Castro, Starlin 1501 (Mitchell) (2)

The Case to Trade Starlin Castro

Starlin Castro is a very good player. As Cubs fans, we are very lucky because he is a homegrown talent who signed a team-friendly contract extension; which makes him young, cheap, and under long-term control. I know all of these things are true because people constantly say them.

On sports radio, on team broadcasts, and around the figurative “water cooler” in offices among the vast expanses of Cubdom, one can hear those sentiments being stated as fact.

I don’t care much for accepting, at face value, that which the majority believes is true, so I wanted to dig deeper into not only the quantifiable baseball measures of Castro as a player, but also the economic value of the contract under which he plays. Is it true that Castro is a young, cheap, elite player under long-term control?

Well, certainly he is young, and certainly he has elite talent. At age 25, Castro has been in the majors for nearly five full seasons (740 games prior to 2015) and he has been named to three All-Star teams (2011, 2012, 2014). Twice he has had full-season batting averages over .300 (2010 and 2011), and has led the NL in hits in a full season (2011 with 207 hits).

He steals some bases, (in 2012 he swiped 25 bags, but only had 13 combined over the following two seasons), and his stated goal is to steal even more.

Castro has moderate power, (ten or more home runs in every year except his rookie season) and he drives in some runs. He has slashed .284/.325/.410 with an OPS of .735 for his career, and the trend line may be angled upward as he produced his highest career slugging percentage in 2014 (.438).

What does all of this mean? It means that among shortstops, Castro is a very good hitter. Setting aside 2013 (which was a very bad year for him, and far from his career trend lines), Castro routinely finishes in the top ten for hits, batting average, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, OBP, and OPS among his positional peers.

There are flaws to Castro’s game, without question. His defense is basically replacement-level. Depending on the exact metrics one uses, there is a case to be made that he is either slightly better or slightly worse than league average at the position.

While his shortcomings are well-known amongst MLB people as well as fans, Castro certainly isn’t awful defensively. His superb offensive production more than outweighs an average defensive skill set to make him a very valuable player, particularly at the right price.

We have been told repeatedly that Castro is on a team-friendly deal, but what does that really mean? Is he an inexpensive player? Is he a bargain under his current contract? Is he even playing up to his current contract? The answer is yes… and no.

Between 2010 and 2012, Castro earned a total of $1.33 million over three seasons. Obviously, he was worth far more than that amount, and was an absolute steal for the organization, as all young stars are.

In August 2012, Castro signed a seven-year extension which bought out his four arbitration years with club options for 2020 and 2021. The results have been mixed, thus far.

In 2013 and 2014, Castro earned $5,857,142. Castro underplayed the new contract in 2013, but greatly outplayed it in 2014. This season, he gets a $1 million raise to $6.857 million, with another $1 million raise next year, and a $2 million increase in 2017. The 2018 and 2019 seasons each provide for $1 million dollar increases, making the total value of the 7-year extension $60 million. These “salary figures” level and smooth the $6 million signing bonus that was given pre-2013 to cover each year of the contract except the option years.

In today’s era of inflated salaries, Castro is the 11th most highly paid shortstop in baseball. In light of his consistent top-ten offensive performance, this seems more than fair to me, even acknowledging the rather pedestrian defensive abilities. Considering how difficult offense is to find among middle infielders today, Castro is an excellent value at his 2015 salary figure.

In order for him to remain an excellent value as the escalators built into his contract push his average salary north of $10 million between 2017 and 2019, Castro’s offensive production will have to increase. This is a player in his prime who theoretically should continue to get better offensively, but how much better can we reasonably expect?

It will be interesting to see his power totals for this season as they can confirm or invalidate an apparent trend towards increasing home run totals. The rest of his offensive game, though, seems consistent and repeatable (setting aside 2013, which appears to be an aberration), and I think it is fair to expect similar production at a minimum. If his production stays true to his trend lines without notable improvement, Castro’s contract begins to look much more like one that is simply fair rather than a deep value..

