the basis of my argument... which I'll write later today, once I'm done with my day job!

  • In reply to jack:

    So what if Castro is hitting well? The team sucks, and everyone knows it -- except Ricketts, Quade, and apparently Ozzie Guillen. Castro is the radar on an already-sinking ship -- useful, but not in this situation.

    Moreover, of all the MLB franchises, the Cubs have one of the lowest correlations between attendance and winning record. The Cubs haven't had many (any?) packed houses this season, but the difference between an 80-win or 75-win team is not going to change that.

    And, no, it's not the Pirates or Royals model. Their process is to call up talent as soon as it seems ready and then watch it live via free agency before its prime. The Cubs method is to sign that talent to an ungodly extension before the player has reached his prime, effectively ensuring the player will never reach expectations (Carlos Zambrano).

    If a franchise keeps the player in the minors through their earliest, pre-peak years, then they can effectively harvest the most from their budget and their minors.

  • In reply to bwoodrum:

    *watch it leave

  • In reply to bwoodrum:

    The Cubs would be monumentally bad, but at least they'll do it efficiently! I'm all for being prudent with players and being mindful of their arb years/free agency, but this reaches the level of absurdity. It's a triumph of pure theoretical thinking over reality.

    I'm somehow reminded of when Dave Berry became so in love with his half-baked theories that he used it to try and convince everyone Landry Fields was better than Derrick Rose.

    In the end, you have to deal with people, not numbers. A real GM has to balance a lot of things, one of which is money, the other is putting the best talent on the field, and still another is putting a product on the field that people will actually enjoy watching. Castro is the guy most of us tune in to watch. And if you think attendance won't go down if the Cubs continue to get worse and have nobody worth coming out to see, then you are mistaken. It's already starting to happen. It started happening late in 2006 and it will happen again if the Cubs send their star player to AAA. Some of us enjoy watching talented players play baseball. We don't all watch baseball with our calculators. This is the kind of article that statistics and economic majors fresh out of college would enjoy -- before they learn the real world doesn't work that way.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    ...meant to say not *just* numbers. They're obviously a big part of the game, but they have to be balanced and weighed in with other factors.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It's a moot point because it's against union rules to send a player to the minors just for the purpose of avoiding arbitration. This works if a player hasn't yet been called up but it doesn't pass the laugh test if they were to argue they were sending him down based on performance.

  • In reply to Jimmy Greenfield:

    This is an excellent point, although there might be something to be said for his defensive refinement. Certainly not having any problems hitting though.

  • In reply to ajwalsh08:

    If you are talking defensive refinement, the Sox could send Alexi Ramierz down, too. In both cases, the spectacular plays still seem to outnumber the boots, frequent as the latter may be.

    Heck, send Beckham and Dunn down to learn to hit. The second is not going to happen, even though it should.

    I think Arguello is going in the same direction as I am. You don't send down players who are actually draws, whatever the technicalities of the arbitration rules are. I suppose those technicalities are why we don't see Viceado yet.

  • In reply to bwoodrum:

    With regard to my mentioning Pittsburgh and Kansas City, I wasn't referring to the method, but to the probable results.

    Obviously, I'm not a baseball numbers geek, but I think Arguello effectively argued about that point.

  • In reply to bwoodrum:

    Your theory works IN THEORY, but sending a potential all star and the best player on the team isn't realistic, and what does that say to Castro? If you are good you don't play? That's the complete opposite of what this game is all about.

    Crunching some numbers doesn't mask the fact that this proposal is just completely unrealistic. I know as a writer you try to make statement columns to get some page views, but this idea is a joke. He's the first legitimate homegrown everyday player the cubs have had in awhile. Embrace him.

    If we send him to AAA when he's hitting .330 or whatever, why the hell would he ever want to stay with the Cubs???

  • In reply to bwoodrum:

    I've read articles that have made no sense but this one takes the cake. Starlin Castro is one of the few reasons people head to Wrigley Field. It's obvious the team is going no place but fans can at least go & watch the birth of a young star.

    Henry would obviously love to trade the players you spoke of but w/ the exception of those players in the last year of their contracts it's simply not going to happen unless the Cubs eat a big chunk of owed salaries.

    Bottom line is that the Cub Nation will see better days - but it won't be for a few years.

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