Could Pittsburgh Pirates target Baez or Castro?
By Tyler Waite
The Pittsburgh Pirates are beginning one of the defining off-seasons in team history. Coming off three straight Wild Card appearances and two straight Wild Card losses, making the playoffs is no longer the goal. Winning the World Series is and should be the goal for this team moving forward, and in order to remain in contention not only in their own division but across the league, Neal Huntington and the front office have a lot of important decisions to make in the coming months.
We know the free agent areas the Pirates are going to look at this offseason: starting pitching, bullpen help, and bench players. They may also look at first base and second base, depending on if the team feels Pedro Alvarez and/or Neil Walker fit into their plans for next season. We also know that the Pirates don’t spend big in free agency; the three-year, $39 million deal given to Francisco Liriano last December was the largest free agent contract given out in team history. This offseason, it’s realistic to expect the Pirates to sign one or two starting pitchers, a relief arm or two, and a couple bench players. In all likelihood, J.A. Happ will receive the largest contract by the Pirates this offseason, and it won’t surpass Liriano’s deal.
What does this all mean? It means that the Pirates could look to make trades rather than sign players before Opening Day in 2016. With Neil Walker’s long-term future in Pittsburgh all but decided, here’s one crazy idea I have: maybe the Pirates and the Cubs could line up as trade partners. The Cubs, after all, have an interesting position predicament on their hands that they’ll have to resolve before next season.
The strength and depth of the Cubs’ farm system in terms of position prospects propelled them to great success in 2015, but it has also led to a crowded infield in which there’s just not enough room for everybody. Addison Russell took over the starting shortstop role last season, and Starlin Castro was pushed to second base. Russell had a good offensive year as a rookie and is thought of as a better defensive shortstop than Castro. Castro was moved to second, which he took in stride. Baez was called up in the middle of the season and played well in a small sample size.
With Russell cementing his role as the starting shortstop for the foreseeable future, the Cubs have to decide whether they believe that Castro can return to the offensive stardom he showed in his first few seasons, or choose to move on from Castro and go with Baez at second, whose ceiling might be even higher than Castro’s. It will be one of the more fascinating storylines to follow this offseason.
This is where the Pirates and Cubs can help each other out. For the Pirates, both players come with inherent risk, most notably with Castro’s contract, as he’s guaranteed at least $5 million per season through 2019.
Where do the Pirates fit into this? Well, Pittsburgh doesn’t have a long-term answer at second base. Walker more than likely won’t be resigned after 2016, his last year of arbitration eligibility. Alen Hanson could be that answer, but he hasn’t played in the majors yet and there doesn’t seem to be an air of confidence from the team about his major league potential. I could be wrong, but for as much talk as Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell, and others get, Hanson gets mentioned very little.
The Cubs are in win-now mode. They made the NLCS this past season, and have all the talent in the world to win it all in 2016. By flipping Baez or Castro, they can add to their immediate needs, such as starting pitching beyond their top two and their bullpen. Why have an expensive or talented player wasting away on the bench when you could have an an additional player contributing every day?
This is where the Pirates and Cubs can help each other out. For the Pirates, both players come with inherent risk, most notably with Castro’s contract, as he’s guaranteed at least $5 million per season through 2019. Baez might not deliver offensively, and he could revert close to the form he showed in 2014, when he batted .169 and struck out 95 times in just 52 games. On the other hand, Castro’s contract could look like a steal if he regains his confidence and returns to his three-time All-Star form and Baez could live up to the tremendous potential he has while under his years of team control.
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What would it take to pry away either of these players? While the Cubs don’t have to trade either, it’s all but certain they will if they get a good offer, and the Pirates have the farm system and major league players to get a deal done. While the Pirates don’t have major league starting pitching to offer, they could dangle Jameson Taillon, who should be ready in June to hit the majors and has ace potential. Maybe the Cubs want to build a super-pen and would like Mark Melancon to team up with Hector Rondon to form a devastating one-two punch. Outside of those two, Nick Kingham or other lower-level pitching prospects could be offered, or outfield pieces such as Willy Garcia or Harold Ramirez. The Pirates could try to overwhelm Jed Hoyer, Theo Epstein, and the Cubs’ front office with a quantity of strong prospects rather than a big quality major-league piece.
The biggest obstacle for this trade would be that the two teams are in the same division. Would the Cubs want to see Castro or Baez have success in Pittsburgh for the next five years, or would the Pirates want to see Melancon shut down Pirate batters or see Taillon develop into an ace of the future at Wrigley Field? This is obviously a big obstacle, but it’s something that should be considered. If the Pirates could land Baez or Castro, they could flip Walker for starting pitching help, or keep Walker as as the team transitions Baez into the starting role. The Pirates have enough talented prospects to get a deal for either done, and Castro’s contract shouldn’t post a monetary issue.
It’s a long-shot at best, but it’s interesting to think about a potential big-time trade going down between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs this offseason. It’s a trade that teams like the Pirates and Cubs make in potentially franchising-defining off-seasons.
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