For his career, Castro has an average WARP of 2.76, but that includes the aberrant 2013 figure of zero which appears to be an outlier. If we toss that number and toss out his highest WARP year (4.4 in 2011) in the interests of data integrity, his average WARP is 3.13. That means that he is currently producing one WARP for every $2.2 million million in salary, which is a bargain when compared to league average for veterans. League-wide in 2014, the top 10 veteran shortstops (by WARP), aside from Castro, earned on average, $3.25 million per WARP.

At its apex, Castro’s contract will pay him $11 million. For the sake of comparison, there were six shortstops earning that much or more last season, and most teams would consider that to be a reasonable cost for an all-star shortstop.

From a value perspective, if Castro can bring his production back up to his 2011 and 2012 levels, where he produced 4.38 and 3.92 WARP respectively, his contract will continue to be an excellent value throughout its conclusion.

So why would the Cubs trade an affordable all-star who produces consistent offense and plays passable defense?  Addison Russell.

National scouts and rating agencies have ranked Russell near the very top of virtually every list of top prospects that has been published in the past 12 months. Some would argue that his defense is better than Castro’s today, and he has the tools to quickly become every bit the offensive player that Castro is—possibly better. And the best part? Russell will be under control for six years and will likely cost about 10 percent of what the Cubs will pay Castro over the next five years.

No prospect is a sure thing, but Russell appears to be special. It is inevitable that, barring injury, Russell will be playing shortstop at Wrigley Field by next season at the latest.

What does that mean for Castro? A positional switch is a possibility, but the smart move is to trade him. There are not enough open positions in the infield, and too many prospects that need to see the field.

You might say, “Just trade one of the prospects,” and you could do that, certainly, but it would be a tremendous mistake. Why? Cost, control, potential, and trade value.

Setting aside Bryant and Russell, (who would each bring a ton in trade value), none of the other prospects would bring organization-altering talent. Theo could move a player just to clear a logjam, but doing that would bring a moderate return at the expense of a player with a tremendous ceiling who might wind up lighting up Sportscenter for the next 15 years. The GM who acquires the future superstar would get the added bonus of watching him flourish for less than $1 million per year for several years, and having that player under control for six seasons. From the Cubs perspective, why would you trade away that opportunity? Keep it for yourself.

Yes, it’s a risk to trade a proven all-star in order to let a rookie play, but in this case we have a pretty clear picture of what Castro is. He is a known quantity whose cost is rising and may not be a bargain for long. There is little chance that he will turn into an MVP-caliber player as it likely would have happened already. Yes, he will hit nearly .300. Yes, he will hit 15 home runs. But Addison Russell has a reasonable probability of doing those same things while playing strong defense and costing only a fraction of what they would pay Castro. Those dollars could be reallocated to free agent needs, particularly pitching.

By holding onto the prospects and developing them, you give yourself the opportunity to shoot for the holy grail of baseball rosters—a team comprised of inexpensive home-grown talent that hits their prime collectively. Since the core would cost relatively little, the GM could then supplement where needed in veteran free agents as he would have a ton of available cash.

Lost in the discussion of should they or shouldn’t they trade Castro is the value he would bring in trade. The guy is a legitimate all-star shortstop who would make almost any team better. Not only would an acquiring team get Castro and his stellar offense, they would be getting a contract that, for the next two years at least, has excess value, and never gets to a level where it seems unreasonable.

I will let others speculate as to what type of value the Cubs could net in trade, but it is certain that they can expect a piece or pieces that should make them better. A shortstop-needy team would likely be thrilled to add Castro’s bat to the heart of their order, and the financial cost is reasonable enough so as not to dissuade a potential suitor.

If the Cubs system was devoid of shortstop talent, trading Castro would be a ridiculous idea that would never happen, but the reality is that Castro likely has more value to another team than to the Cubs. The prudent business decision to be made is to move Castro in exchange for a player or players who will make the club better.

