Reaction: Cubs Trade Castro, Sign Zobrist

Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago CubsAfter a day of speculation, the flood gates broke open for the Cubs last night as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer completed two separate deals in quick succession.

First, news broke that the Cubs had signed super utility man Ben Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million deal. Moments later, we found out that the Cubs had also agreed to trade Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for Adam Warren and a PTBNL – which we already know will be Brendan Ryan. The Yankees are simply waiting to officially announce the PTBNL (Ryan) such that the Cubs don’t have to put him on the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 draft. A classy move on their part.

Viewing this deal, first, in the short-term, there’s no doubt this makes the Cubs a better team for next year. With the Castro trade, the acquired another starting pitcher in Warren, a right-handed starter and reliever entering his age 29 season.

Last year for the Yankees, Warren made 17 starts and 26 relief appearances, compiling a 3.29 ERA with 104K in 131.1 innings to go along a 1.165 WHIP and 2.67 K/BB ratio.

2014 was even more impressive for Warren, as he made 69 relief appearances for the Yanks, compiling a 2.97 ERA. Looking back at his minor league numbers, it’s easy to see what the Cubs saw in him. He posted a 3.11 ERA through four minor league seasons.

The Cubs have already indicated they plan to “stretch him out” in spring training with the intention of using him as a starter during the regular season, which brings the Cubs’ likely rotation to: Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Warren and Kyle Hendricks. Almost without question that’s a rotation that should trump the performance of last year’s crew – which, all things considered, had a pretty good year.

Then there’s Zobrist, who now likely slides in to become the everyday second baseman, though with his ability to play pretty much anywhere on the diamond, I don’t doubt for a second that we’ll see him just about everywhere this year.

Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles May 8,  2011

Entering his age 35 season, Zobrist is a stellar talent who now gets to come closer to home (he grew up in Eureka, Ill. and spent part of his college time at Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonnais). With a career .265 AVG/.355 OBP/.431 SLG, there’s a lot to like about Zobrist. My only real concern is his power – while he’s been amazingly consistent over the course of his career, power tends to be one of the first things that goes with age. And as he doesn’t hit for a particularly high average, his real value comes (aside from his defensive abilities) from his ability to get on base via the walk and his talent – good for 15+ homers and a strong batch of doubles every year. If he loses that bit of power with age, he suddenly becomes much less valuable offensively.

But, in reality, that probably won’t happen at age 35, though he is a candidate (based on his age) for a decline in numbers.

Still, looking solely at 2016, this move also made the Cubs a demonstrably better team. Taking a look at the tentative lineup – even without an answer as to who will be in center field – is pretty exciting:

Zobrist 2B
Kyle Schwarber LF
Kris Bryant 3B
Anthony Rizzo 1B
Jorge Soler RF
[Centerfielder]
Miguel Montero C
PITCHER
Addison Russell SS

That’s already a lineup that can score a lot of runs.

And because the Cubs were able to deal Castro without retaining any obligation of the contract still owed to him, it did clear up a bit of salary space (though, that was immediately filled by Zobrist). Still, it’s made some folks wonder if the Cubs may still be in the hunt for a big-time centerfielder.

Rumors are that Jason Heyward is seeking a 10-year deal (and, personally, I’d give it to him. But that’s me), but the Cubs also have the option of Alex Gordon. Either way, if the Cubs can pull off a deal for one of these two centerfielders, they’re really looking at a powerhouse lineup.

Atlanta at Chicago CubsWhich brings me to the long view – in this sense, I’m a bit confused. So, the team trades Castro for pitching – that makes sense. It’s Zobrist I don’t understand. If the team, as Joe Maddon indicated yesterday, sees Javier Baez as a key piece moving forward, why sign Zobrist?

The contract takes Zobrist through his age 38 season for a relatively hefty salary, essentially blocking Baez’s path to the starting lineup. Assuming that neither man is going to be the everyday centerfielder, I’m not a big confused as to the Cubs’ plan with Baez moving forward. But, just throwing this out there, it’s possible they move him, too.

Speaking generally, I’m opposed to that. Unless that move happens in conjunction with the signing of Heyward.

In theory, the Cubs could move Baez for another young arm, then turn around and sign Heyward. Suddenly, you’ve got a team that is poised to be an offensive juggernaut – not to mention relatively well-set on the pitching side of the equation – for years to come. Sure, the Cubs would have to figure out what to do at second in a couple of years when Zobrist started to decline, but in the meantime they’d have a lineup that likely looked like:

Heyward
Zobrist
Bryant
Rizzo
Schwarber
Soler
Montero
PITCHER
Russell

That’s… mouthwatering.

But, whatever the Cubs are thinking should be partially revealed relatively soon. Lots of folks had inferred that Zobrist would be the first domino to fall, kicking off the free agent position player market – including Heyward. If I was a betting man, I’d guess he signs (somewhere) by the end of the week.

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