Friday's trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics threw a wrench in my writing plans -- a beautiful, Addison Russell-shaped wrench -- that has me looking elsewhere on the roster for tradeable assets. Plenty of such assets remain but the structure of this series will be significantly different than the Samardzija-Hammel one. Instead of looking at possible trade partners for the two ex-Cubs starting pitchers, we'll look at each tradeable player with the focus being on which teams might acquire said player and what the approximate package might look like.
The first player I'm covering in this series is not likely to be dealt. Despite the immediate speculation that he could be moved -- admittedly, some of it my own -- Starlin Castro looks more like a core piece of the Cubs' future every day. His defense remains roughly average at shortstop, his walk rate is a career-high, his strikeout rate remains in the mid-teens, and his power has emerged, making him a solid bet for a three WAR season or better which would be the third of his career at age 24. He has shown much of the improvement that this front office wanted to see. Castro is controllable from 2015-2020 for just $59 million, a significant bargain relative to his production thus far and that projected through his age-30 season in 2020.
However, Castro is not "their guy," he will never draw lots of walks or hit for massive power, and it is impossible to ignore the presence of Javier Baez and Russell nipping at his heels. The three-time All-Star has tremendous value. That value could be used to acquire pitching or catching just as easily as it could be utilized in the Cubs lineup every day.
With that in mind, here is a look at the teams most likely to pursue Castro should the Cubs make him available with a particular emphasis on teams that might chase Castro this summer.
New York Yankees
The Yankees just make loads of sense when it comes to Castro, at least in terms of the Bombers having interest in Starlin. Their current shortstop, a guy named Jeter, is about to retire, in case you hadn't heard. Early season BABIP monster Yangervis Solarte has turned human again and been demoted to Triple-A, leaving the Yankees with an infield comprised of Derek Jeter, Kelly Johnson, and Brian Roberts. Yuck. Castro would provide a huge upgrade for the stretch run in 2014 in addition to taking the shortstop reins from Jeter into the future. It's a perfect fit for the Yankees.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, the Yankees lack the pitching prospects the team desires. The Yankees do have some attractive catching prospects, but my trade proposal with the Yankees is a bit more interesting:
Gardner, 30, recently signed a deal that guarantees him $53 million through 2018 (including a $1 million assignment bonus and a $2 million buyout of a $12.5 million 2019 club option). He is superfluous in New York, essentially a poor man's Jacoby Ellsbury. With the Cubs, he would be the much-needed table-setter, an on-base/speed option atop the lineup while playing a solid center field. Losing Gardner would be a sizable loss for the Yankees, but Ruggiano softens the blow, at least in the short term. But Castro is significantly more valuable than Gardner as a 24-year-old at a premium position, netting the Cubs a mercurial possible catcher in Sanchez. Sanchez's bat has awakened after a May slump at Triple-A and he has a huge arm. If he can't stick behind the plate, it's tough to make these teams line up on a deal. But if he can, it provides the Cubs with a plus bat at their weakest future lineup spot while freeing the front office to trade Welington Castillo to a contender in need of a backstop (the Dodgers and Blue Jays make sense). Acquiring Gardner also enables the front office to trade from the mid-system outfield surplus of Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, and Billy McKinney or to hold that trio with Gardner providing a crutch in the event that some of the prospects don't progress.
New York Mets
Moving across town, the Mets are desperate for a shortstop after filling Jose Reyes' shoes with the likes of Ruben Tejada, Omar Quintanilla, and even Ronny Cedeno. On paper, the Mets are an ideal trade partner with the Cubs given the presence of three young top-of-the-rotation starters at or near the Major League level: Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Noah Syndergaard.
Syndergaard has long been a favorite of mine, and despite his recent struggles at Triple-A Las Vegas, he would be a strong return for Castro. The Mets are likely disinclined to sell low on the recovering Harvey. 2009's sixth overall pick, Wheeler has pitched well in 2014, although walks have been a problem for him throughout his career. After throwing fastballs for over 71% of his pitches in 2013, that number is down to a more palatable 63% in 2014 with an uptick in his usage of his curveball and his cutter. Wheeler-for-Castro in yet another one-for-one deal would absolutely work for me, but I'm partial to Syndergaard. As such:
Chicago Cubs trade shortstop Starlin Castro to New York Mets for starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard and starting pitcher Casey Meisner
Meisner is a 6-7, 190-pound 19-year-old Texan righty taken in the third round of the 2013 draft. His name isn't important; he is included as the lottery ticket attachment to Syndergaard.