If the Cubs decided to shop Castro, there would likely be an active market for the shortstop, especially if traded to a contender at the deadline (which would mean the Cubs are not contenders). If the Cubs are indeed contenders at the trade deadline, Castro should be moved in the offseason and Russell should be allowed to be the shortstop of the future.

While it would be nice to hold onto everyone to be sure the team doesn’t miss out on any production, the reality is that in order to find out whether the prospects can play, they need to play every day in the majors. There are only a few positions available that are not locked down, and too many players to fill them. If the Cubs delay too long in trading Castro, they risk trying to move an $11 million player in decline instead of a $7 million player in his prime. No one has ever accused the Epstein/Hoyer regime of being dumb or scared, so I would expect to see this deal happen at some point. It makes too much sense to pass it up.

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16 comments on “The Case to Trade Starlin Castro”


Good stuff.
Most annoying part of this Castro saga is the hyperbole of those defending him.

“Castro hating”
“Run Castro out of town”
“Give up on Castro”

No, it’s none of that. It’s simply believing that moving him for another 3 WARP player makes the team better in 2016 and beyond. With an outside chance the team is actually better in 2015.

I guess the only thing I find strange about this article is the premise that people are standing around the water cooler or on sports radio talking about how awesome and cheap Castro is (thus prompting you, I guess, to write about why the Cubs should trade him). Maybe it’s just anecdotal, but all I hear people saying in those two places (as well as bars and cranky uncle’s houses everywhere) is how awful he is and how the Cubs need to get rid of him asap. I think if you want to write a story challenging the conventional wisdom, it would be a story about why the Cubs should keep Castro.


Certainly valid point, and I think you’ll see a contrary viewpoint soon on this site. I certainly took some literary license with the watercooler talk, but there have been two articles this week alone by local sports radio personalities regarding Castro. Both have posited that he should not be traded because of his skill and value.
There is a lot of this thinking, and I began the research for this article with the goal of finding out how cheap is he really?
I determined that he is somewhat cheap right now, heading towards being fairly compensated.
Thanks for reading.

Zachary Moser

I actually think that the argument AGAINST trading Castro is implicit in your piece here, Jeff. I don’t believe Castro is competing for a future roster spot with Addison Russell–I would be rather surprised if Theo and Jed decided to keep Castro at short and move Russell to a different position or team, for exactly the reasons you outline above.

However, I think your argument relies too much on the concept of Castro vs. nebulous “prospects.” The real decision, IMO, is Castro vs. the production and value the Cubs have/will have at second and third base, contingent on one’s of the team’s current crop of MLB-ready infielders. Do we think Castro will provide more production or value than the club’s second and third basemen beyond 2015? Should Russell become the everyday shortstop this coming offseason, Castro could move to second or third (both positions at which he might actually profile better defensively), and he would be competing with the likes of Baez, Alcantara, La Stella, Olt, etc. The possibility of one of those players becoming a solid regular is decent, but I much prefer the bird in hand when he’s a three-time All-Star, even as his contract yields less value over the next half decade.

I don’t believe the Cubs can replicate Castro’s value with those players. If Baez mashes opposing pitchers at Iowa, then I think your argument holds more water, but as it is, I think it relies too much on the hypothetical “prospect” rather than considering the skills of the Cubs’ current and soon-to-be infielders.


I think the most relevant calculation is a cost/benefit analysis.
Can they realistically hope to replace Castro’s production for significantly less money? It would require a home-grown top prospect that plays shortstop and will soon be MLB ready.
The Cubs have two guys at least who fit that bill.
So then, the question is:
Are the Cubs better in scenario A where they have Starlin Castro on an escalating contract or scenario B, where they start Addison Russell/Javy Baez, add $36 million in extra to their free agency plans, and gainwhatever player they get in return for Castro.
I think it’s the latter.


Nicely written and well presented argument.
Hard to disagree with the way you lay it out.

My only disagreement is that the premise is centered on your statement “It is inevitable that, barring injury, Russell will be playing shortstop at Wrigley Field by next season at the latest.”

