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Starlin Castro is still here

The veteran second baseman seemed like a trade chip for the Marlins at last year’s MLB Winter Meetings. Will they find a contender to unload him to this time?

Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Just stating the obvious: the Marlins never wanted Starlin Castro. The veteran second baseman was forced upon them in the Giancarlo Stanton trade. Though desperate to slash payroll, on the other side of the negotiating table, the Yankees had their own mission to get below MLB’s luxury tax threshold. Shipping out the expendable and moderately pricey Castro was a critical part of making the blockbuster work.

I was of the opinion that Starlin would play zero games in a Marlins uniform, and I certainly wasn’t alone:

Seemed pretty straightforward, right? The Marlins had every intention of losing games and saving money in 2018 while acquiring young, controllable talent with high upside. After posting a career-high .792 OPS at age 27, Castro understandably wasn’t enthusiastic about being a placeholder. The real return package for Stanton could be described as Jorge Guzman, José Devers and the rights to flip Castro for additional prospects.

On the field, last season went almost exactly as planned for the Fish with 98 losses and the National League’s worst run differential. They’ll select fourth in the next amateur draft and hold three of the first 44 picks.

Overall, though, they’ve been slow to accumulate the necessary assets for a bright future. Many of their standout veterans drew interest at July’s trade deadline (Castro included), yet only the pending free agents were cashed in for future contributors. Even by the most generous of evaluations, the Marlins do not have one of the top 15 minor league farm systems.

In a couple cases, the front office has already cut its losses. Derek Dietrich and Kyle Barraclough, both among those summer trade candidates, were recently expunged from the Marlins roster. Second-half regression meant getting nothing in return for Dietrich (now a free agent) and international bonus slot money for Barraclough, a lame consolation for somebody who performed at an elite level for an extended stretch earlier in the year.

Castro, fortunately, did not wear down like them, but the combination of his contract and lack of defensive versatility makes him unappetizing to contenders. He is owed $11.86 million this coming season plus a $16 million club option for 2020 ($1 million buyout). By comparison, second baseman Jonathan Schoop just signed with the Twins for a modest $7.5 million guarantee.

Consider their performance from 2016-2018:

  • Castro—5.4 fWAR, .281/.322/.427, 101 wRC+ in 417 games
  • Schoop—6.6 fWAR, .267/.304/.461, 102 wRC+ in 453 games

In a vacuum, Castro can help you win, but the Marlins would need to cover a chunk of the money to make him a desirable alternative to the many free agents who play the same position.

Let’s be clear: this is in no way Castro’s fault. Despite reportedly feeling discontent last winter, he has not directly issued any critical comments since then. The former All-Star was one of the most productive members of the team in 2018, and his funny mannerisms filled up my GIF library (search “Castro”) and your Twitter feeds during the dog days.

But simply put, it is difficult for the Marlins to sell the Stanton trade to their fans as a successful move without converting Starlin Castro into a long-term building block. The MLB Winter Meetings in Las Vegas next week could be their last real opportunity to finagle that.