Moving just south along the eastern seaboard, the Orioles make oodles of sense as a landing spot for Castro. While Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, and Manny Machado all have reasonable pedigrees, none have produced well this year, particularly with the bat. Furthermore, Hardy is a free agent at season's end. Much like Oakland, Baltimore could decide to push their chips all-in this year as they currently hold a slim lead atop the American League East.
Much like the Cubs with shortstops, the Orioles have three righties that have No. 2 starter ceilings: Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, and Hunter Harvey. Gausman has moved into the Baltimore rotation, Bundy is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Harvey is in A-ball in the South Atlantic League. It's tough to figure out exactly how such a deal might work.
In the end, I think that Baltimore would be willing to part with Harvey, but given his distance from the top level, the Cubs would likely require significantly more. With that in mind:
Chicago Cubs trade shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Dan Vogelbach to Baltimore Orioles for starting pitcher Hunter Harvey, catcher Chance Sisco, and starting pitcher Zach Davies
Harvey is the centerpiece, but Sisco and Davies are both interesting in their own rights. Sisco is a left-handed-hitting catcher currently obliterating A-ball as a 19-year-old; he has the defensive profile to be a solid catcher with the plus bat. Davies is a beanpole righty -- lighter than C.J. Edwards -- currently pitching quite well at Double-A. Davies is a back-end guy while Harvey needs some time to grow and Sisco probably needs three years. I don't love this deal for the Cubs given the proximity of the prospects, but it makes sense still to grab Harvey.
I just can't leave the Atlantic coast. Most Cubs-Marlins trade proposals focus on acquiring Giancarlo Stanton and rightly so: Stanton is a monster. But Castro is the type of "veteran" that Miami could acquire: one controlled reasonably inexpensively for six years. Current Marlins starter Adeiny Hechavarria has a .243/.277/.317 career batting line and he is older than Castro. The Marlins have absolutely no offensive infield talent anywhere in their system. But the pitching is everywhere.
Disclaimer: I am obsessed with Andrew Heaney. I have been for quite a while now. Heaney already has four MLB starts under his belt, but they went quite poorly and he figures to spend most of 2014 back at Triple-A. As the Miami system is more depth than ceiling after Heaney, it's tough to imagine a Marlins package not including Heaney. But with Jose Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi, Tom Koehler, and Jacob Turner all solid options in the Big League rotation, Heaney might be more available than otherwise expected, particularly with Tyler Kolek recently added to the system.
Yet again, any Castro trade could be included to expand Dan Vogelbach, especially when the acquiring team is (1) cheap, (2) loaded with pitchers, and (3) located in Florida:
Chicago Cubs trade shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Dan Vogelbach to Miami Marlins for starting pitcher Andrew Heaney, starting pitcher Jose Urena, starting pitcher Justin Nicolino, and outfielder Austin Dean
Heaney is a headliner, but probably not enough for Castro. Urena is probably destined for the bullpen, although I liked his lively pitches when I saw him earlier this year. Nicolino is uninspiring, a fifth/sixth option in all likelihood. Dean is more of an organizational guy with enough of a hit/power combination to emerge into the third best outfield bat on a good team. Obviously Heaney is the big get and he lines up very nicely with the plan. This would, however, require rationality from the Marlins franchise. Don't count on it.
Finally, a Pacific Coast team! The Mariners are playing their best baseball in over a decade, yet thanks to excellent seasons from the A's and Angels, they find themselves in a dogfight for the second wild card spot with the Blue Jays, Yankees, Royals, and even the Indians. Nick Franklin and Willie Bloomquist have both been replacement-level players while Brad Miller's glove have been useful, if not his sub-.300 on-base percentage. The Mariners possess plenty of pitching depth behind elite prospect Taijuan Walker, almost all of it on the mound. Castro would form a plus left side with current third baseman Kyle Seager, giving the Seattle offense a much-needed jolt.
Chicago Cubs trade shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Dan Vogelbach to Seattle Mariners for starting pitcher James Paxton, starting pitcher Victor Sanchez, starting pitcher Luiz Gohara, and shortstop Chris Taylor
We saw a lot of these names in the Samardzija-Hammel series because they're the most interesting names in the system. Paxton is hoping to be off of the 60-day disabled list by the end of the month, and he already has six impressive Major League starts under his belt. Sanchez has ridden generally solid command to Double-A success while Gohara finds himself in the Northwest League at 18. Taylor is interesting, a highly productive Minor League bat with solid skills but no big ones. He looks like a utility infielder; acquiring him would free up the Cubs to deal Darwin Barney and Luis Valbuena in cost-saving moves.
With that marathon done, which of these proposals excites you enough to sign off on the deal?