I personally do not see that as inevitable. Russell will definitely be up by then, but there are plenty of IF positions for him to man if needed.
Given that his defense seems to be basically the same, and you are left hoping that the bat matches what Castro does, why not put Russell at 2B and keep Castro at SS? That way, you get all the benefit of having Russell with his crazy talent and cheap control, and Castro with his value at the SS position as well?
Just my take on it, and in no way meant to take anything away from your excellent article.


I will preface my response by saying that I am not a scout… I am a quant who is a baseball fan. Therefore, I need to rely on the subjective opinion of professional scouts who have watched Russell progess.

That being said, the consensus seems to be that Russell is the superior athlete and the more natural shortstop, and if Castro and Russell are on the field together, Russell will be playing shortstop.

I can see a scanario that I like that has Russell at SS, Castro at 3B, and Baez at 2B. Bryant in LF. I think it still comes down to value, though. The Cubs could net a significant piece in trade while saving $48 million over 5 years. That money could be invested in a front line starting pitcher while still having a dynamic player at every position. Not all prospects will succeed, so it is a gamble.

Thanks for reading.

Jamie Paul

One thing apparently not taken into consideration when determining the future value of Starlin’s contract is inflation. The average salary of all MLB players increased by about $500,000 in 2014 from 2013’s average of $3.39MM, or 13%(

Were that trend to continue, a $1MM bump in Castro’s salary would represent an annual decline in AAV in real terms for the second half of his deal. In this scenario, his performance would not need to increase (though I believe it will) to maintain surplus value.


“There are flaws to Castro’s game, without question. His defense is basically replacement-level. Depending on the exact metrics one uses, there is a case to be made that he is either slightly better or slightly worse than league average at the position.”

If he is league average defensively as a SS, wouldn’t that make him above replacement level?


I think that’s saying:
His defense is replacement level
But combined with his offense, that makes him either slightly better or slightly worse than a league average SS.


Actually, I was referring only to his defense here, but I can see why there is confusion.
I meant that depending upon the specific statistical set used in evaluation, his defense is either slightly above or slightly below a replacement value player.
When considering his offensive production, he is well above replacement level overall.
Hope this makes sense.

Joey Hainaut

Average is not replacement level. Replacement level is 20% below average, or somewhere thereabouts depending on the system.

With exceptions, in general, AAA players are not average MLB players. That is why replacement level is defined as below average.


Point taken. I should not have used “league average” when I meant to say replacement level. My mistake. Thanks.


This year’s trade deadline will be interesting. In my view, the best case scenario for 2016 would be to trade Castro for a young, mid-rotation arm (plus another piece or two) and let Russell cut his teeth in the majors for half a season.

Then in the offseason, pick up another #1 type via free agency that would give the Cubs Lester, Arrieta, FA #1, Hammell, Castro-Trade Arm and Hendricks.

Resign Fowler while Almora develops. And Coughlin holds down left for McKinney or Schwarber.

Then Baez, Alcantara or LaStella will man 2B.

That makes the most sense for 2016. Problem is, if Cubs are in the playoff hunt, can they justify trading Castro at the deadline?


I need to kinda rain on the parade of this article. Look, I’d love to believe that every single prospect in the system will work out. Given historical evidence though, we know this isn’t likely to happen the way we’d like it to. All the arguments for trading Castro are simply bad ones. Castro is a very good SS who provides above average offensive value and at least average defensive value. Even if he had to move off of SS to accommodate Russell, this would be easy to do. As things stand now, there’s a glaring hole at 2B just waiting to be filled and many have speculated that Castro might be able to play better 2B defense than Baez, La Stella, or even Alcantara. Until one of the infielders vying for 2B proves themselves at the major league level, I see no practical argument here and even then, it would be very practical to hang on to such a good, young, cost-controlled player.

Let’s not be the Diamondbacks. Let’s not make this Justin Upton redux.


This article assumes current salary levels for shortstops stay the same. I don’t think that is true. Especially with the big TV money deals. Therefore, I think it’s possible Castro’s contract is even more team friendly down the road than it is now.

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