I know this comes as a shock to you, but Starlin Castro’s name has once again come up in trade rumors and it’s one again in association with New York. This time, however, the return isn’t one of the Mets’ young arms, but one of the Yankees’ not-so-young bats. As Mark Feinsand reported in the New York Daily News, the Yankees are shopping Brett Gardner and have engaged the Cubs in talks involving their second baseman.
Said deal appears neat and tidy on the surface — both players have the same $38 million remaining on their deals and serve needs of the team they’d be going to — but to view it that way is a bit facile. It’s easy to check a couple boxes and call this a good trade, but there are some complexities that might sway the jury a bit.
Gardner does provide much of what the Cubs desire: decent defense in CF, above-average contact, and a salary that doesn’t really add to the bottom line. When you add in the fact that the Cubs would be able to keep all of their other young talent, things really start to fall into place. Except that they really don’t. Gardner’s contract is nice in that it actually decreases over time: $13M in 2016, $12M in 2017, and $11M in 2018, with a club option for $12.5M in 2019 ($2M buyout), which comes to $38M total guaranteed.
Castro, on the other hand, is owed the same $38M, but it’s over 4 years: $7M in 2016, $9M in 2017, $10M in 2018, and $11M in 2019, with a $16M club option ($1M buyout). Okay, so the Cubs might be getting the better end of this; not only are they free from obligation in three years, but they’re also paying less over time. Good deal, right? Well, not really.
Even if Castro were to play through the entire length of his deal, he’d only be 30 years old at its conclusion. Setting aside the fact that that means he’d be playing well enough for the Cubs to have picked up a $16 million option rather than buy him out for $1 million, you’re talking about a player’s prime years. Garner, on the other hand, is 32 and will turn 35 in August of the final year of his deal.
I know Castro had what appears to be a down year on the surface, but there we go with that superficial logic again. His slash line of .265/.296/.375 with 11 home runs and 69 RBI (wRC+ of 80) looks about the same, if maybe even a little worse, than Gardner’s .259/.343/.399 with 16 homers and 66 RBI (wRC+ of 105), but that’s only looking on the surface. I’ve long held that how you finish matters more than how you start, and by closing out 2015 with a strong second half, Castro outperformed Gardner in a big way.
Take a look at these two lines and tell me who you’d rather have in your lineup:
Player A: .295/.319/.464, 6 HR, 31 RBI, and a wRC+ of 109
Player B: .206/.300/.292, 6 HR, 24 RBI, and a wRC+ of 66
If you said B, please log off. Admittedly, comparing only 3 months’ worth of stats is as arbitrary as it gets, but I want to illustrate the danger of looking at the whole and assuming that it paints an accurate picture. Castro’s dip in production appears to have been more a combination of mental and mechanical struggles, the effects of which can be — and perhaps have been — corrected. Gardner’s struggles, however, appear to be the result of age, the effects of which can’t be reversed (well, not since stricter testing was enforced), and a wrist injury, the effects of which are often very slowly reversed (again, testing).
Consider that Gardner’s best performance came, predictably, during his age 27 through 31 seasons. It isn’t reasonable to expect him to continue putting up career-average numbers moving forward, particularly at a position that requires a good deal of speed. Not only is Castro at a position that mitigates the diminution of his athleticism, but he’s not yet at an age where said erosion of talent should occur anyway.
And while one should never lean on projections to judge the potential value of a player, let alone two players at disparate positions, the 2016 Steamer projections for both players are incredibly similar. But while their immediate valuation might balance out, it’s the two years beyond that concern me the most. From my perspective, the Cubs would be selling low on Castro and would be getting back a commodity of decreasing value in Gardner.
All things considered, I can’t put my stamp of approval on this deal. I’d rather the Cubs go after a younger CF, or at least one with a shorter commitment. I also want Castro to stay in Chicago, but that’s purely personal. One thing’s for sure: the Cubs are going to be very active and this isn’t the last rumor we’ll hear.