Russell, Addison 1503 (Mitchell)

The Best of Both Worlds: Can the Cubs Keep Starlin Castro and Still Promote Addison Russell?

As the old saying goes, patience is a virtue. Loyal Cubs fans from all walks of life set this example perfectly in our fast paced, need-results-now world. I’m not talking about waiting for Kris Bryant either. Or waiting for a championship. Or waiting in the lengthy bathroom lines at Wrigley Field on Opening Night—though those are all prime examples of the patience that Cubs fans exhibit on a daily basis.

What I am talking about though, is waiting for prospects. Waiting for prospects can be strenuous, especially when you see their repeat, seemingly major-league-ready performances every night in the minors. You think to yourself “I want nothing more at this moment than to see this kid at Wrigley Field… now.” But is it worth trading a major-league talent and putting in a new youngster, not knowing if they’re going to meet the standards they set in the minors right off the bat?

The thing is, the major leagues can be vastly misunderstood by minor-league talent. There is a very important key that is not seen by the naked eye until the wheels are in motion, and that is the transition. We saw the struggle last season with the highly touted arrival of Javier Baez, who came to the Cubs with a bang, but quickly fizzled out. That’s not because Baez isn’t all that everyone had  him cracked up to be, though Baez has some things to tweak before he comes back to the majors, it is partially because there was a transition period that he wasn’t quite ready to take on yet.

Rambling on about patience and the minors to majors transition—”Get to the point!” is probably what you’re thinking. I am. My point is, what if we don’t have to be all that patient anymore, and we can have the best of both worlds?

What I’m talking about is Addison Russell and the current situation with Starlin Castro. Russell is a premier talent, no doubt, and an absolute steal in a trade that somehow ended up working extensively more in the Cubs favor than the Athletics. But I don’t see the purpose in pushing Castro out of the North Side just yet, what’s the rush? He’s only 25, and under team control until 2020, his age-30 season. By all means, I’m not lobbying for Castro to stay in the blue pinstripes for that long. But for now, he’s more than a sufficient and consistent body to man shortstop… so why push him out?

Russell has proven to have at least a major-league average defensive skill set, which would be equal to what Castro offers in the field as well. Castro isn’t an extremely plus defender, and whenever he is on sports highlight reels it’s usually greeted with more of a shock by fans and onlookers than it is a, “There he goes again, flashing the leather!”

Russell’s prowess at the plate is more of what everyone’s attention shifts towards. But the same can be said for Castro, who slashed .292/.339/.438 in 2014, with a strikeout rate of 17.6 percent and a pretty well-sustained (minus 2013) BABIP of .337. He also belted 14 home runs, and had a .279 TAv. Seeing him hitting behind Anthony Rizzo for the better portion of last year made my baseball sense tingle. Are we really ready to lose that?

Unless there is some magical every-other-year decline on the horizon for Castro and he has another horrible skid much like his 2013, I’m going to guess we won’t see numbers like last season drastically fall off. So what would be the benefit for the Cubs, who are currently working towards playoff contention and have Bryant arriving to Wrigley this evening, in trying to swap one MLB average defender and plus bat for one who is not likely to yield significantly better results and could potentially have to go through the traditional “adjustment” period?

If you take a peek inside the Baseball Prospectus Annual this year and look up Addison Russell’s player comment, you’ll see something interesting just above it. His player comparables. These are players who had a comparable performance at the same age. The first one on Russell’s list is Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts is a pretty solid comp to Russell based on the fact that they are/were both highly anticipated shortstops with similar, impressive minor-league numbers. However, as Bogaerts moved through the system, he saw a slight but steady decline in his slash line as a whole, and a large drop off in his numbers once he played a full season in Boston. However, before the less-than-stellar 2014 campaign, he did have a strong September and October in 2013. Which means the league was still trying to figure out what Bogaerts was all about. This partly explains the usual jump in offense right when a player is brought up—followed by their inability to successfully combat MLB pitching once the league understands their approach a bit more, leading to low, disappointing offensive numbers and high strikeout rates. This doesn’t mean Bogaerts was a write off, it means he had to go through his growing pains. But are the Cubs willing to work through Russell’s possible growing pains in a year they’re planning to contend, while pushing Castro to the side?

They don’t have to. There’s a way we can remedy that not-so-optimal situation. What if Castro stays in Chicago, and, now get this, Russell still comes up? How would that work out, you ask? Simply shift Russell to second base. There is a distinct need for a solid, everyday man at second base for the Cubs right now, with Baez being sent down to the minors, Alcantara being of significantly less value as an everyday second basemen than Russell, and La Stella as more of a holding tank (who is now on the DL) at second base. This would be a way to keep both the insurance of Castro’s hitting consistency and the ability to test the waters of Russell, while also filling a much needed hole at second base. Castro is on a very “team friendly” contract, making just under $7 million this season, and bringing up a prospect like Russell isn’t going to break the bank—therefore having your cake and eating it too in this situation is more than affordable and possibly extremely beneficial. A lineup comprised of Rizzo, Castro, Bryant, and Russell will begin to give this Cubs team a bulletproof offense in a season that is already off to a running start.

Castro and Russell can both provide solid defense in the middle of the infield working as a team, while also adding an upgrade to an already stacked batting order. That seems to be the best solution here. Take a look at what the slash lines of the Cubs batting order would look like (based on their 2014 numbers, minor leagues were applies) should Russell and Bryant both be promoted:

Fowler .276/.375/.399

Rizzo .286/.386/.527

Soler .297/.344/.576

Bryant .325/.438/.661

Russell .295/.350/.508

Castro .292/.339/.438

Coghlan .283/.352/.452

Montero .243/.329/.370

That would be a lineup that is comprised of players who are all hitting well over .250, with OBPs over .320, and everyone slugging about .400 and over with the exception of Montero, and the pitcher. This, to me, seems very plausible and very workable for the 2015 season.

Should the Cubs try this scenario on for size, given the shoddy situation at second right now, and then demote Russell back down to Iowa if things don’t go exactly according to plan, it’s a great way to get to know Russell while covering all the bases and not losing Castro.

Castro is no doubt going to see a time come where he no longer is a perfect fit for the Cubs organization and would find himself more valuable to the North Side on the trading block. He’s an attractive, top-tier shortstop that any team would find to be an asset, and could yield a large return for the Cubs when the time comes. However, at this point, he’s more of an asset to the Cubs on the field than he would be on the trading block, whether they promote Russell or not. I don’t see Castro’s numbers or defense declining anytime soon, and he is a relatively healthy player who’s avoided the DL for the most part.

With the influx of young talent and much talked about prospects in the Cubs system, as well as the new arrivals from the offseason, it seems as though Castro’s impressive 2014 campaign has been outshined. That most definitely shouldn’t be the case, and in a situation where the Cubs need solid offense (who doesn’t need that?) and a man at second base, why should they have to pick between Castro and Russell? The Cubs have the ability to employ both in the middle infield right now. They should jump on that opportunity, as well as the opportunity to see what Russell can bring to the majors.

Get ready Cubs fans, because if you thought things were exciting on the North Side now, they’re about to get even more interesting. Welcome to the future.

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1 comment on “The Best of Both Worlds: Can the Cubs Keep Starlin Castro and Still Promote Addison Russell?”


Good article, and welcome.
Even though I wrote earlier this week that Castro should be traded (and still feel that way), I would love to see the scenario you describe.
My thought is that as long as the Cubs remain contenders, you don’t trade away MLB talent. Let’s play this year out with both of them on the field and evaluate a Castro trade in the off-season.

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