When 31 baseball executives were asked which Cubs infielder was the most likely to be traded this offseason, 20 agreed that the answer is Starlin Castro.
Speaking to ESPN, the general managers, assistant GMs, scouting directors and other baseball evaluators chose Castro over 22-year-old Javier Baez.
Castro, who batted .265 and hit 11 home runs this season, has four years and a guaranteed $38 million left on the $60 million extension he signed in August 2012, according to ESPN.
He was moved from shortstop to second base last year to make room for rookie Addison Russell.
Baez, meanwhile, batted .289 in 28 big-league games in 2015. Once considered one of Chicago’s top prospects – he was ranked fifth among all MLB prospects by Baseball America in 2014 – Baez has since been passed by NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Russell.
By trading Castro, the Cubs could free up some money to address other pressing needs. They could probably get a bigger return of talent for Baez because he has only one year of big league service time and will barely surpass the MLB minimum salary in 2016.
“Baez would definitely bring more of a haul, and they have enough overall depth to gamble that he doesn’t turn into Gary Sheffield,” an AL scout said.
Either way, the Cubs have no need to keep both players with Russell entrenched at short. The Padres, Mariners, White Sox, Mets and Twins are among the teams that could be looking for an upgrade at the position, and the Cubs could find a market given that the prime free-agent shortstop options are Ian Desmond, Alexei Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Holding Baez back has been the frequency in which he strikes out. He has 119 strikeouts in 289 major-league at-bats.
Aside from Castro and Baez, one NL executive told ESPN the Cubs should trade Schwarber to the American League where he can be a designated hitter.
Schwarber set a Cubs record with five postseason home runs in October, but struggled at times while playing left field.