Not everyone is a Starlin Castro fan. He’s a polarizing player who’s had some character issues in the past, but he is also a four-year veteran on a team that is going very young, very quickly. The quick-batted sensation Javier Baez will be up with the Chicago Cubs soon enough. While Baez has been playing games at second-base, he’s a shortstop by trade. Some think he’s good enough to push Castro out, and that’s where the Mets may be able to take advantage.
Castro is coming off of a bad 2013 where he batted .245 with a meager .284 OBP and .347 SLG. He had only nine stolen bases as compared to the 25 and 22 he put up in his two previous years. A total -.01 fWAR is also not the way to endear oneself to management. But these statistics belie a fantastic player who may have simply had a bad year on a very bad team. Since getting the starting shortstop job in 2010, Castro has been one of the best at his position in the game. His 2011 line was .307/.341/.432 and 2012 saw him go .283/.323/.430. Some may look at 2013 as a harbinger of bad things to come. Take a look at Scott Lindholm’s article here to see how middle infielders with big drops in OBP rarely recover.
However, Castro was a better hitter when he wasn’t being patient, something the Cubs management tried to change last year. Perhaps if they or another team allows Castro to be the free-swinger he was in the past, he may have returned success. But this is far from a certainty.
One big knock on Castro is his defense, which according to metrics does not look too great. He’s a career -2.8 UZR/150 guy. His RngR is something to notice, though, as it is a career 16.8. Keep in mind that UZR/150 is a median stat, while RngR is cumulative, but still it shows that Castro’s range is not the problem, it’s his throwing accuracy. Even if you look at the new Inside Edge Fielding stat, Castro only has a 96% rate with Routine plays, compared to someone like Troy Tulowitzki who has a rate of 97.6%. A 1.6% percentage might not sound like much, but we are talking about routine plays here, and it is the most frequent play a SS can make, so that 1.6% does carry some weight. Additionally, the Fans Scouting Report gives Castro a career 29 rating in Arm Accuracy on a 0-100 scale, while his career Arm Strength rating is 75.
Can you think of anyone else who plays on the left side of the diamond that used to have problems making routine throws? That’s correct, David Wright. He has since reduced those errant throws across the diamond, and is a Gold-Glove caliber defender because of it. Wright credits Tim Teufel with helping to curb those throwing errors, and if Teufel can help teach the 24-year-old Castro a thing or two about repeating throwing mechanics to first or second, then maybe Castro can be the consistent defender he has shown flashes of in the past. It certainly couldn’t hurt.
Castro would obviously be an offensive improvement over Ruben Tejada, so let’s not even get into that. What he could offer is a legitimate leadoff man, in addition to being a stud shortstop. That .325-.340 OBP range he’s displayed in the past might come back with guys like Daniel Murphy, David Wright and Curtis Granderson lining up behind him. Sure, maybe his home run numbers might go down in Citi Field, but that wouldn’t be the key to his game if he was leading off anyway, so who cares.
The real question is what he would cost. The answer is a lot. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Castro is still owed $54,142,857 over the next 6 years, which in today’s baseball economy is pittance for an All-Star shortstop. So the money being paid to Castro isn’t the problem, it’s how much of the farm system would it take to drag him away from Chicago. Therein may lie where the Mets can make this happen. According to Jonathan Mayo’s rankings, the Cubs have three pitchers ranked in their Top-10 Prospects; C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson who might both make it to Double-A this year, and Arodys Vizcaino, who might be closing games for the Cubs this season. There is some room there for another young stud or two, particularly one who could have impact on the major league club this year. The Mets have a few of those to go around. It might take some combination of Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom, Steve Matz, or Kevin Plawecki (the Cubs don’t have a catcher in their Top-20 Prospects list), but it might be worth it to part with two or three of these players for one in which we are in dramatic need.
This may work out well as Castro has just resumed playing this spring due to a strained right hamstring. Injuries were killing Ike Davis and Lucas Duda’s trade value, and they might be doing the same for Castro. If he takes a couple extra weeks to make it to Chicago, and maybe doesn’t sparkle right away, it’s possible the Mets could scoop him up without having to sell the farm. This is all positive Mets thinking of course, and it’s possible that no deal would be good enough for Theo Epstein, who has a shrewd baseball eye for talent, to part ways with Castro.
But there is no rush to make this happen. Baez has been sent down to start the season, so Castro’s job in Chicago is safe for now. In my opinion, it might be worth it to give up two, possibly even three prospects for Castro, rather then meet the ridiculous asking prices for Nick Franklin or Didi Gregorius. Others might not feel the same. It’s another hat to throw in the ring, and it just proves that there are substantial options out there for the Mets, as opposed to discussing Stephen Drew for the gazillionth time this year.