Recently we heard a rumor where the Cubs were going to send Starlin Castro to the Yankees and get Brett Gardner in return. In Chicago, Castro’s minions were out in full force to shout their disapproval. They cried out about how valuable Castro is and trading for an over the hill OF was just a slap in the face. Likewise, news from New York was huge belly laughter at the thought of trading their hard-nosed leader in the clubhouse for nothing more than a scrub. Both sides seem to be overvaluing their player and undervaluing the return.
So let’s take a deeper look of what was on the table. To do so we need to look at a whole lot more than the proposed player swap. This is because you need to see the ripple effects after such a move would be made. The Yankees side may be a little clearer then what would transpire for the Cubs. So let’s look there first. To get an apples to apples comparison, we will use the WAR projections for 2016 from the Fangraphs website.
The Yankees are clearly looking to save money here and possibly upgrade at 2B. Listed on the Yankees depth chart, we see Dustin Ackley listed as their top choice and Rob Refsnyder as the back up. Ackley has a projected WAR of 0.6 for 2016. Refsnyder is listed with a WAR of 2.1 for 2016. This may be a bit of a stretch after Refsnyder only played 16 games with a mere 46 AB’s in his debut. It’s a really small sample size in retrospect. Then you must look at the trade piece that the Yankees would lose. Brett Gardner has a WAR of 2.1 for 2016.
Before we look at the Cubs side, we should probably look to the contracts of these trade pieces. After all, this would be the main reason the Yankees would even entertain this trade proposal. Brett Gardner has 3 years left at $36M. The fourth year is an option year for the controlling team and he could get paid another $12.5M or a buyout of $2M. So this is a total of 3 years for $38M or 4 years for $48.5M. If the Cubs acquired Gardner, it’s probably pretty safe to assume it would be the 3 years for $38M because the Cubs have lots of OF depth working their way up through the system.
Now onto the apples to apples comparison part for Starlin Castro. He has a projected WAR of 1.4 for 2016. The more important part is that contract. He is under control for 4 years at $37M with a team option for a 5th year at $16M or a team buyout of a mere $1M. This makes him more attractive to the Yankees since they save a few million per year over Gardner and upgrade the WAR at 2B over Ackley. In spite of what you read or feel about Gardner or Castro, the apples to apples comparison shows that the Yankees seem to get an upgrade.
How do things shake out for the Cubs? This is a bit cloudier. First we must realize that the Cubs are dealing from an area of surplus. Baez could replace Castro and has a projected WAR of 1.5 for 2016 (higher than Castro). The Cubs could also turn to Tommy La Stella to play 2B and has a projected WAR of 0.4 for 2016 (lower than Castro). The bigger idea is that the Cubs save a whole lot more money at the 2B position.
But here is where it gets murky. We must realize that Dexter Fowler will not return. The Cubs have guys in the minors like Albert Almora that could very easily fill the CF void right now defensively. Almora finished off the year really strong but will probably start the 2016 campaign in Iowa. The front office wants to be sure he is not overwhelmed offensively when he finally gets the call for his major league debut. In one hand you don’t want to block a kid like Almora but in the other hand you need a “stop gap” solution for CF.
Despite what you may believe several major league scouts still feel that Gardner can play CF. With that said, many Cub fans would just rather sign Fowler and worry about the Almora situation later. Dexter Fowler has a projected WAR of 1.7 for 2016. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs warns about the Dexter Fowler contract and you can read it here. In spite of the warnings, we just need to know what the Fowler contract may look like. If Cameron is correct in his assumption, then Fowler would be getting 4 years at $56M. This is considerably more than what is due Brett Gardner and Fowler’s projected WAR is less also!
So for the Cubs, we could see a void filled also. The Cubs need a CF’er for the 2016 season. They could use resources to buy a “stop gap” solution or deal from an area of surplus to acquire their guy. It’s hard to argue about how many guys the Cubs have to play the middle infield. They all can’t play at one time so dealing from this surplus seems to be a wise choice. What could be argued is if the Cubs or Yankees could get better deals to fill their needs. In this situation, the Cubs get the player the need and based on WAR alone, Baez is an upgrade at 2B.
Many will refuse to look at any sorts of comparisons for this proposed deal. Things get real emotional, real fast. They will quickly suggest alternatives. Granted, another option that has been talked about was the signing of Denard Span. We would need to look at the contract demands and WAR value to once again look at an apples to apples comparison. The media is reported that Span would get a contract in the range of 3 years and $36M. His projected WAR is 2.2 for 2016. If this option was taken the Cubs would get similar production as Gardner but would be on the hook for the contract of both Span and Castro. The Cubs would still have the same logjam with their middle infielders. This is an attractive situation if the plan still figured to have a Castro moved in another deal to rid themselves of his contract. Again, the same type of apples to apples comparisons would need to be made.
In the real world of baseball trades, it’s not emotional. It’s just business. The simple question asked in these deals is pretty easy to understand. Does this move make our team better? Both teams need to answer yes to this for a deal to be completed. This article tries to use money and WAR as the common measuring stick. In reality there are many more factors. Again, all the common factors for the evaluations are void of emotions.