Recently on the radio and in the local papers, the Chicago Cubs Starlin Castro has come up as a player the Mets should pursue. This is a direct result of the Oakland A’s acquiring pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs for a package of prospects headlined by short stop Addison Russell. The trade left the Cubs with a plethora of top notch infield prospects in Javier Baez (currently playing shortstop at Triple-A, but more than likely will convert to second base), power hitting third base prospect Kris Bryant (currently slugging his way through Triple-A) and the aforementioned Russell, also slated to join the Triple-A club. With the Cubs clearly in a rebuild mode and with so many Triple-A level infield bats set to join incumbent power hitting first baseman Anthony Rizzo in the near future for the Cubs, it appears inevitable that Castro will be traded.
The deal posited on the radio and in the paper would be centered on trading Zach Wheeler to the Cubs for Castro, with other prospects potentially involved. It’s an interesting concept. The Cubs are loaded with hitting prospects, but do not have much in terms of pitching depth. The Mets have tremendous pitching depth, but are light on major league ready positional prospects in positions of need. Castro is also having, arguably, his best season as a pro. Castro is on pace to hit over 40 doubles, 20 plus home runs and knock in 90 plus runs on a bad team. That is big time production for a shortstop. He is currently boasting the highest OPS of his career and is also having his best fielding season. Castro is also only 24 years old, loaded with talent and on a reasonable contract as he’s due 43 million dollars through his next five seasons, with a 16 million dollar team option in 2020, his age 30 season.
Is Castro worth Wheeler though? Such a move could depend on what the Mets do with Daniel Murphy. If the Mets retain Murphy, then it’s in the Mets best interest to hold onto Wheeler and either give Wilmer Flores the chance to play shortstop or address the situation in the offseason when a multitude of free agent shortstops will be available to help bridge the gap to some shortstop talent lower in the Mets system. The problem with trading Wheeler without getting back a major league pitcher is that the Mets pitching depth at Triple-A is uncertain right now. Noah Syndergaard doesn’t appear to be ready for the majors at this time and Rafael Montero appears to need more time as well, if he’s even a long term starting option. Darin Gorski is a solid left hander in Las Vegas, but it’s uncertain whether he’s a major league starting pitcher. Steven Matz has just entered Double-A and Jon Niese’s injury makes the pitching depth on the team a little light.
However, if Murphy is dealt to the Blue Jays or Giants and the Mets get back an outfielder and a Triple-A/Major League level starting pitcher, then moving Wheeler for Castro would be a nice move. That would open a slot for Flores at second base and could add some nice pop to the middle of the order, with Castro and (hopefully) Flores providing some much needed run production after David Wright and around Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda.
Trading a pitcher with Wheeler’s upside is very hard to consider, but the question would have to be asked whether the Mets can truly get better without eventually sacrificing one of these young arms. Next year will bring back Matt Harvey and Jeremy Hefner, with Syndergaard on the horizon and Matz not far behind. When you add that to Niese, Jacob deGrom, Montero, Dillon Gee, Bartolo Colon (if he isn’t traded) and whatever other starting depth the Mets add, there is a lot of pitching on this team starting next year.
With all of that in mind, do the Mets think about dealing the tremendous upside of Wheeler for a strong hitting, young shortstop with equally tremendous upside in Castro? It’s a very interesting idea, but in the end, probably shouldn’t occur. The Mets should promote Flores and play him every day. Flores’ bat might end up being the equal of Castro and the fielding difference would be negligible. Unfortunately, the Mets seem to be ignoring their best hitting prospect or seem to have a total lack of confidence in his ability to play shortstop, despite the fact that he showed he could handle the position during the few times he got to play it in the major leagues. The bottom line is, the Mets might have a Castro like bat (not player, Castro is much faster than Flores) already on the 40 man roster, without having to sacrifice Wheeler.
Every year around this time, these kinds of stories pop up and they often range from intriguing to laughable and back again. In this case, although the concept is intriguing, the Mets should look into their own system first and give Flores the chance to either shine or show that he’s not a full time major leaguer. If Flores wasn’t available, then dealing from their depth of pitching for a more proven commodity in Castro makes a lot of sense, but since they might have someone just as good, they can’t sacrifice a talent like Wheeler.